Effective Political Communication
Over the years we have had some exceptional political Communication and then we’ve had some less than exceptional political communication. The basic requirement for effective communication is that you have to have something you want people to know. It can be a fact, an opinion, a decision, or some other piece of information that is significant in some way. The most effective communication is when the speaker says something they are passionate about.
One of the most effective pieces of communication was the Gettysburg Address. President Lincoln gave a short speech that he wrote himself as part of the ceremony to dedicate the cemetery in the town of Gettysburg Pennsylvania. The battle was important and was fought by two armies who were willing to fight and die for what they believed in. The significance of the battle to the Union was immense. The war was still a long way from ending. A president has to set the tone and motivate his followers in times of stress.
In this dedication President Lincoln used simple words to express his honest feelings. He knew the combat experienced by the soldiers who were buried there was far more significant and a much more eloquent statement than he could express in words. He identified their struggle and their sacrifice for the benefit of those who were able to be present at the dedication, as well as for the country as a whole.
He understood that he couldn’t dedicate any more eloquently or more strongly than by honoring their struggle and their sacrifice to the country. He believed it was sacred ground because of their actions and their sacrifice and his use of words could not add or detract from what they did.
President George W. Bush made many speeches and in many press conferences he spoke about many things that he believed in. His communication was not nearly as eloquent as President Lincoln’s frequently was. His choice of words and his delivery was never as smooth as the great orators of history. What he did do well was say what be meant and he meant what he said. A great example of this was when he announced the surge in Iraq. He was ridiculed by his opponents and the media, but he stood fast over time, because he believed the plan would work. He meant what he said and he had faith in his subordinates and he was confident of the outcome. Time and results proved him right and his opponents and critics wrong. He was not as eloquent or as smooth but his communication was effective. He meant what he said over and over and never had to back off any of his statements because they were ambiguous or conveyed the wrong message. He said what he felt was right and then stood his ground. The basic requirement for effective communication is that you have to have something you want people to know. He said what he believed and then stood his ground. That’s not only effective communication, but its good leadership. A very handy quality if you’re the Leader of the free world.
There is a great deal of controversy over the building of a Mosque near Ground Zero. Some see it as a matter of religious freedom; some see it as a matter of tolerance. Some are seriously offended by the insensitivity of building a Mosque there and are highly offended by the possibility of that Mosque. Intellectually there’s no problem, let them build a Mosque where they want, the United States is built on freedoms and they should be able to build it where they want. Emotionally they’re spitting in the eye of the victims of September 11 and their survivors. Emotionally they are spitting in the eye of anyone who feels that we as a people and a country were attacked by an enemy who wants to destroy us.
A political leader recently made a speech lauding the freedom of religion and the tolerance that this country is founded on. The audience was a Muslim audience. The world accepted this as his stand as a Political Leader stating that the Mosque should be built near Ground Zero. That’s only what it appeared to mean.
As the opponents of his statement grew louder and shriller, this political leader came back and said, I just lauded our founding principles not the wisdom of building that Mosque there?
Was this effective communication? What purpose did the original statement have? Did he write his own speech or did back room flunkies write it and had it reviewed by a series of lawyers before he delivered it? Did he get to see it before it was flashed before him on the teleprompter?
These are important questions that we want to know the answers to. Silence is an effective form of communication. In the event that you want to stay out of a fight, be quite. Ambiguity is not leadership. Ambiguity is slimy and cowardly. An effective concept in leadership is “Lead, Follow, or get out of the way.” When you chose to lead, lead, when you chose to follow, be a good follower, if you don’t want those options, get the hell out of the way and stay out of the way.
Another possibility is that he was naïve enough to think that what he told that audience would never leave the room. Modern politicians seem to think that saying what your audience wants to hear is acceptable. Even if what they want to hear is not what you want other to hear. In an age of cell phones tape recorders and other electronic equipment there are no secrets. I can’t believe he is that naïve. Can you?
If there is any concern about how I feel about the Mosque at Ground Zero, I fall in with those who have an emotional feeling about it. We do enjoy freedom of religion in this country, but the choice to place a Mosque there is insensitive to the victims and survivors. They should d build a Mosque if they need one, but not there and not now. Build it in Upstate New York and enjoy but not in Manhattan.
I hope I have effectively communicated my position.