Obama speech underplays strikes in Syria

 

by Peter Paskale

It wasn’t a speech. It wasn’t even an address. It was a book report.

Speaking today on the White House lawn as Marine One spooled up it’s engines behind him, President Obama tripped-up the media. What was billed as a ten minute speech on last night’s Syria actions against ISIL,  was delivered in just 3 minutes 11 seconds. Obama was already striding back to the White House door before TV news crews even realised that the speech was over.

What happened? For a President whose foreign policy credentials are so often doubted, you would think that he might have wanted to make a little more out of the moment.

What happened was a delicate, if dull, attempt to keep a coalition together. A coalition in Congress, and an unusual coalition in the Arab world. Both are exceptional and crucial.

Lets consider the speech for just one moment. The president paid tribute to the armed forces involved. He paid tribute to the Arab nations who joined the attacks. He laid out the rationale for the attacks. End of story.

We heard no moments of pride, and it was almost devoid of rhetorical flourishes. All of Obama’s usual speech elements were, oddly, missing.

The clues to Obama’s mission in this speech were the words “bipartisan”, which occurred twice, ‘coalition’, which occurred once, and a special-guest appearance by that horribly tired old cliche “shoulder to shoulder”. These four phrases comprised the closest that we could hear to any form of a dominant message, and that message was ‘let’s stay together’.

We did receive one slight rhetorical flourish, and that was when the president used a form that carries the marvellous name of Dirimens Copulatio – it’s the “not only, but also” figure. The purpose of Dirimens is to amplify a point – to make things appear bigger. We heard it in the president’s phrase “…this makes it clear that this is not America’s fight alone.” Again – this is a shove towards that topic of bipartisanship.

It must have been tempting for White House speech writers to incorporate a couple of political point-scorers on behalf of the president. He’s taken such heat in recent weeks and months for a seemingly toothless foreign policy. When we’ve just seen American missiles and jets pounding a repulsive terrorist group, then surely this is the time to notch up at least a couple of political bonus points?

Absolutely not. Had the president attempted to take any form of political credit for last night’s attacks, what would then have happened to that rare bi-partisanship? It would have fractured – both at home, and potentially between the growing coalition of Gulf States.

That’s why we got a book-report on the White House lawn, and not a speech, and for today’s needs that was just what was needed. It will hold the coalition together.

Now let’s see how he does at the UN. Will we get more of the same, or will there be a change of tone?

Spice speech

Over the years, I’ve killed my throat. Or toughened it up – it all depends on your perspective.

You see the thing is – I love spice. Whether it’s black pepper, cayenne pepper, or chilli pepper, I’ll incorporate it into recipes in some of the most surprising, and occasionally inappropriate ways. Just ask anybody that I’ve ever made hot chocolate for.

Over the years though, my taste buds have toughened up to the constant flow of tobasco. It now takes fairly incredible amounts for it to register on me. I’ve developed a tolerance.

In a similar way, our polarised politics and news media means that if you don’t have a really strong opinion, a Scots-Bonnet of an opinion (chilli lovers will know what I mean), then you’re not going to be heard, because audiences too have developed a tolerance for heat.

Then I spotted this piece on the web-site of my friend and fellow blogger, Broc Edwards. That tolerance for polarised heat that we’ve all developed exists in the commercial branding world, and in presentation world as well.

In a world where we’ve all become used to a good dose of chilli with every message, what’s the right amount of heat to be adding to presentations?

fool (with a plan)

I’m fascinated by branding. Not the marking-cows-so-the-don’t-get-rustled kind. The kind of branding that’s about identity and messaging and clear authenticity. How clear? If No One Hates You, No One is Paying Attention. That statement is the title of a great piece by Alf Rehn (@alfrehn), and gets at the heart of branding. Alf reminds us that trying to be all things to all people doesn’t work, despite the legions of businesses that attempt it. It makes sense to know and declare who you are as a business and what you stand for. But the ugly, unmentioned downside is that in doing so you are also declaring who you aren’t and who you stand against.

So truly strong branding is only telling people “Our products are for you. You will like them. You will like what being associated with them says about you. You should buy them.” But it’s also…

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Oxymoron – the birthplace of brilliant

Jeanine McDonnell, daughter of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, says that her mother has a “mild obsession” with another man.

