Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hardball Q&A

As the dueling Democratic presidential candidates look to Texas, the current front runner, Senator Barack Obama and his team recently relied on Texas Senator Kirk Watson as personality du jour to convince Americans that Obama is the best choice as the next President of the United States.

During yesterday's televised interview between Watson and Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's "Hardball," the Texas senator quickly fell into the hands of his interviewer, and underscored the importance of preparation prior to any exchange with a reporter.

Too many business executives -- but especially politicians -- believe their wit and ego are sufficient to master any conversation with a reporter. Watson's disastrous exchange on public television now lives forever on YouTube as a classic blunder, and the results of what can happen when the PR expertise is absent or ignored as part of the preparation.

Taking the time to thoughtfully ponder the possible questions and shape the appropriate responses is time well-spent. Taking the time to establish key message points for your interview is absolute, but be sure your message points have substance. Watson's interview with Matthews indicates he took the time for neither. His derelict expression was all too telling, and was not only embarrassing for him, but embarrassing for Texans.

Watson's inability to tout any of Obama's accomplishments demonstrates he, like many Americans, is lured by the packaging, but ignorant of its substance. Daily, the news media interviews the public about why they like Obama, and consistently, the answers are generic. People focus on his vision, his charisma, his new blood and expressions of hope. Few express their support of him based on an articulate expression that they know and like what he has done already.

This is where Senator Hillary Clinton does well to differentiate herself in testimonies by the public and by public leaders who lend her their support. Her campaign is doing a better job of articulating her advocacy for health insurance for children and her understanding of international issues.

I hope Texans will observe with wisdom and gather their facts before voting in the state's primary on March 4. Until then, there will be many testimonials for both Democratic candidates, but who is to say whether either candidate can stand up in November against the experience of Republican Senator John McCain?

Let's be sure we all do a better job of preparing and studying our Q&As.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Missing Mate

I am still digesting all the data from super Tuesday.

The news coverage tells me there is no clear indicator within the Democratic ranks on who will end up leading the party on the November presidential ballot. The coverage also tells me that despite a growing affection by Republicans for Senator John McCain as the party's front runner, there remains significant resistance to McCain among Evangelicals within the party.

So the historically minority candidates (woman and African-American) within the Democratic party will continue to make their respective appeals to differentiate themselves, while the white war veteran Republican tries to figure out if he needs Jesus to win in November.

The photos that supported the front-page newspapers of Feb. 5 underscore one point of differentiation between Hillary and Barack. During the Kodak moments when each candidate appeared to declare victory, Senator Obama proudly stands hand in hand with his beautiful wife -- what's her name?

On the other side of the Democratic victory isle stands Senator Clinton, glowing alone, like a black widow counting her inheritance or an estranged wife celebrating the divorce and her share of the pie. Where is Mr. Clinton, when it matters most for creating imagery and portraying the American family?

Perhaps, Hillary's entire campaign is an allegory of the demise of the American family and the values we used to consider important for leadership. Do we expect the leader of the free world to be capable of managing family matters first?

When it comes down to voting in the booth, how will the political positioning of a loving, well-packaged African-American couple play over the depiction of an intellectually astute, politically motivated female who was publicly scorned by her husband? Will such an image influence how people vote? Will people bring empathy or sympathy into their voting equation for Hillary or will concern instead cause them to pull the other lever for Barack?

On the Republican side, surely there is concern that the party's front runner fails to convince influential media personalities and Evangelicals that he is their man. The party needs to think long and hard whether it even has a candidate that can beat the enthusiasm the Democrats are generating for their party.

If Senator McCain carries the Republican banner into the November election, will the dissatisfaction of conservatives and Evangelicals deflate their energy level so much that they don't vote altogether? If that is possible, the Republicans in Washington better start packing their suitcases.

I can't wait until the candidates bring their court and spark in the Lone Star State.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Black or White, Man or Woman, Christian or Cult

This morning my 11-year-old son asked me who I would vote for, if the U.S. presidential election were today, and Hillary Clinton was running against Mitt Romney. I was driving my kids to school, and we were talking about super Tuesday and the important indicators that would surface by Wednesday, in terms of America's bent toward presidential preferences.

In recent days, I have been pondering how Americans might be sorting through their options. Clearly, this race presents us with a greater array of diversity, but also with a more obvious element of risk, depending on your perspective. Many believe a man is inherently better suited to lead our country, despite race. Many believe a woman is equally up to the task, despite political party. Many believe faith is not an issue, despite a candidate's connection to a cult.

When I was 11 years old, LBJ was beginning to lose his political grip on this country, as racial strife stirred an anxious generation caught up in waging war with the North Vietnamese abroad and with each other at home. In 1966, I told my kids, America would never consider a woman or an African American as president. In 1966, Americans would never consider a Morman as president. We were still recovering from the assassination of a Catholic in the Oval Office, the assassination of a black pastor in Tennessee, and the assassination of prayer in our public schools. The term Ms. was not on the public radar screen, and blacks were not on the public short list for lead roles in movies or on television.

Today, I have an 11 year-old asking me a question that was unimaginable when I was his age.

Today, America now demonstrates its embrace of diversity, by whatever factor you can measure it. It appears there are no longer lingering stigmas in this country about race or gender. However, I have a hunch that below the surface Democrats are quietly struggling about which is a better choice: a woman, or a black man. It appears there are no longer lingering stigmas in this country about faith. However, my hunch is that Republicans are quietly struggling about which is a better choice: a Morman, a Veteran or a conservative Christian. By tomorrow we will have a better indication what road we are on as a country.

The silent reaction to my 11-year-old son's question must have lingered too long. Before I could respond, my 15-year-old son offered up his answer for me: "If that were to happen, Papa would not vote at all," he said.

I think I will wait to see if the question is premature. I hope the voter turnout is strong.