Sunday, May 1st, 2011
Let the Political Games Begin: Obama & Meyers 1, Trump 0
At the risk of sounding redundant, please check your red, blue, and tea party hats at the door. We’re talking communication today, not politics. One can’t help but comment on the White House Correspondent’s dinner, Saturday night. It’s the best dinner of the year, and an annual event where every sitting President gets the opportunity to poke a little fun at themselves, and their critics. It’s the most “real” you’ll ever see any of the Presidents (and in some cases, their spouses) as they’re allowed and, in fact, encouraged to let the sarcasm roll, the cheap shots fly, and the pure acceptance of the successes, failures, criticisms and challenges they’ve faced for the previous 12 months. It is in fact, to borrow a phrase from Fox…a no spin zone.
So how did Saturday night go, and what are the results of the attempts at humor?
Chalk this one up to the President and his keynote comedian. They not only stole the show, but seriously stuck a pin in frontrunner Republican, Donald Trump’s campaign balloon. Let’s take a look at what “worked” and why the crowd erupted with laughter, time and time again. In case you missed it, Mr. Trump launched a full campaign, dubbed the “birther” attack to get President Obama to prove he was born in the United States. Forget that no previous American President has ever had to provide such documentation, and that it should be interesting to note that the only President to have his birthplace called into question is the first African-American President.
Now on to the “birther movement.” As most lawyers have been taught about preparing for trial, never ask a question to which you don’t know the answer. It is a guaranteed way to end up with egg on your face, and the complete opposite results you expect or hope. So it is also the case, with rhetoric, and political positioning. Whether you’ve formally declared a candidacy or are simply tinkering with the idea and sticking your toe in the water, position yourself on firm ground with issues you know, understand, and have achieved some degree of mastery. Never introduce yourself into an arena on speculation and hunches.
When the state of Hawaii released the President’s “long form” birth certificate it was all but confirmed open season to put a target on “The Donald,” who will forever have a snicker trailing after his name whenever he ventures into the political arena again. In one fail swoop, a month long campaign of speculation ended and Donald was left with egg on his face, and no more political bullets to shoot. Saturday, President Obama apparently found his owwn set of political bullets, and began his speech with humored shots at Trump for his deeply energetic and vigorous “catch the illegal president” effort, that ended unceremoniously, as the birth certificate is real, and confirmed.
Where does one go after that? Can you say, “well it should have come out sooner?” Or, can he bill himself as the man who made the President prove his birthplace? What does that accomplish politically? Does it show his experience in managing a failing economy? Hardly. At least four Trump branded properties have declared bankruptcy by filing Chapter 11. Does it show his savvy international experience in peace, mediation, and security? I don’t think so. Maybe it was to show his ability to be a leader of all kinds of people and someone who can build concensus in one of the world’s most diverse nations. To quote Seth Meyers, “unless ‘the blacks’ are an upper middle class white family,” Trump might want to reevaluate whether he really has a good relationship with them. In the age of diversity and sensitivity training it’s quite patronizing to put “the” before any group you’re discussing. It implies they are objects, not people, and demonstrates that your exposure to said group is quite limited. No one who has a close relationship with anyone or any group, lumps them so haphazardly, and without track record or evidence to back up such a claim.
With that said, while I’m sure the President had hit his threshhold for personal attacks throughout his presidency, he may have wanted to trim back on the volume of Trump directed comments. There’s plenty to joke about when you’re the president: approval ratings, successes, failures, kids in the White House, living in a “fishbowl,” going on an anniversary date with your wife on Air Force One, the economy, and health care. The list is endless. Know when you’ve won, and put the gloves down.
So what are the lessons to take away from all of this?
- If you’re going to use humor, choose thta which is self depricating.
- Having fun over a political victory is allowed…to a point. However, just like a basketball coach is supposed to pull the star players when the game becomes a blowout, you should recognize when the celebration has reached its pinnacle, and move on to something else. No sense trouncing the competition even if it feels good, or it’s something you’ve been waiting to do. The high road, is always the best road.
- Always position yourself on solid ground, not hunches, speculation, wishful thinking, or internal bias. Facts, proof, and evidence are all that matter this early in the campaign process. Taking your only stance, and a loud and publicly firm stance on a hunch, only to be proven wrong provides very little room to shift courses and regain credibility. It also entices your critics, former victims, and future competitors to go checking into your past for weaknesses.
- The media can be a blessing and a curse. Recognize that the phrase, “if it bleeds it leads” exists for a reason. The media likes “sexy.” If you launch a loud and vigorous attack campaign, reporters will ride along with you and increase your exposure. At the same time, should there be any weakness in your own camp, or in this case, your attacks are found to be without merit, they’ve increased the number of people who know of your mistake, and they will spend significant time speculating about your motives for such false attacks. In news, the goal is highest ratings, highest clicks, and highest circulation, not your personal crusade. They will help you rise, and just as easily help you fall. Be sure to have your facts in order so they can only be your asset.
The political season is off to slow start, and there will be plenty of fodder for comment as things pick up speed. Be sure to check back for the dos and don’ts of campaign speeches and platforms.
To see clips from the dinner: http://www.worldstarhiphop.com/videos/video.php?v=wshhf45vA12i3kzeOK23
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