Mild lives in detergent adverts. Obsession gets draped around designer perfume. Put the two words together however and you get something that’s… well… kind of interesting. It’s refined and yet ever so slightly dirty. It’s an oxymoron, and in politics, oxymorons get a bad wrap.

Politicians will cry “oxymoron” in the same way that English footballers cry “foul” – usually as a cheap way to distract the referee.  The president, for example, was excoriated from the right for the oxymoron of “Leading from behind”, while Sarah Palin took a rough-ride from the left when she mentioned “Conservative feminism”.

Look past the mockery though and maybe there are some interesting ideas being deliberately driven into the shadows by that accusation of the “O” word.

What would a Conservative Feminist actually be like? And how about if stopped to give “Leading from behind” a little of the consideration that John Boehner clearly doesn’t want us to?

Is the cry of “Oxymoron” meant to embarrass us into burying ideas before they’ve even taken their first steps?

Oxymorons aren’t fouls. They’re verbal spice. Oxymorons gave us the most delicious phrase in the English language – “sweet and sour’, which became especially flavourful when combined with the oxymoronic “jumbo shrimp”. Does double the oxymoron equal double the delicious? Definitely maybe.

Oxymorons ever so slightly screw with accepted realities. They slam the right combination of the wrong words together in such a way that can open up whole new lines of thought. Entrenched political interests usually dislike new thoughts, and maybe that’s why oxymorons launch witch-hunts.

Let’s take the phrase “religious freedom”. To a non-believer this is a clear oxymoron – the prescribing of life based on religious dogma is far from freedom. To a believer however, life lived by religious code is not only the direct path to freedom in this world, but also in the next.

Oxymorons tamper with established meanings in a way that can deliciously subversive and that’s why proscriptivists of all stripes hold them in such contempt.

So, long live Conservative Feminism, and here’s to Leading From Behind. Oxymoron is the glorious birthplace of brand-new concepts. The next time you hear somebody levelling the political charge of “OXYMORON”, then find out what it is they’re attacking, and give that very concept some extra thought.

You might find that they’re trying to distract you from something rather interesting.

Five architect’s jewels for your next presentation

by Peter Paskale

Dramatic business presentations don’t require drama. They’re better off without it. Drama is showy and blowy and overstated. It instantly puts the audience on their guard.

Award-winning Canadian architect Sanjit Manku recently described a project that he’d undertaken on behalf of the French jeweller and perfumer Van Cleef & Arpels. His description pulls us gently into a lost-world of couture and design. We start to believe that we’re actually there, amongst a  glamorous global elite. Manku, as you’ll see in the video, uses two tools to achieve this. One of them comprises, to be sure, some impressive post-production work on the video itself, but the second is a good basic use of some concealed jewels of presentation technique.

Manku uses five of these techniques. For future presentations, think of yourself as the central jewel in the middle, and of these techniques as being the setting-stones that can make you shine.

Don’t shout it from the rooftops

Never shout. Manku uses a quiet delivery that draws us into his words and into his world.

The louder your voice, the more an audience will lean away from you. Experiment with reducing your volume just slightly, and you’ll notice how audiences lean-in, and become more focussed.

Use repetition

“Something that we love to do and that we love to explore in our own work.”

“..always evolving….always about creativity……. always about making something”

Repetition techniques are the foundation of public-speaking. On one level, it’s always good to repeat your main themes, but on another level, little micro-repetitions create rhythm and soundbites.

For example – “…government of the people, by the people, and for the people” came to be Lincoln’s most famous quote because of that repetition on the phrase  ‘the people”.

Criss-cross your terms

“…the lives of some of the women who have touched Van Cleef, and how the artists of Van Cleef have touched other people’s lives”

The heart of this phrase is ‘people who have touched Van Cleef and how Van Cleef has touched other people’. It’s the same structure that you might recognise from ‘I work to live – I don’t live to work’.

The phrase picks up its memorability from the cross-over. If I was to create one right here and now, I might say something like “I write for enjoyment, and I hope that you are enjoying my writing”.

Can you create something similar for your next presentation?

Say what something’s not

“…..they’re not objects – they’re emotional pieces.”

