The 40th and 44th Presidents of the United States, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, were two men whose politics are poles apart, but who share one common touch point that serves as a lesson for any presenter.
Although their speaking styles also differ—Mr. Reagan, the genial former actor from the Midwest, who overwhelmed audiences with his underplaying, and Mr. Obama, the cool former Ivy League attorney, who rouses audiences with his dynamic voice and elegant bearing—both men use their individual styles in the service of their outstanding ability to tell human interest stories.
Mr. Reagan almost singlehandedly invented the anecdotal game. The Great Communicator rarely missed an opportunity to tell a tale about a brave soldier or a dedicated student. Readers of Presentations in Action will recall the story of how, in 1983, Mr. Reagan honored the courageous act of a federal employee named Lenny Skutnik by recounting the details of the act during the State of the Union Address—while Mr. Skutnik sat next to Nancy Reagan-establishing a precedent that every president since has followed.
Mr. Obama appreciates Mr. Reagan’s talents. In his autobiography, The Audacity of Hope, Mr. Obama frequently referenced his predecessor. “I understand his appeal,” Mr. Obama wrote, referring to Mr. Reagan’s ability to spark Americans to “rediscover the traditional virtues of hard work, patriotism, personal responsibility, optimism and faith. That Reagan’s message found such a receptive audience spoke … to his skills a communicator.”
Mr. Obama took his appreciation of Mr. Reagan along with him during his 2010 holiday vacation in Hawaii in the form of a book. At the slow news periods like holidays, media interest sometimes turns to what the president is reading. That year it was a biography called President Reagan, by Lou Cannon. In it, Mr. Obama read a statement Mr. Reagan made just after he left office:
Some of my critics over the years have said that I became president because I was an actor who knew how to give a good speech. I suppose that’s not too far wrong. Because an actor knows two important things—to be honest in what he’s doing and to be in touch with the audience. That’s not bad advice for a politician either. My actor’s instincts simply told to speak the truth as I saw it and felt it.
Little did Barack Obama know how meaningful that statement would be. Shortly after his return from that vacation, on January 8, 2011, a deranged Jared Lee Loughner shot Representative Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen other people during a public citizens’ meeting held in a supermarket parking lot in Tucson, Arizona. Four days after that tragic event, Mr. Obama flew to Tucson to address a stunned nation and the families and friends of the victims at a memorial service at the University of Arizona.
After a brief formal opening of condolences including a passage from Scripture, Mr. Obama began to talk about each of the victims. In simple, but eloquent words, he painted a warm human picture of each person’s life—especially that of nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green whose story he extended as a role model for the nation:
Imagine -- imagine for a moment, here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that some day she, too, might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council. She saw public service as something exciting and hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.
I want to live up to her expectations.
The passage could have been taken right out of the Ronald Reagan style manual.
Validation came from the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan, a former speech writer for Mr. Reagan and a frequent critic of Mr. Obama. In her postmortem of the Tucson event, she wrote, “About a third of the way through, the speech took on real meaning and momentum, and by the end it was very good, maybe great.” She attributed the pivot to “when Mr. Obama started to make things concrete … specific facts about real human beings.” (F29.5)
“Specific facts about real human beings,” is sound advice for any speaker.
(commentary from last week's State of the Union, February 12, 2013)
by Jerry Weissman, author of Winning Strategies…
By their nature, State of the Union Addresses take the shapeless form of a laundry list. As President Obama noted in the opening sentence of this year’s—his 4th—edition of the annual event, it is his task “to report the State of the Union.” To make that report complete and accurate, the president and his speech writers send parts of the speech in advance to the various departments of the federal government for their input and confirmation. That process falls into the category of “creation by committee,” and its companion phrase, “a camel is a horse created by a committee.”That’s why most such addresses come across as a patchwork quilt—except for this year’s edition.
After a few opening sentences, President Obama stated his main theme: “It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth.” He then proceeded to stay on that single subject for what amounted to 65% of the nearly 6500 word speech. In that stretch, he spoke about diverse subjects, most of them directly related to the economy such as reducing the deficit, tax and entitlement reform, creating jobs, and investing in infrastructure. He also spoke of subjects tangential to the economy but he carefully wove them back into the economy. Note how he ties each subject to his main theme (italics mine):
Climate change: “We can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change.”
High-quality education: “Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on.”
Immigration: “Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants.”
Violence Against Women: “We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence.”
