Insight News

Feb 12th

Obama rewind needed

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web obama romneyI’m not sure who is coaching President Obama, but I hope they just got fired. As someone who has worked in media, given hundreds of speeches, taught university courses, and given many poetry readings, one thing I’ve learned is that people like a performance! And that’s what was missing from President Obama’s presentation in the first debate.

I think the Obama media people are young and old white men who have experience doing political campaigns. But as Bob Dylan says “the times they are achangin’.” We are a country of people who thrive on reality TV like “The Biggest Losers,” “Jersey Shores,” “The Housewives of Atlanta,” and “Survivors.”

Why are viewers interested in reality TV? Because television is a diversion away from the harsh and often unhappy reality of their own lives. Viewers live vicariously through the trial, tribulations, and triumphs of others. Sometimes they get inspired to make similar changes, like those who watch “The Biggest Losers.” Sometimes they smirk and watch Snookie of “Jersey Shores” make a fool of herself over several seasons and then get her life together, and realize that perhaps they can change their own lives after years of messing up. As for “The Housewives of Atlanta,” well if you like watching Black women live in diva-mode and slap each other, perhaps there is a lesson embedded. I haven’t figured it out yet, but maybe it’s better them than me.

Back to the Presidential Debate on October 3, 2012. Obama needs to rewind and play forward again. This time his coaches need to recognize that the liberal model, which drives me crazy, of affirming the attributes of your opponent first, then pointing out their flaws, isn’t working for them. Indeed, what many of us thought was missing from Obama’s delivery last night was passion.

On the campaign trail, he gets it. He takes off his coat, rolls up his sleeves, smiles often, and delivers his message with passion and dry humor. He’s good at zingers too. We need to see that on the televised debates. Also, trying to be “Mr. Nice Guy” is not a recipe for success.

Let’s face it— to debate is “to engage in a formal discussion or argument.” It is not a lecture. It is not a polite conversation with someone who has an opposing viewpoint. Anyone who knows beans about debating knows that you go for the jugular—nicely. You want to disarm your opponents, and you need specifics, rather than sweeping generalizations.

Obama was off his game last night. He needs some new coaching. He needs someone other than traditional political speech writers and media people who continue to see the world in a very specific way and have difficulty thinking outside the box. He needs those who truly understand Einstein’s definition of insanity: “keep doing the same thing and expecting different outcomes.”

If President Obama, the incumbent, continues down this current debate road, he will lose. Remember the criticism about the roll-out of Obamacare? The President was critiqued for not being on the road to build support for his healthcare legislation. The same people who coached him for that failure were the ones who set him up for this.

“…I said I was not a perfect man and I would not be a perfect President….” Say what? This is not the way you close a debate. You concede nothing to your opponent and in your closing remarks you rise to the occasion to inspire not to admit your weaknesses. You want to leave the audience with the idea that you are the right man for the job.

Obama gets a B- from me for his debating technique. He needs to go back and take some lessons from Muhammad Ali, who was the king of taking on his opponents—in the ring and outside. And, I have to concede that Romney gets an A-, whether he was truthful or not, he convinced people that he knows what he’s talking about.

President Obama, it’s time for a serious rewind. Lose the white boys (no offense) who come with their own biases about what an “angry Black man” sounds like. Get some diversity on your side. Maybe some (Black ) women who are on the front line of your strategic communications and not behind the scenes. Anyway, operating from the position of trying not to offend anyone in a debate is a losing strategy.

There are those who will always see President Obama as unfit for the position of President simply because he is Black. They don’t matter.

What matters is that those of us who support President Obama want him to be on his “A” game. Talk about the contradictions in Romney’s presentation. Talk about his rudeness—he kept putting Jim Lehrer in his place. Challenge him on the comments he has made about the 47%.

Get some animation going in your hand gestures and body language (some motion in the ocean) like you do when you are on the campaign trail—like you did speaking in Denver post-debate. Your hands were moving, your voice had emotion, and your humor was in clear evidence. Get your passion-jones back. A serious rewind of debating strategy is needed NOW. We can’t afford a repeat.

P.S. Mr. President, I’m available for consulting on strategic communications.

©2012 McClaurin Solutions

Irma McClaurin, PhD is the Culture and Education Editor for Insight News of Minneapolis. She is a bio-cultural anthropologist and writer living in Raleigh, NC, the Principal of McClaurin Solutions (a consulting business), and a former university president. ( (@mcclaurintweets).

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