“…we hope that we don’t make walls or ceilings or objects either….”

The technical term is apophasis, and it’s when you define the topic by defining what its not. This is especially useful if you need to re-frame somebody’s view of the world. For example: “You’re not looking for the product that is the fastest nor the strongest nor even the most powerful – you’re looking for the optimal balance between all three.”

Overdo the ands and ors

In that previous example, we heard about “walls or ceilings or objects”. There’s one more ‘or’ in that sentence than is quite normal, and it’s a deliberate technique called polysyndeton. By replacing the commas in your lists with lots of ands or ors, then you make the list seem bigger – more powerful.

So, instead of telling your client that you’re going to “improve speed, power, and performance”, tell that that you’re going to “improve speed and power and performance”.

Powerful presentations don’t blast away at the audience like miners dynamiting a cliff. Great presentations finesse the audience, and that depends on the occasional phrases you choose, and the volume at which you use them.

How to handle an ambush? With respect

In fairness to Representative King, he was trapped. Two determined DREAMers, Erika Andiola and Cesar Vargas, had him cornered – completely hemmed-in, half-way through a hamburger.

 

 

It was a political ambush, and in deciding to stand and fight, King had lost before he’d even started. The whole idea of a political ambush is that it’s lose-lose for the ambushed. You either try to justify your opinions in an unjustifiable context, or you high-tail it out of there. King’s dining companion, Senator Rand Paul, very astutely did just that. Correctly identifying the approaching iceberg, Paul crammed his burger down his throat and scuttled for the lifeboats.

What made this event newsworthy however, was King’s apparent contempt for the two people in front of him, and here’s where he compounded his troubles by going on the offensive — offensively.

Early in the video, as Andiola makes her case as a DREAMer, King states to her “You’re very good at English, you understand what I’m saying.” Shortly afterwards he repeats this, as if trying to emphasize that maybe she didn’t get it first time around:

“You understand the English language, correct?”

Of course she understands the English language. So the question has to be asked, why did the Congressman feel the need to state the bleeding obvious, and to state it twice?

The answer is that he was attempting to do two things at once – both of which were ugly. The first was to belittle his opponent through false praise: “You’re very good at English.” All such statements come with a suppressed ending that contains the words “….for a….”.

So, let’s run the full statement, and it would sound something like “You’re very good at English for a……….” Many endings could be dropped into that box, but maybe for the best guess, we should turn to how Andiola herself felt the need to reply on the video:

“I was raised in the United States….”

The second goal of Representative King was dog-whistle politics – encoding a message so that, hopefully, your own side sees what’s going on but nobody else does. Initially this worked – within minutes a crowd forms around Andiola and Vargas yelling “Go home”. Unfortunately, just as for Paul Ryan back in March, the trick went wrong, thanks to the wonders of the internet and viral videos. Not only did Rep. King’s side notice, but we all noticed!

For political communications, two major points leaps out of this experience:

  1. Rand Paul got it right. This was an ambush, and a good ambush is designed to be no-win for the victim, so the only way out is the way that is least damaging – retreat. If however, that route is blocked to you, maybe for example by the fact that your dinner companion is already desperately scrambling for the life-boat, then rule two comes into play – be respectful.
  2. Be utterly respectful. Do not sneer, do not attempt coded dog-whistles, do not belittle. At one stage King almost achieved a come-back via a neat segue onto the topic of presidential decrees, but at the last minute he couldn’t resist what at the time must have felt like the easier route: He sneered, he dog-whistled, and he belittled.

That’s what put the fire into the story.

In the end though, this is also a story about the well put-together ambush. Recent election cycles have seen politicians retreat farther and father away from genuine engagement with voters. Town-hall questions are no longer genuine questions — they are hand-selected mini-speeches designed to burnish the talking-points of the candidate.

Politicians have only themselves to blame for ambush-interviews — if they won’t give voters genuine access in more conventional settings, then the politically active will force access in less conventional, burger-based settings, and those settings are genuinely going to be no-win.

The Straw Man Fallacy

by Peter Paskale

As the big bad wolf will gladly confirm, it’s way easier to blow-down a house of straw.

And so it is with arguments. An argument made of straw is easier to demolish than one that’s made of stone. Why would anybody therefore want to build themselves such a poor and flimsy straw-bale argument?