This consistent back reference gave the address continuity that is rare in State of the Union Addresses
Mr. Obama also used another powerful device rhetorical device in his speech, one favored by orators since the dawn of civilization. The Greeks called it “anaphora,” or a figure speech repeated over a series of successive phrases or clauses. The most famous is Reverend Martin Luther King’s use of the phrase “I have a dream” 16 times successively in his historic civil rights speech.
At the end of his State of the Union, the president moved from the economy to gun violence and told the story of a victim named Hadiya Pendleton who was shot and killed in a Chicago. Mr. Obama repeated the same phrase five times:
Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.
Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.
The families of Newtown deserve a vote.
The families of Aurora deserve a vote.
The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.
It served as an emotional climax to a well-constructed speech.
Yesterday, in his second inaugural address, President Obama eloquently expressed his future vision of America: “…it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence…” but he did so by looking back in historical context: “… to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.”
In the second paragraph of the speech, the president quoted the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
He then proceeded to echo his idol, Abraham Lincoln, by embedding the famous words of the Gettysburg Address in this sentence: “The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.”
And then, as a unifying theme, Mr. Obama used the immortal first three words of the Constitution, “We, the people…” as a recurring phrase at the beginnings of four consecutive paragraphs:
We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.
We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still
By using repetition, the president was echoing Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday was celebrated concurrent with Inauguration Day. Dr. King used the phrase “I have a dream” 16 times in his 1963 speech. In fact, Mr. Obama was reaching even further back in history to the Greek orators who termed the use of a repetitious phrase in successive sentences, Anaphora.
If you look back at the fourth instance of “We, the people…” you’ll see that Mr. Obama employed another rhetorical device: By restating the words of the Declaration of Independence, “the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal,” he created a bookend, an echo of his beginning.
Bookends, anaphora, and familiar quotations, are techniques any presenter can employ in any presentation.
In his nearly two decades as the host of the CBS “Late Night” show, Mr. Letterman has made his nightly reading of his “Top Ten” list a social ritual of American culture. While he uses his list for comic effect, you can use the same approach to create a structure for your presentations.
Authors Stephen R. Covey and Deepak Chopra used the numbering technique for the structure of their respective bestsellers, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. The popular Politico website regularly calls out the Top Five takeaways from the political events that they cover; how-to newspaper and magazine articles add sidebar boxes that summarize their main tips with a total number; and the help desk web page of product and service companies summarize their customer FAQs with a total number.
In the fast and furious business world where presentations are often hastily cobbled together with a disparate collection of begged, borrowed, or stolen slides and delivered by a presenter who is the only one in the room who can understand what on Earth one slide has to do with another, the numbering technique can be emergency CPR. Simply organizing the different elements into a clear order makes it easy for both the presenter and the audience to follow.
Eric Benhamou, the former Chairman of 3Com Corporation (acquired by HP in 2010), did so under rather trying circumstances.
Mr. Benhamou was invited to deliver a keynote speech at a dinner given by the California-Israel Chamber of Commerce, an organization as diverse as the more than 7000 miles that separate those two centers of business. The event, which was held on a mid-week night at Silicon Valley’s large San Jose Fairmount Hotel, began with a cocktail hour that ran for far more than an hour. When the ballroom doors finally opened, the several hundred guests rushed in to find seats at tables they had to share with strangers. After the usual rubber chicken meal, the Masters of Ceremonies presented awards to individuals who were familiar only to Californians, and some who were familiar only to Israelis. Each of the recipients then proceeded to give an acceptance speech that made Academy Award acceptance speeches seem abrupt by comparison. When Mr. Benhamou’s turn came, it was nearly nine o’clock.
How would you like to have to deliver a speech in those circumstances?
In the aftermath of the election, political pundits have inundated the media and the web with postmortem analyses of the results, most of them attributing Barack Obama’s victory to his get-out-the-vote “ground game,” others to the president’s advertising campaign, some to Mitt Romney’s “47%” video, some to the Latino, Asian, and African-American, and women’s voting blocs, some to campaign finances, and some even to Hurricane Sandy.
Allow me to chime in with what is my admittedly parochial point of view by giving due credit to the candidates’ presentation styles. When citizens vote for the leader of their country, they are choosing an authority figure, and they want that person to appear authoritative. Single issues such as the economy, jobs, climate control, immigration, family values, foreign policy, and women’s rights notwithstanding, voters are seeking a father (and someday, maybe, a mother) figure, which, by any measure, is a gut decision. They are impelled more by their hearts than their minds. “Who’s your Daddy?”
