Palin’s Problem Really Isn’t Her (Mis)understanding of American History

It’s that she strings together random words in the hope that they will turn into a sentence.

She really needs to work on answering questions off the cuff. She sounds dumb, even when she does know what she’s talking about (although to my reading of her statements, that seems to happen infrequently).

Palin is such an interesting conundrum on so many levels, but especially as a communicator. On the one hand, she has undeniable star power. Watching her give a good speech is electrifying, even if you disagree with everything she is saying. And she knows how to play to her base. The bullsh*it about the “lamestream media” and “gotcha” questions is completely manipulative.

But then you watch her try to answer a simple question off-the-cuff and she completely discombulates.

At the end of the day, she just doesn’t sound like a President. And that, more than anything, will (likely) mean she never will be.

What We Can Learn from NY’s Primary Election

I voted in NY’s primary election today.  I’m embarassed to admit this, but I knew very little about who was running.  I didn’t even recognize one of the three people running to be the Democratic candidate for mayor! (Good job basically locking that one up, Mr. Bloomberg.)

But there’s some interesting lessons here:

For comptroller I voted for someone because a friend of mine emailed me with a personal endorsement.  What’s interesting about this is that I was planning to vote for someone else who I actually had heard of and had run a cool TV ad.  But ultimately the personal endorsement of my friend — who is also very involved with NY poltics, so I trust his opinion on this specifically — won out over name recognition and a slick ad.

Do your fans endorse you?

For City Council I voted for the woman who’s flyer was handed to me as I walked into the polling place.  I figured if she could mobilize people on the ground and inspire them to stand on a corner holding a sign and handing out flyers then she must be pretty good.

Are you mobilizing fans?  Are you in front of prospective customers at the exact right moment when they are making a decision?

Frank Luntz on Healthcare

I am fascinated by Frank Luntz.  I really wish the Democrats had someone like him.

He was interviewed on On The Media this week talking about how to talk about the health care debate.  Totally worth a seven-minute listen.  If you have more time Luntz has published a long memo with advice for Republicans on how to debate the issue.  Lots of interesting polling data, plus his ideas on how to frame the issue.

His ability to distort facts makes me crazy, but he’s not wrong that words matter.  How we talk about the issues matter and changes in tone and rhetoric can make all the difference between success and failure in the political arena.

Sarah, What’s the Strategy?

It’s such a trope that even non-PR people know it: if you want a story to get very little coverage, issue a press release on a Friday afternoon. Preferably around a holiday or just about any Friday in the summer.

From that perspective, Sarah Palin’s announcement was a trifecta: A Friday, in July, the day before the Fourth of July. So, was she hoping that her resignation wouldn’t get covered? I’m totally confused by the strategy.

Of course, I guess the real question is why is she resigning in the first place? If there is another scandal coming or something like that, then this strategy makes sense. It also makes sense if she quit for personal reasons.

If she is resigning to run for President in 2012, or even just more vaguely to position herself for some kind of national platform, whether in the government or not, then I’m not so sure. Putting aside whether or not quitting is a smart strategy, wouldn’t you want to launch a new career with a big media splash? And if the answer is yes, then you don’t announce your resignation on the Friday of a summer holiday weekend, right?

I realize trying to figure out what Sarah Palin is thinking is a bit like trying to read tea leaves. Probably why this post has more question marks than periods.

Meanwhile, I think that whatever the strategy was, she failed. How’s that? Well, if she wanted to make a big splash, it didn’t exactly work. There was some coverage on Friday, but at around 9 pm that night Anderson Cooper was “live” on CNN covering Michael Jackson’s death, now nearly a week past, with footage that was days old. The message couldn’t be clearer: Yeah, Sarah Palin quit. Who cares? But on the other hand the Friday announcement didn’t stop the scrutiny of her very state of mind, which dribbled in over the weekend and has wound up with a vengeance beginning today.

Like a lot of things Sarah Palin does (and says) the whole thing just makes no sense at all.