Precisely because they want to blow it down. All by themselves.

It’s such an accepted strategy within communications that is even has a name – The Straw-Man Fallacy, and it’s why NRA commentator Dom Raso is claiming gun rights should be extended to blind people.

Mr Raso is an awesome speaker. He’s also highly credible, and that’s important for the success of a Straw Man Fallacy, because the straw-man involves tricking your audience.

Mr Raso’s argument is that blind people are being denied their Second Amendment rights to carry guns, and on the basis of his evidence, and putting my own views on guns to one side, I would have to say that I agree with him. To deny blind people the same rights  as the rest of us would be discrimination unfairly based on a physical disability. This however, is where the straw-man comes in, because the Gun Control Act of 1968 makes no mention of blind people.

While the Act does list various groups who are prohibited from carrying guns, blind people are most definitely not amongst them.

Mr Raso therefore, has powerfully won an argument against a case that doesn’t exist, and that doesn’t exist for the very reasons that he cites in his video. It’s all rather odd and circular, but done for a reason, because creating a Straw Man Fallacy is only stage one of a larger communications strategy:

Step One: The straw-man

Let’s say that blind people represent group A. Mr Raso’s straw-man has now led you, the audience, to inaccurately believe that blind people are unfairly discriminated against under the Gun Control Act.

Step Two: The demolition

Our speaker now builds a powerful case for why that is wrong. He creates a compelling argument, against an illusionary target of his own creation.

Step Three: The extension

If Mr. Raso can prove that Argument A demonstrates unfair prejudice, then we as an audience become pre-inclined to believe that maybe groups B & C are also being prejudiced against.

Step Four: The precedent

While Argument A was an illusory straw-man, groups B & C will be real. The successful straw-man however, will have created a precedent under which it can now be successfully argued that groups B & C, who are genuinely listed under the Gun Control Act, should also be able to carry fire-arms.

Maybe I’m being Machiavellian again, but usually when a speaker invokes a straw-man fallacy, it’s step one. Showing how easily you can blow down the house of straw is only a prelude to panicking the occupants of the house of stones into quitting the building with  less of a fight.

Mr. Raso makes a fabulous case, and I believe this is the prelude to something bigger.

Janet Yellen’s Double-Bluff of Darkness

by Peter Watts Paskale

Speaking slowly and clearly is the best way to help someone to understand you, right?

Wrong. Speaking slowly and clearly, and especially speaking slowly and clearly in a monotone, is the best way to throw someone’s concentration off. And that’s the technique Federal Reserve Chairman, Janet Yellen used this week when attempting to throw Senator Elizabeth Warren off-balance during a financial hearing.

What the Fed Chairman was attempting to bury was the fact that the Federal Reserve is struggling in its duty to audit the disaster-contingency plans of major banks, their so-called “living wills”.

Listen to Chairman Yellen’s responses to Senator Warren’s questions and you’ll hear long multi-syllable words. She never misses the chance to use a complex phrase when a simpler one would have done just fine. You’ll also hear lengthy pauses – there’s a hint of “I’ll say this slowly so that you can all keep up”. We’re seeing a double-bluff approach to slipping something past the audience. One part of the bluff uses language designed to confuse, while the second attempts to make the audience feel dumb about not understanding.

The technical term is “skotison”. It comes from an ancient Greek word that means to darken something, or to obscure, and it’s a perfectly honorable part of a public-speakers weaponry.

It’s the same approach that you’ll have heard described as – “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit”, and the technique that delivered Donald Rumsfeld’s immortal “known knowns…. known unknowns… and unknown unknowns…” By the time the press had finished disentangling the syntax, Rumsfeld had invaded Iraq.

Elizabeth Warren however, responded in the only way that you can to a skotison – she challenged it:

“I’m sorry Chairman, I’m just a little bit confused….”

The skotison strategy relies on the assumption that your opponent will be either too proud or too intimidated to admit to their confusion. Elizabeth Warren however, is neither, and proudly admits that the argument has lost her completely. It’s interesting to wonder what the effect might have been had the Washington press corps shown the same instincts at that Rumsfeld press conference.