Andrew Kohut agrees. He is the president of the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan “fact tank” that did extensive public opinion polling during the election. In an article for the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Kohut wrote, “Postelection talk of ‘lessons learned’ is often exaggerated and misleading.” He then went on to add:
In particular, they are paying too little attention to how weak a candidate Mitt Romney was… Just 47% of exit-poll respondents viewed him favorably, compared with 53% for Mr. Obama.Throughout the campaign, Mr. Romney's favorable ratings were among the lowest recorded for a presidential candidate in the modern era. A persistent problem was doubt about his empathy with the average voter. By 53% to 43%, exit-poll respondents said that Mr. Obama was more in touch than Mr. Romney with people like themselves.
James Fallows, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, goes even further than Mr. Kohut. A veteran political watcher who has covered many elections since his days as Jimmy Carter’s speechwriter, Mr. Fallows wrote an article for the September issue of the magazine in anticipation of the 2012 presidential debates in which he referenced a political meme:
…the easiest way to judge “victory” in many debates is to watch with the sound turned off, so you can assess the candidates’ ease, tenseness, humor, and other traits signaled by their body language.
Mr. Fallows’ words echo a noted study (noted in the presentation trade) conducted by Professor Albert Mehrabian of the Department of Psychology at UCLA. The study ranked the relative impact of the three key dynamics of interpersonal communication:
Visual: Body language
The results: the body language had the greatest impact, the voice next, while the story had the least impact—substantiation of the “sound turned off” premise.
You can see further substantiation in two events on the culminating night of the 2012 election: Mr. Obama’s victory speech and Mr. Romney’s concession speech. Granted that one man was feeling lift of exhilaration and the other the pain of defeat, but by viewing each speech (via the YouTube links)—with the sound turned off—you’ll readily see why Mr. Obama had a ten point advantage in the Pew Research exit polls.
Watch for three visual factors:
Eyes: Both men read their speeches from teleprompters, but as Mr. Romney shifted from between the teleprompter panels, his eyes darted an instant before his head turned, making him appear furtive. Mr. Obama turned his eyes and head at the same time, making him appear to be connecting directly with his audience.
Gestures: Mr. Romney made minimal use of his hands and arms, appearing constrained, while Mr. Obama used his hands and arms expressively, appearing animated and enthusiastic.
Stance: Mr. Romney stood either ramrod straight or leaning back, while Mr. Obama repeatedly leaned forward to his audience. As Mr. Kohut said, “exit-poll respondents said that Mr. Obama was more in touch than Mr. Romney.”
Power Presentations - Wednesday, November 14, 2012
by Jerry Weissman
On the Sunday before Election Day, the New York Times (which had enthusiastically endorsed President Obama the previous Sunday) published a negative article in its Magazine section titled, “Still Waiting for the Narrator in Chief.” In the article, Matt Bai, the newspaper's chief political correspondent, pondered how Mr. Obama had “squandered his narrative mojo.”
Mr. Bai was echoing an opinion voiced by many others throughout the election campaign; particularly by his Times colleague, Maureen Dowd, who, in one of her many critiques of the president, took a shot at him by referencing a new book, A Nation of Wusses, in which “Democrat Ed Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania, wonders how ‘the best communicator in campaign history’ lost his touch.”
The mistake of my first term – couple of years – was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that’s important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times. It’s funny when I ran everybody said, “well he can give a good speech, but can he actually manage the job?” And in my first two years, I think the notion was, “well, he’s been juggling and managing a lot of stuff, but where’s the story that tells us where he’s going?” And I think that was a legitimate criticism.
That self-evaluation became a self-fulfilling prophecy in his first debate with Mitt Romney. Mr. Obama’s lackluster performance drew a torrent of criticism—including here—and a dip in the opinion polls. But the criticism also served as a wakeup call. He became a man possessed for the rest of the campaign. Reaching back to his breakthrough keynote at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he pulled out all the rhetorical stops from that speech and deployed them throughout the rest of his 2012 campaign: in the second and third debates, in his many stump speeches, and then again in his rousing victory speech.
Readers of The Power Presenter will recall that I analyzed the rhetorical techniques in the 2004 speech. Below you’ll find a reprise of three of the techniques and their equivalents in the 2012 victory speech:
Antithesis: two contrasting ideas juxtaposed in adjacent phrases.
