No Bully Pulpit Here

Leadership is speaking to raise a people up in a crisis.

Today we are in an economic crisis, and there is no raising up. The great Bully Pulpit of the Presidency has been vacated, and it is a shame. Here we have President Bush, yesterday, lamely talking about the economy in “half full” terms.

This clip is only 12 seconds, but as he READS his speech, note the hesitancy, stumbling and lack of certainty. (For a longer version of a similar experience, see President Bush here from several months ago – interesting to note the unfulfilled promise as well.)

Interesting and profound that it takes just seconds (thin slicing) for us to have confidence, or lack of confidence, in a
speaker – to trust him or her, or to distrust his or her words. And so often our confidence is rooted more in the behavior of the speaker than in what is said. (Another example is this 7 second clip of Casper Weinberger dissembling with ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ as he tries to defend the Libya air strike of years ago.)

After President Bush speaks, we do not feel more confident or optimistic or assured. Perhaps less so. He has lost the Bully Pulpit.

Compare the Bush communication experience to that of Winston Churchill. Consider his famous Blood, Sweat and Tears speech that he gave to the English people when he took leadership as they were under bombardment by the Germans – losing family and friends in the beginning of World War II. This was a much more dire circumstance than we are in now, for sure. And yet he inspired, and thereby mobilized the people of England. When he spoke he did so with a confidence and certainty that turned the attitude and human spirit of a nation.

“You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory.
Victory
at all costs —
Victory in spite of all terror —
Victory, however long
and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.

“I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. I
feel entitled at this juncture, at this time, to claim the aid of all
and to say, ‘Come then, let us go forward together with our united
strength.’ “

I wish we had YouTube then to show you now how the Bully Pulpit should be used by a leader. I’m sure his behavior was as certain and forceful as his words.

One comment on “No Bully Pulpit Here

  1. President Bush’s primary mistake is to make seemingly no attempt to connect in any meaningful way with the issues, interests, pain, suffering of his constituents. There is little chance, therefore, that he could engage on an emotional level with anyone listening to his speeches.