What Do You Do When They Are No Longer Listening?
Tonight we’ll see. President Bush will give his State of the Union to a skeptical public.
Actually, it’s a tuned out public. The Wall Street Journal, in a rare headline, flatly – and shockingly – stated that Bush has “lost the nation’s ear,” with “A Skeptical U.S. Greets Presidential Speech.” With approval polls at all time record lows, in the 20’s, The Nation says that “The President appears to be in a freefall.”
What do you do when your audience is hostile?
You do not come out weak. You do not offer platitudes. You do not speak on the inconsequential. You are not defensive.
Unfortunately the headline in The Guardian before his speech captured the pre-speech buzz about what he would talk about. It said: “Bush to Seek Cutback in Gas Consumption”
Now that’s not what I call compelling.
It’s a sad state we are in, politically and practically, in Washington and Iraq. It’s not this blog’s purpose to get into the issues and politics of this, but I do want to concentrate on the communications. It is a unique time in this country’s history when a President is so low, and has to use the opportunity to use the bully pulpit to communicate a new vision and yet he is not strong as a communicator. Clinton gave a State of the Union in the middle of the Lewinsky affair, and he more than survived. Ultimately he thrived. But he is an outstanding communicator. Tonight, like most of the country, I don’t have high expectations.
If I were Bush, I would be dramatic, and I would be humble, and I would make concessions, and I would then be bold. It’s a tough order. But when nobody’s listening, you have to communicate something in order to be heard. And not be disregarded as irrelevant. After all, it can’t get much worse.