Welcome to my 3rd annual blog on communication faux pas. This year, political communication dominated, showing some of the best and worst in human communication. Of course, business communicators wouldn't be left out and gave the politicians a run for their money especially as the economic downturn got ugly. As a communications expert, it’s been endlessly fascinating and a veritable smorgasbord of yummy delights. This week, I’ll cover blunders. Next week, I’ll highlight some of the successes.
And (drum roll) now, the faux pas of 2008:
- Hillary Clinton’s campaign has to go down as #1 because she blew her one chance to become POTUS by not communicating who she was, but rather who she thought voters wanted her to be.
- John McCain never took seriously the reality that he was up against a master communicator who was also young and energetic. The only way to compete would have been if McCain was a comparable communicator. McCain could have improved his skills, but, for some reason, chose not to. As a result, he couldn’t counteract Obama’s inherent advantages. All in all, McCain's decision bespoke a stubbornness that was just dumb. And who wants another dummy for president?
- Dennis Kucinich should have kept his UFO story to himself. As one of the more honest and direct candidates, this little bit of trivia weakened his case.
- Rudy Giuliani should never have staged that call from his wife, Judi, during a speech to the NRA. He couldn’t pull it off and it’s bad form in any event to take a call during a speech.
- Fred Thompson – remember him? He was the great hope of the Republican Party for about 5 minutes. But Fred wasn’t ready for prime time. The assumption was Fred would bring his acting skills to the platform, a la Ronald Reagan. But good acting requires rehearsal and preparation and, alas, Fred forgot about that part.
- Mitt Romney always seemed plastic. Clearly an accomplished guy and a successful family man, Mitt just couldn’t seem to break through as he tried to transform himself from Massachusetts moderate to a bible belt conservative. His downfall was epitomized by a back-and-forth he had with a waitress in a New Hampshire diner who questioned him on his plans for health care and described her health insurance travails. But instead of reaching out to her and showing a little empathy, Mitt stuck to his talking points showing the only empathy he had was for himself.
- The Big 3 Automakers’ CEOs were just unbelievable in their tone-deafness. Representing their virtually bankrupt companies that they helped drive into the ground, they flew to Washington on private jets to beg Congress (and taxpayers) to bail them out. The arrogance they communicated was breathtaking.
- Henry Paulson asked Congress and taxpayers for almost a trillion dollars, then insisted on no oversight and for all players to be held harmless should things go wrong. Though there was a lot of huffing and puffing from Senators and Congressmen, and although we, the little people, thought they got some standards in place, it seems things turned out the way Paulson orginally wanted them to. (So maybe this was a communication success?)
- Barack Obama, believe it or not, has made some mistakes. Chief among them is his choice of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. Obama states he doesn’t agree with Warren on everything, of course, but they do agree on a lot and anyway, he wants his administration to be inclusive, which he repeated over and over during his campaign. But this is no mere disagreement. And being inclusive certainly means not dissing voters who passionately supported him. It is just morally wrong to give such a platform to a man who believes in and promotes the odious idea that one group of human beings, gay people, are not equal to most Americans and should thus be excluded from enjoying certain important benefits others take for granted. And that’s not the only thing wrong with Warren. With this choice, Obama communicates a good deal of ignorance at best or an enormous level of cynicism at worst. The two years of isolated, unreal life Obama has lived during the campaign are already beginning to take their toll.
- George W. Bush doesn’t have many regrets. Is this guy clueless or what? I mean I have more regrets than he does. This lack of introspection tells us that he just doesn’t care about, well, anything! Goodbye, Mr. Bush, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
That’s all I can think of for now. Next week, 2008 communication successes. Happy Holidays!
Ruth Sherman Associates LLC / High Stakes Communication / http://www.ruthsherman.com