PResidential rhetoric

Jeff Morosoff, Asst. Professor of Public Relations, Hofstra University

This was a tough week for President Obama. With unemployment ticking upwards, his political opponents quickly pointed to his inability to “fix” the economy (as if it’s within his power to do so singlehandedly), while may of his supporters continue to be disappointed with the president’s lack of aggression in articulating his key messages.

We focus on key messaging when creating public relations campaigns. Every campaign needs focal points–ideas you want your audiences to remember. Republicans are really good at this; they refer to the president as a “socialist” with “job-killing policies” who’s promoting “class warfare.” They stick to the script when talking about “job creators” and “Obamacare” and “tax and spend Democrats.” Their Frank Luntz-inspired wordcrafting is strategic and performed in lockstep; they are the key messages of a party determined to win back the White House.

Obama supporters’ frustration comes less from his performance as president and more from his inability to fight back. When unemployment rose last week, the president might have said, “Look, I’ve put several proposals before Congress these past three years that would have created X million jobs, but my opponents would rather see Americans remain unemployed than support anything that comes from me.” On defense, he hasn’t quite been able to put together something like: “Under my leadership the world is safer. Bin Laden is dead, al-Qaeda is in disarray, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are ending, and democracy is growing stronger throughout the world.” Barack Obama would be served by saying such things out loud to better counteract the rhetorical assault he’s taking every day. He and the Democrats must use the same GOP strategy: simple words and simple concepts repeated repeatedly.

The president doesn’t seem to enjoy sound bite rhetoric and Democrats rarely stay on message with consistency. But if they want to hang on to the presidency and maybe gain some seats in Congress, they’ll have to play the key messaging game as well as the Republicans. Your thoughts?

One thought on “PResidential rhetoric

  1. Louise Cassano

    Good points, Jeff. It’s all about staying focused and building a good offense and defense around the key message.


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