This guy really needs to stop talking

AP Newsbreak: SC gov ‘crossed lines’ with women

I just don’t get what the strategy is here.  Why doesn’t he just shut up and get back to work?  It doesn’t seem that he’s making anything better.  Has he just completely lost his marbles?

Oh, and by the way, the quote about “trying to fall back in love with his wife”?  Yeah, I know what I’d say if I was his wife.  “Don’t bother.”  And I’m betting his married women constituents are thinking the same thing.

The Hypocrisy “Problem”?

It’s common wisdom among Democrats that all these Republican scandals are going to really, really hurt them not on the facts, but because of the inherent hypocrisy they represent.

First, let’s put aside the fact that Democrats can be just as hypocritical. There are plenty of Dems who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act while simultaneously cheating on their wives. Every modern politician does a fair amount of values speak.

But it is fair to say that Republicans have built their brand around these values. It is their story and they are sticking to it. They are the party that preaches, quite literally, family values, abstinence education, traditional marriage and so on. So when these guys get caught with their pants around their ankles, won’t voters see them for the hypocrites that they are?

Maybe. Or maybe not.

Charles Blow in todays’ Times certainly reaches the conclusion that this is a problem for them. That they should worry less about what others are doing in their bedrooms. But the graphic in his column actually reveals something very interesting. It shows that rates of divorce, teen pregnancy and purchases of adult online entertainment are higher, on average, in red states than in blue states. To put it simply, the red staters talk conservative and act liberal and the blue staters talk liberal and act conservative.

But does this mean Republican scandals will present a bigger problem for them than they do for Democrats? Maybe, in fact, the real hypocrites are all those red state voters who preach (and vote for) conservative values but are busy cheating on their wives and downloading porn. One conclusion to draw is that the very fact that they are hypocritical is what makes them so judgemental and that they will condemn the politicians who screw up even as they do the same things. Or perhaps they will just think “There but for the grace of God, at least I don’t have to stand in front of new cameras when my wife catches me cheating.”

Lessons in Crisis Communication: The Sanford Affair

I think it goes without saying that Mark Sanford has screwed up. Now what?

A crisis communication specialist was on NPR on Thursday (before the Jackson news moved) to talk about how Sanford had handled the situation so far.  His advice to politicians who find themselves in situations like this:  drag the wife out, issue a short, simple statement and then don’t take questions.

I disagree with the first part and totally agree with the second and third.

Don’t drag the wife out. She’s been humiliated enough. In fact, I think most women feel a visceral disgust when they see powerful men screw up and make their poor wife stand next to them. The expression on Silda Spitzer’s face is seared on my brain and it will always make me think a bit less of the former governor.

But not taking questions is really great advice. The pro’s rationale was that there is really no good answer you can give to the questions that are going to be asked. Give a simple, to-the-point statement (which Sanford didn’t) and then get off the stage.

And now he really needs to stop talking. He held a televised (?!) meeting with his Cabinet today to apologize to them. Um, seriously? Take advantage of the Jackson tragedy and disappear. Honestly I don’t think there is anything this guy can say or do now to make his situation any better — his national ambitions are toast and he’ll be lucky to hold onto his current job. But continuing to talk can only make his situation worse. Keep quiet, fix your marriage and hope that American’s attention spans really are as short as we are always told they are.

Remember this day, baby girl

We watched the swearing in and the speech.  Maddie laughed and clapped.  I like to think this was because of the wonderful, joyful moment of history.  But truthfully it’s probably because of the novelty of having the TV on in the middle of the day.

I just can’t describe how happy I feel today.  It’s a feeling of profound optimism.  And I’ll cop to partisanship here, but I don’t think I would have felt this way about a President Gore or a President Kerry (though either of those would have made me much happier than President Bush).  This is different.  We live in an amazing country.

When Obama spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 I got goose bumps.  I turned to Preston and said, “This guy is going to be president some day.”  (This is totally true — ask him.) I had no idea that some day would be today.

And, on a completely partisan note, I love this photo.  Don’t let that door hit you in the behind Mr. Bush …

Obama Inauguration

(Photo credit: AP Photo/ Saul Loeb, Pool)