There is not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America -- there’s the United States of America.
it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn't matter whether you're black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you're willing to try.
Anaphora: a phrase repeated in several successive sentences, clauses, or phrases
America! Tonight, if you feel the same energy that I do, if you feel the same urgency that I do, if you feel the same passion that I do, if you feel the same hopefulness that I do -- if we do what we must do, then I have no doubt that all across the country, from Florida to Oregon, from Washington to Maine, the people will rise up in November.
This country has more wealth than any nation, but that's not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military in history, but that's not what makes us strong. Our university, our culture are all the envy of the world, but that's not what keeps the world coming to our shores.
Anecdote is a brief human interest story (and not a joke.)
I met a young man named Shamus in a V.F.W. Hall in East Moline, Illinois…
And I saw just the other day, in Mentor, Ohio, where a father told the story of his 8-year-old daughter…
As Mr. Obama starts his second term facing many daunting domestic and international challenges, he will have to keep that narrative mojo going at full strength. As Matt Bai put it in the conclusion of his article, “Once you’re in office, the story you tell about and to the country …is, to a large extent, the presidency itself.”
Yesterday’s post, in anticipation of the third and final presidential debate of 2012, described how Al Gore agreed with his opponent, George W. Bush, seven times during one of their 2000 debates. In last night’s debate between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, Mr. Romney outdid Mr. Gore nearly twofold:
1.…we’re going to have to recognize that we have to do as the president has done. I congratulate him on — on taking out Osama bin Laden and going after the leadership in al-Qaida.
2.There was an effort on the part of the president to have a status of forces agreement. And I concurred in that and said we should have some number of troops that stayed on. That was something I concurred with…That was your posture. That was my posture as well.
3. After Mr. Obama, speaking of his handling of Syria, said, “What we’ve done is organize the international community, saying Assad has to go,” Mr. Romney said:
Recognize I believe that Assad must go.
4. After Mr. Obama, speaking of his handling of Libya, said, “We did so in a careful, thoughtful way, making certain that we knew who we were dealing with, that those forces of moderation on the ground were ones that we could work with. And we have to take the same kind of steady, thoughtful leadership when it comes to Syria. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” Mr. Romney said:
I don’t want to have our military involved in — in Syria. I don’t think there’s a necessity to put our military in Syria at — at this stage. I don’t anticipate that in the future.
5. After moderator Bob Schieffer of asked Mr. Obama, “During the Egyptian turmoil, there came a point when you said it was time for President Mubarak to go,” and Mr. Obama said, “Right,” Mr. Schieffer turned to Mr. Romney for his position, and he said:
I believe, as the president indicated and said at the time, that I supported his — his action there….once it exploded, I felt the same as the president did
6. After Mr. Obama said of Mr. Romney, “He’s praised George Bush as good economic steward and Dick Cheney as somebody who shows great wisdom and judgment,” Mr. Romney said:
My plan to get the industry on its feet when it was in real trouble was not to start writing checks. It was President Bush that wrote the first checks. I disagree with that.
7. After Mr. Obama said, “What I now want to do is to hire more teachers, especially in math and science, because we know that we’ve fallen behind when it comes to math and science,” Mr. Romney said:
Look, I — I love to — I love teachers, and I’m happy to have states and communities that want to hire teachers, do that.
8. I want to underscore the — the same point the president made, which is that if I’m president of the United States, when I’m president of the United States, we will stand with Israel.
9.After Mr. Obama said, “As long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. I’ve made that clear when I came into office. We then organized the strongest coalition and the strongest sanctions against Iran in history, and it is crippling their economy,” Mr. Romney said:
And crippling sanctions are something I’d called for five years ago when I was in Israel speaking at the Herzliya Conference. I laid out seven steps. Crippling sanctions were number one. And they do work. You’re seeing it right now in the economy. It’s absolutely the right thing to do to have crippling sanctions.
10. When Mr. Schieffer asked Mr. Romney about the president’s plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in 2014, he replied:
Well, we’re going to be finished by 2014. And when I’m president, we’ll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014.
11. We look at what’s happening in Pakistan and recognize that what’s happening in Pakistan is going to have a major impact on the success in Afghanistan. And — and I say that because I know a lot of people just feel like we should just brush our hands and walk away. And I don’t mean you, Mr. President, but some people in the — in our nation feel that Pakistan (doesn’t ?) — being nice to us and that we should just walk away from them.