The more senior an individual, the more we can reasonably expect them to know how to make themselves clear. If therefore we find ourselves confused, there’s a high probability that it’s because the other party intended us to be so.

It’s one of the oldest rhetorical tricks in the book. If your opponent is using the skotison double-bluff, then remember the fable of the Emperor’s new clothes, state “Hang-on a moment, I’m a little confused”, and it will be miraculously revealed that your opponent has no argument.

When the right words create the wrong message

by Peter Watts Paskale

Addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition, Governor Chris Christie accidentally dropped a geographic f-bomb that left him apologizing to the gathering’s sponsor, leading GOP cash donor, Sheldon Adelson.

And all that poor Governor Christie had done, was to use a perfectly correct term. What went wrong? How is it there are times in public speaking when using the correct words can be fatal to your message?

The political goal of speaking at an RJC event is a simple one: Impress your pro-Israeli credentials on Sheldon Adelson, and the event held at Adelson’s Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas attracted multiple Republican hopefuls. John Kasich of Ohio was there, as was Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Jeb Bush put in an appearance at the fringe, and of course, Chris Christie was center-stage.

Christie gave a passionate speech. Everything was going wonderfully, until an unfortunate reference to “the Occupied Territories” accidentally slipped a non-Kosher item onto the buffet of his pro-Israeli credentials.

Check your editorial style guide and you’ll find that this is the correct term for much of the land disputed between Israel and the Palestinians. Its the correct word. Why therefore did an audible hiss arise from the room, and why did Governor Christie find himself having to apologize for his hideous error?

There are times in public speaking, when the correct term can be decidedly the wrong message.

A speaker’s first goal is to move their audience, and to move the audience in the direction of their argument. They have three tools with which to do this – the logic of their argument, their use of emotion, and their ability to convince listeners that they, the speaker, see the world just as the audience do. This last tool is known as “ethos” – persuading the audience to trust your viewpoint.

It’s here that Governor Christie slipped. For ethos, choice of language is crucial. If your audience uses a specific term to refer to a specific entity, then you had better use either the same term or a close approximation. By using the term “Occupied Territories’ in front of an Israeli interest group, Chris Christie did the opposite.

Good speeches use distinct language. There’s a category of rhetoric called Distinctio which states that when a term is vague, the speaker should clarify it. There are exceptions though, and by using the perfectly correct phrase “Occupied Territories”, Governor Christie obeyed an important law of rhetoric, but forgot an even more important rule of political messaging: “Reflect the interests of the audience.”

During his 2012 presidential run, Mitt Romney fell into the same trap. His attendance at Nascar was a good attempt at ethos: I like Nascar, therefore I’m an ordinary guy like you. His statement while at Nascar however, that he had friends who “owned Nascar teams”, was an example of how it can all go wrong.

Rand Paul meanwhile is highly accomplished at using ethos. His speeches are tailored precisely to the audience. Close attention is paid to turns of phrase. His recent appearance at Berkeley was a case-study.

Paul also obfuscates. He occasionally rambles off in what appear to be artless loops, but those loops are specifically placed to charmingly blur the focus of the audience. Whenever Rand Paul rambles, you can be sure he is acutely aware of a contentious topic lurking nearby. Paradoxically it’s this apparent deviation from message that helps him to remain on message.

How would you refer to the lands contested between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Unless you have a close involvement with the topic, I’m sure you might use phrases such as “Gaza”, or “the West Bank’, or maybe “Palestine”. The phrase  “Occupied Territories” doesn’t exactly trip-off the tongue. It has the same tenor as Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – the sort of name that could only be created by committee.

That’s why I’m sure this wasn’t a case of Chris Christie mis-speaking. I’m sure that this was scripted, and scripted by a speech-writer who first did their due diligence by confirming precisely the right phrase, but then blew the speech out of the water by forgetting who the audience was going to be.

Yes there is always a correct way to refer to something, but no it isn’t always a good idea to use it. In all types of speaking, whether place names or industrial jargon, the first base needs to be finding out not which words the dictionary uses, but which words the audience use.

Make those words your own, and the audience will follow.

 

Immigration reform: Nancy’s hurling lemons – here’s how John can make lemonade

by Peter Watts Paskale

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Speaker John Boehner might want to remember that advice when Nancy Pelosi unveils her discharge petition for the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill at a press conference tomorrow morning.

