In mid-August my book on persuasion and communications will come out. I’ve been working on it for a quarter century (!) and it is easily my most useful and best written book. So I’ll be writing more about persuasion and messaging over the next few months.
While many people thought Obama was a great communicator when he was elected, in fact he is mostly a good speechmaker — when he puts in a lot of effort, which he rarely does anymore.
His messaging has been dreadful for most of his presidency, and he has delivered far too few memorable lines or speeches. Based on my discussions with leading journalists, as well as current and former Administration staff, this White House is the worst at communications in the past 3 decades (see “Relax, climate hawks, it’s not about the science. The White House is just lousy at messaging in general“).
Indeed, the Obama WH is the worst of both possible worlds. They are dreadful at messaging BUT they think they are terrific at messaging, so much so that they shut down anybody else in the administration that might actually be good at messaging. How else to explain things like “public option” and “cap-and-trade” and “winning the future”? (see “Can Obama deliver health and energy security with a half (assed) message?“)
Last week linguist George Lakoff co-authored a good HuffingtonPost piece dismantling Obama’s big economic kickoff speech in Ohio. The whole piece is worth reading but let me just focus on the most elemental mistake — repeating your opponent’s message.
It is now very well known from the social science literature that you can’t debunk a myth by repeating it with a simple negation — see “The difficulty of debunking a myth” and “The Debunking Handbook Part 1: The First Myth About Debunking.” In fact, the literature suggests that for many people that merely reinforces the myth over time.
But here we have Obama just repeating Obama’s main point/narrative/frame, particularly on regulations. As Lakoff explains, Obama “unintentionally feeds” Romney’s narrative, in part “by accepting and reinforcing many of Romney’s central frames (often by negating them)”: