August 08, 2014
Last night our President made a statement authorizing U.S. air strikes against Islamic militants in Iraq and airdrops of humanitarian aid for Iraqi religious minorities threatened by the extremists and our language strategists here at maslansky weighed in. How did he do? Well, we asked our team of communication experts what words they would use to describe his performance. Here’s what they said.
Overall: The overwhelming consensus was that it was solidly average. The average score given to him by our team….
In a vacuum, the speech was pretty good. In the context of his presidency, it reinforces the notion that he doesn’t have a clear sense of policy as much as an ability to rationalize his decisions once he makes them. Good policy is based on setting a predictable course and allowing others to anticipate your moves in a given situation.
Most all of us agree that he SHOULD be doing this. In fact, we found it hard to argue with anything he’s saying. But most of us couldn’t help but feel that his language was defensive or overly cautious. Like he seems to be speaking to his critics and would-be critics, the people he expects to pounce on him. When in fact, in this case, most people agree with and want to support him.
One of our language strategists Chris Manley said, “look at the vast gulf between the situation and his language. Here he has an abused desert tribe chased up a mountain, their available refuge vanishing to a singularity underneath them as they climb. Starving, thirsty children. There is no more human, dramatic image. It’s a Hollywood film about war’s victims.” So then why on earth would he not use language that demonstrated his conviction not his defenses?
Let’s take a closer look at what he did well and what he could have done better.
What he did well:
- He was clear and direct. From his stance to the core principles he couldn’t have been more clear.
- He used very powerful and carefully chosen language that drove support for his action. Words like “barbaric,” “genocide,” “ruthless,” “certain death.”
- He laid out a clear plan of action.
What he could have done better:
- He said in 8 minutes what could have been said more definitively in 4
- He lacked conviction by using dependent clauses. For example, he said “When we face a situation like we do on that mountain - with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help - in this case, a request from the Iraqi government - and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye.” Dickens himself could not have stretched such an idea into more dependent clauses. 7 dependent clauses to say “People will die if we do nothing.”
- The powerful language he chose might be undermined by his track record. Think Syria…
- He seemed reticent about taking action, and should be stronger in his convictions that military assistance by the US is what’s needed.
- He shouldn’t have revisited the Iraq war. Enough already.
- He never ties all of this back to what we've been doing for the last 10 years. Why have 4,000 American soldiers died? Is this strike about making sure they didn't die in vain? Or is it about helping innocents? It sounds like the latter, when it should clearly be the former.
- You get the feeling he hates Bush's war so much, he refuses to accept it's actually America's war. It's his war.