This is — this is an important part of the world for us. Pakistan is — is technically an ally, and they’re not acting very much like an ally right now, but we have some work to do. And I — I don’t blame the administration for the fact that the relationship with Pakistan is strained. We had to go into Pakistan; we had to go in there to get Osama bin Laden. That was the right thing to do.
12.When Mr. Schieffer asked, “Let me ask you, Governor, because we know President Obama’s position on this, what is — what is your position on the use of drones? Mr. Romney replied:
Well, I believe that we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world. And it’s widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that entirely and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology and believe that we should continue to use it to continue to go after the people who represent a threat to this nation and to our friends.
To repeat the George Santayana quote I cited after Mr. Obama’s flat presentation in the first debate, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Twelve years ago, during the presidential election that pitted Vice President Al Gore against then Texas Governor George W. Bush, the candidates met in three debates, just as President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney are doing this year. One dynamic from the 2000 campaign could carry forward to this year: dramatic reversals in presentation style. Just as Mr. Obama made a significant shift from his listless demeanor in the first debate to what Maureen Dowd called an “alpha tone” in his second, Al Gore made significant shifts in his style between his debates.
In the first contest, Mr. Gore, who was expected to dominate the notoriously language-challenged Mr. Bush, came out roaring like a lion. His statements and rebuttals were filled with aggressive and divisive words like “wrong,” “not,” “differences,” “mistake,” and “opposite.” His manner was also combative, continually punctuated by condescending sighs, derisive head-shaking, scornful frowns, and disdainful eye-rolling.
The arrogant behavior immediately boomeranged. Television broadcasters had a camera isolated on Mr. Gore for reaction shots. Their news directors took the output of this camera and edited his expressions into a rapid-cut sequence that they ran in their local and national broadcasts repeatedly. Public and media criticism rained down on the vice president.
In response, Mr. Gore made a sharp about face in the second debate and came out like a lamb. During the 90- minute event, he expressed agreement with his opponent seven times—earning him further public criticism. So Mr. Gore reversed field again and swung back to his aggressive ways in the third debate.
At one point, moderator, Jim Lehrer of the PBS News Hour, who also moderated the first Obama-Romney debate,asked Mr. Bush the same question he would later ask Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney:
I’d like to know how you see the differences between the two of you
Mr. Bush rose from his seat and began to address his answer to the town-hall audience
Well, the difference is that I can get it done. That I can get something positive done on behalf of the people. That’s what the question in this campaign is about...
As he continued his answer, Al Gore stood up, and started to walk across the stage, directly toward his opponent, almost menacingly. Unaware of Mr. Gore’s move, Mr. Bush continued:
…It’s not only what’s your philosophy and what’s your position on issues, but can you get things done?
In the middle of his statement, Mr. Bush turned to see Mr. Gore approaching, paused for a beat, then nodded at Mr. Gore and smiled, evoking titters from the audience.
Then, Mr. Bush turned back to the audience and said:
And I believe I can.
The audience titters gave way to laughter.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll about the effects of the debate on public opinion gave George W. Bush a seven point advantage over Al Gore.
Mr. Gore compensated for his initial aggressive behavior by being passive, and then he overcompensated for being passive by being even more aggressive. Mr. Obama compensated for his initial passive behavior by being aggressive.
President Obama’s fiery performance in the second presidential debate on Tuesday left media pundits perplexed by the 180 degree turnabout from
his flat demeanor in the first debate: “Perhaps it was mere fatigue
that night in Denver. Or overconfidence. Or lack of preparation. Or the altitude,” mused Politico’s Roger Simon, or as the president himself said, “I was too polite.”
was preparation, no question. We have no way of knowing just how much
time and effort each candidate devoted to preparation, but we do know
that on the day before that first debate, Mr. Obama made a campaign stop
at Hoover Dam and, according to the Wall Street Journal:
complained Monday during a phone call with a campaign volunteer that
his aides are "keeping me indoors all the time…making me do my
homework." However, a brown tarp blocking the view of the resort's
basketball court suggests Mr. Obama has been shooting some baskets
In sharp contrast, in the run up to the second debate, the Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Obama spent
three days of prep sessions that began Saturday at a five-star resort
in Williamsburg….Outside the sessions, Mr. Obama has spent time walking
the grounds of the resort, which is set along the James River, and
working out at the gym
The difference was dramatic and,
because the media is abuzz with commentary about body language, eye
contact, succinctness, and assertiveness, I will confine my comments to
only one aspect of preparation: facts.
