Posts Tagged ‘Republican’

Scorched earth, distortion and spin: political communication in 2012

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

It’s not even September yet. The conventions aren’t through, and already the Obama/Biden and Romney/Ryan partisans are locked and loaded with focus-grouped messages designed to burn each other alive. Feh.

I know that politics brings out the worst in people, and it’s been that way for a really long time.  Historian Paul Boller avers that after George Washington, we invented political parties, and the nastiness continues unabated as a result.  I remember 1968 – the bloody quest for the Democratic nomination where the fix was in for Hubert Humphrey. The rise from political ashes of Richard Nixon, Clean Gene McCarthy. In ’72, George McGovern is waxed by Richard Nixon, making the Plumbers and Watergate one of the stupider crimes of the century.  Ford pardons Nixon and Carter puts on a sweater as we wait in line for gas. Up until that point, they all referred to each other as, “my esteemed opponent” — perhaps because they made the rash assumption that whatever their differences in belief or approach, we all had honorable goals in mind.

That doesn’t seem to be the case now — Willie Horton, Slick Willie, right-wing nut job, pinko liberal. Now we have MoveOn.org and the Tea Party demanding pledges of allegiance to their views — when you’re farther right than Attila the Hun, everyone looks like a left-wing dipstick. When you’re left of Jane Fonda, everyone looks like a right-wing extremist. We misinterpret political terms — socialist, communist, fascist, conservative, Nazi — and apply them inappropriately. Democrats don’t want the end of private property, Republicans don’t want hoards of poor people to starve and die. Neither party has suggested be have a dictator.

This makes me sad as an American, but also makes me mad as a communicator. Whither simple fairness?  Obama’s a communist who wants to turn us into Greece. Romney’s rich, so he has to be a criminal. Paul Ryan (who is a pretty serious and smart guy on economics and government, regardless of his predictable social policy perspectives) wants to push granny over a cliff and put on Ebeneezer Scrooge’s waistcoat as he watches Tiny Tim starve.

This is a serious election. It’s a battle over two world views — one that says government should play the dominant role in life in pursuit of fairness, and the other that says that government should tolerate some unfairness in favor of liberty and markets and more power to the individual. Regardless of where you or I stand on that question, it’s a discussion worth having.

If only we can stop shouting each other down long enough to listen and decide.

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Herman Cain as Crisis Lesson

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Others have already written on this topic, so I’ll offer just a few things to consider when discussing Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain.  Foremost is the distinction between legal advice and public relations advice: they’re not the same thing.

There are four women who’ve claimed that Cain offered unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances during the 1990’s, when Cain led the National Restaurant Association. All four were employees of the NRA, though one was no longer an employee when she claimed the harassment occurred. Two filed complaints and received cash settlements. To others did not file complaints. Legally, payment of settlements is not proof of guilt. PR-wise, most people would say they are.

Legal-beagles are no doubt telling Cain to deny these incidents occurred. No one can prove otherwise, legally.  Sexual harassment seldom occurs with witnesses present. Ask President Clinton about his experience with these matters. His alleged behavior while governor of Arkansas was orders of magnitude more egregious — state troopers acting as spotters? Dropping trou to Paula Jones? And then there’s Monica Lewinsky — hmm, leader of the free world and white house intern?

Under the law, sexual harassment has two potential proof points — hostile work environment or quid pro quo. Pattern of harassment that creates the hostile environment or swapping sex for employment. Under the law, being a boor isn’t a crime.

So for an attorney, there’s no evidence of sexual harassment. For a PR counsel, that simply doesn’t matter. Who here believes that these four women made all this up, especially the two who filed complaints and received cash?  One publicity-seeking money-hound is one thing. Four is another.

Meanwhile, Cain denies, and the story is hot every day. What if Cain’s news conference had featured this statement:

My fellow Americans, as much as it pains me to say it, there was a time in my life when I behaved less than admirably regarding my relationships with women, and the allegations you have seen and read lately stem from that dark period some 15 years ago. By the grace of God and the support of my family, I was able to recognize that though my actions did not fit the legal definition of sexual harassment, they were still inappropriate and wrong. I deeply regret my actions and have sought support and guidance from my family and my faith to become a better man, a better Christian.

We could wordsmith this to death, of course, but where does the media go after hearing this? Cain could have taken questions, and to each that asked for details, reply that there’s no point in rehashing the incidents, and that he is very sorry for the pain he caused to the recipients of his unwanted attentions.

Of course, the whole thing flares up again if there are additional allegations from after the NRA, particularly Godfather’s Pizza, where he was CEO. The other thing to keep in mind is that the case against President Clinton was more substantive on par — more people, the Troopergate material, and a continuing pattern.

Chances are, Cain won’t get the nomination anyway — but I don’t think it’s the end of his campaign.

 

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