Immigration reform is a difficult topic for John Boehner’s caucus in the House. That’s exactly why Nancy Pelosi is so dramatically raising it and is also precisely why Mr. Boehner wishes that she wouldn’t.

It’s not all bad news for Boehner though. There are specific communication measures that he can take to escape from the political corner Mrs Pelosi is attempting to push him into. Here’s what to look for in a considered GOP response:

Step One: The Silent Judo Throw

In rhetoric there’s a technique called concessio. This basically means “agree with your opponent”. It’s very hard for somebody to stay on the offensive when the other side just agreed with them.

Debaters think of this as a judo throw because just like in the martial art, it takes your opponent’s momentum and uses it against them, so that they overbalance.

The question is: Where exactly should John Boehner agree with Nancy Pelosi?

Step Two: Find the Common Ground and Agree With It

In whatever Nancy Pelosi says at tomorrow’s press conference, there will be areas where John Boehner can agree – even if it’s only in a single sentence. For example, if somewhere Pelosi makes a statement such as “Immigration policy is a mess”. That’s a sentiment that Boehner can readily endorse.

Concessio will have been achieved, and the Pelosi momentum will have been temporarily checked.

Step Three: Understand the Hidden Common Ground and Appear to Ignore It

The next step would be invisible to the watching public, but John Boehner’s areas of agreement with Nancy Pelosi might go deeper than we think. For the sake of argument, let’s say that Pelosi has three main goals:

  1. Re-energize the stalled debate about immigration reform
  2. Put John Boehner into a difficult position with his own caucus
  3. Provoke Tea-Party types into some potentially vote-losing statements

John Boehner won’t be in agreement with points one and two, but point three could be quite interesting for him. The GOP has several primaries coming up where the Tea Party are challenging establishment figures – Mitch McConnell for example. Something that provokes those candidates into regrettable statements that render them unelectable could be just what John Boehner quietly welcomes.

Rather than causing a GOP headache, Mrs. Pelosi’s strategy could go some way to removing a couple of them – if the response is properly handled.

Step Four – Attack the Stratagem, not the Policy

There is a large difference between the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill that Mrs Pelosi is promoting, and the means by which she’s doing it. The GOP response can move into it’s attack phase by disagreeing not with the policy itself, but with the stratagem of using a discharge petition, which is after all, something of a procedural firework aimed at the media.

Step Five – Seize the Initiative

Unlike for Nancy Reagan with her anti-drugs message of “Just say No”, the same statement is regrettably not an option for John Boehner when it comes to immigration reform. If the Republican’s have any new ideas about immigration, then this would be a good time to indicate them. Nancy Pelosi will have provided the news platform – John Boehner will then have the opportunity to take advantage of it.

Step Six – Carefully Consider the First Responder

Speaker Boehner himself might not be the best person to lead the response. The immigration debate is a highly charged one, so it would be smart to use a speaker who is already seen as being positively invested from the GOP side. Marco Rubio could be a good choice, or even GOP elder statesman John McCain.

Tomorrow’s press conference need not be the Boehner-trap that it first appears. The damage done will depend entirely on how he directs the response – and that is directs the response, not delivers it. If handled correctly, the GOP lemonade stand can come out of this with increased credibility on a difficult topic. If handled badly though, the party, and Mr Boehner, can expect to be spitting out lemon pits from now until the mid-terms.

The question is, can John Boehner and his top-team avoid taking a great big bite from the lemon that Mrs. Pelosi is about to so gleefully offer them?

With the right communication plan, it’s completely possible. We’ll find out tomorrow.

Rand Paul at Berkeley: Why his speech worked

by Peter Watts

Senator Rand Paul is a hero. Or at least that’s how several of the nation’s news organizations would have it. Just for once though, we’re not talking Fox News. The San Francisco Chronicle for example rejoiced with this morning’s headline: “Republican Rand Paul fires up a Berkeley crowd”, while the New York Times compared him with Ronald Reagan, who found Berkeley such a tough audience that he sent in the National Guard.