By far, the most dramatic moment in Tuesday's debate came when Governor Romney challenged Mr. Obama on his handling of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya:
There were many days that passed before we knew whether this was a
spontaneous demonstration, or actually whether it was a terrorist
attack. And there was no demonstration involved. It was a terrorist
attack and it took a long time for that to be told to the American
The president replied:
OBAMA: The day after
the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the
American people in the world that we are going to find out exactly what
happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said that we're
going to hunt down those who committed this crime.
And then a few days later, I was there greeting the caskets coming into Andrews Air Force Base and grieving with the families.
the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the Secretary of State,
our U.N. Ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead
when we've lost four of our own, governor, is offensive. That's not what
we do. That's not what I do as president, that's not what I do as
Commander in Chief.
CNN’s Candy Crowley, the moderator of the debate, turned to Mr. Romney and said:
CROWLEY: Governor, if you want to...
ROMNEY: Yes, I -- I...
CROWLEY: ... quickly to this please.
I -- I think interesting the president just said something which --
which is that on the day after the attack he went into the Rose Garden
and said that this was an act of terror.
OBAMA: That's what I said.
ROMNEY: You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, it was an act of terror.
It was not a spontaneous demonstration, is that what you're saying?
The governor glowered at the president. Mr. Obama stared back.
OBAMA: Please proceed governor.
I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the
president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of
OBAMA: Get the transcript.
CROWLEY: It -- it -- it -- he did in fact, sir. So let me -- let me call it an act of terror...
OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy?
CROWLEY: He -- he did call it an act of terror.
as the CEO of a public company whose revenues have not met expectations
must prepare for a quarterly earnings call with investors, or the CSO
of a pharmaceutical company whose drug has failed clinical trials must
prepare for a Board of Directors meeting, or a product manager whose
product missed a shipping date must prepare for a meeting with a
customer, political candidates must prepare for the worst case scenario
against their opponents and have a strong response at the ready.
since the attack a month earlier, the Benghazi issue was roiling in the
media, and was sure to come up in the debate. Each candidate's party
was hurling charges and counter charges at the other in public, so each
candidate had to have a carefully delineated response and a
well-supported argument and to be fully prepared to deliver it under the
pressure of a live television debate.
Mr. Romney, in his drive to
prove that the president was "misleading," missed an important fact:
Mr. Obama in his drive to prepare for the issue, knew the fact cold.
The importance of thorough preparation was put forth in 55 BC by the great Roman orator, Cicero:
the orator calls in the aid of memory to retain the matter and the
words with which thought and study have furnished him, all his other
merits, however brilliant, we know will lose their effect.
Last month, in anticipation of last night’s first presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, veteran journalist James Fallows did a lengthy piece in the Atlantic in which he wrote, “the easiest way to judge ‘victory’ in many debates is to watch with the sound turned off, so you can assess the candidates’ ease, tenseness, humor, and other traits signaled by their body language.”
With or without the sound, any viewer could see stark differences between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney. During most of the ninety-minute debate, the image on the CNN broadcast was a split screen of the two candidates in close-up; so viewers could see both of them simultaneously. During most of Mr. Romney’s speaking turns, Mr. Obama was nodding in seeming agreement. The image was a déjà vu of the first presidential debate in 1960, when Richard Nixon, unaware of the camera, nodded while John F. Kennedy was speaking. As philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
The nodding was only the first of six other tactical mistakes the president made:
He scowled while listening, looking angry and petulant
His kept his eyes cast down rather than looking at his opponent
His answers were filled with diverse statistics and subjects, rarely ending with a clear point
He often failed to counter Mr. Romney’s charges while Mr. Romney repeatedly countered his
He didn’t attack Mr. Romney’s previously-revealed vulnerable positions
He appeared ill-prepared and halting as evidenced by his repeated iterations of “um.”
Following the debate, I surfed the cable channels for post mortems and found a consensus—even from those inclined to favor Mr. Obama: the Huffington Post’s lead headline: “Romney wins the night,” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews wrote, "Where was Obama tonight?" and this morning's New York Times leadstory:“Romney Wins Debate Praise as Obama Is Faulted as Flat.”
There are still two more debates to come. Will Mr. Obama take Mr.Santayana’s advice or will he allow Mr. Romney to overtake him?