Here is an occasion when Michael Bersin and I part company. He quoted Forester de Rothschild:
…”This is a hard decision for me personally because frankly I don’t like him,” she said of Obama in an interview with CNN’s Joe Johns. “I feel like he is an elitist. I feel like he has not given me reason to trust him.”
Forester is the CEO of EL Rothschild, a holding company with businesses around the world. She is married to international banker Sir Evelyn de Rothschild. Forester is a member of the DNC’s Democrats Abroad chapter and splits her time living in London and New York.
Michael, I loved the humor in your response:
The thing is, anyone with a title of nobility and more money than 99.99% of the population of the world who calls anyone else “elitist” should not be able to get away with doing so without being mocked unmercifully by the remaining 99.99% of the world.
I think I’ll ring the house staff for my morning pick-me-up now…
I had just finished listening to Drew Westen talk on NOW last week about the way that Democrats and Obama too often lead with policy statements, power point presentations, and statistics instead of appealing to the heart. Republicans start by stating their values, add some policy detail, then end by stating their values. Westen recommends that Obama show us his human side:
I’m saying that if you want to win people’s hearts and minds, you better start with their hearts cause otherwise they’re not gonna care what’s on your mind. I mean, if you look at the data on what predicts people’s voting behavior in presidential elections: the top two predictors, one is how do people feel about the parties and their principles and the second is what do they feel about this candidate, what’s their gut level feeling. Our brains as voters are primate brains, they’re mammalian brains.
The sense I’ve gotten from undecided voters is not so much that they’re waiting to hear Obama give them policy prescriptions that will solve the problems they’re facing. They’re waiting to see if he can make them trust him. And I think that’s what Rothschild is referring to. Super wealthy or not, she senses the difficulty many voters are having with Obama.
Westen gave some telling examples in talking about how crucial the debates will be. Speaking of Obama:
If he starts with one of these long drawn out answers on the economy, he’s gonna lose people. If he starts instead, imagine if he’s asked a question about the economy and his response is: “You know, I want to see the words ‘Made in America’ again.” And then he says what he’s going to do about trade, what’s he’s done is he’s drawn everybody in
Asked how tough Biden ought to come across in his debate with Palin, Westen recommends that Biden say he will treat her with respect as an American and as a peer:
‘But the gloves are going to come off with me just like they’ve come off with you, because this is a, you know the American people need to know where we stand.’ You know, I would put it on the table, you want to make this stuff conscious so people are thinking about that.
David Brancacchio was incredulous that a Democrat might be that aggressive and Westen said:
This is, I think, one of the central things the Democrats have to understand if they want to win back the hearts and minds of the American people, is that you can take almost any position that you want on almost any issue, as long as it’s not the fetal position.
Democrats are constantly in a defensive crouch, and when they behave that way, people figure “he’s weak and lacking in conviction, and I don’t think I’ll vote for him.”
Returning to the idea of appealing to the heart, Weston said that if he were Obama and were asked about health care:
The last thing I would say is, “I believe in universal health care.” You start out instead by saying “I believe in a family doctor for every family.”
Before I retired from teaching English, I put it a different way to my composition students. I told them to use specifics, concrete examples. And I used to make them practice. I’d give them a long list of generalities to turn into specifics. I’d recommend writing not “After I’d lugged in the groceries” but “After I’d lugged in two gallons of milk and enough meat to keep a puma healthy.”
It’s the same principle Westen is urging. It’s probably the same principle that your candidate in the diner understood, Michael. Present people with concrete images they can understand.
I hope Obama and Biden have heard Westen’s advice … and taken notes.