All the applause would suggest that Senator Paul heroically entered a lion’s den and then persuaded the occupants to roll over and have their tummies tickled. To an extent, that’s just what he did, but this wasn’t a miracle. This was rhetoric at it’s best. Lessons can be learned!

Lions on Leashes

First of all, the audience was tightly controlled. Paul set a clear title for his Berkeley appearance and it was calibrated to the interests of the audience: privacy. He could pretty much guarantee that so long as he kept to the prepared script, the audience would keep a respectful silence. The problems were always going to come with the Q&A.

When we got to the questions however, what did we get? Pre-selected (for which read “heavily vetted”) questions. There was nothing there to open up any embarrassing civil-liberties type areas. Indeed, several of the questions such as “If elected President, would you curtail Executive Power” were directly chosen to enable the speaker to polish-up his credentials.

Millennial Momentum

Millennials are deeply suspicious of state authority. Paul’s chosen topic offered perfect synchronization. Throw in frequent references to cellphones, the web, and the threat posed by a snooping government, and rapt attention was guaranteed. Rand Paul is a clever, and thoughtful speaker. His isolation of this one particular aspect of Libertarian belief was where he and his audience would overlap. The audience were enthralled. So much so that they didn’t notice the giant logical chasm – and opportunity – that Paul was delicately tip-toeing around.

“What you do on your cellphone is none of their damned business”

This line was used twice, and to applause each time. Rand Paul passionately believes that nobody, just nobody has the right to interfere with you and your phone. Except….. the curious amongst us would love to know how that adds up if you are using your phone for some sort of gay dating purposes. If the phone company should manifest devout Christian views, would they have a right to cut you off? After all, Rand Paul also believes shops should have the right to turn away LGBT customers.

This vital question was left unasked, but then again, all the questions had been vetted anyway.

Academic Style

Something that I do personally enjoy about the Rand Paul style is his love of history. He speaks in an academic style – hence he sometimes rambles – and this address was full of quotations from what to many would have been obscure sources:

“Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England,
as I trust shall never be put out.”

Only Rand Paul could get away with Tudor history in a modern American political speech, quoting Archbishop Cranmer’s famous last words as he and the unfortunate Ridley became human barbecue on Bloody Mary’s sixteenth century execution pyre. Again, the quote was perfectly chosen. It’s an academic quote, and this speech was being given in an academic setting to an audience of high academic style. At once the quote supports Paul’s message, and flatters the audience. It winks and insinuates “I’m clever, and I know you’re clever. Let’s both be clever together.” The lions of Berkeley just rolled over and purred. Daniel himself could not have done better.

A Feinstein Love-Fest

Paul went out of his way to pour praise onto a lady with whom he would not normally share much political currency, Senator Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein’s significant if dull speech of the week before came in for substantial praise, right down to Paul’s account of how he walked across to the Senator to congratulate her on it. Again, the Lions purred their approval. Why?

Senator Feinstein is from California. Berkeley is in California. What the audience responded to was the political equivalent of a speaker standing up to praise the home-team. “Go 49ers!!!” It was another subtle little aside, that was calculated to please.

Paul endorsed Snowden!

Almost The absolute heart of the spell however was Rand Paul’s continuous flirtation with Edward Snowden. The first reference came a mere three minutes into the speech, tucked neatly beside Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Paul almost seemed to be flirting with the subject, until out of nowhere, we found ourselves in a comparison between the wrongdoings of Snowden and what Paul perceived to be the wrongdoings of NSA Director, James Clapper.

This strange dance of logic led to the statement that “If Clapper is innocent, then Snowden is innocent.” What just happened? Did Rand Paul declare Edward Snowden innocent? The audience certainly seemed to think so, and responded warmly. In actuality though, Paul did no such thing. He merely posed an interesting question that allowed the audience to gleefully assume that Rand Paul shares their views. Yet more approving purring.

Full marks to Senator Paul. This was a masterful assessment of the audience, and a message fine-tuned to their viewpoint.

There were so many ways in which this appearance at Berkeley could have gone wrong. So many topics where speaker and audience could have clashed. So many difficult questions that could have been asked. Not one of them came to pass. Many are seeing Daniel emerging unscathed from the lion’s den having performed some form of political miracle. Look a little closer though and you’ll see the natural results of a good speech, a well planned message, and above all, a flattered audience.

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