During President Barack Obama’s climb to the White House, he and his campaign have utilized an effective and thought provoking communications strategy to provide a transparent and honest message to the American public. Through his powers of oration, his formidable writing abilities, his comfort on the stage of debate, and through the revamping of the White House website, President Obama has changed the way politicians relate and interact with the populace.
This brief essay will outline the major tactics that have proved successful in his rise to power with an aim on his interpretive dominance and popularity throughout a fierce campaign and a mountainous uphill battle to win the public’s support in the midst of two wars and a global economic crisis.
As a standout student at the University of Illinois and at Harvard Law School, the young Barack Obama cultivated a direct and honest approach to his communication style.
His early days as an Illinois Senator proved that he could build a grassroots support system that did not have to rely on media campaigns for strength, but would grow and strengthen personal relationships through straightforward and honest discourse.
In a 2008 US News & World Report article, Kenneth T.
Walsh writes of Obama’s communicational outlook, “Beyond the hype and the spin, Obama has operated as a conventional politician who has demonstrated some very unusual traits—extraordinary communication skills, the ability to grow as a leader, and the good sense and savvy to recognize a zeitgeist, the nation’s powerful desire for change, when he sees one” (Walsh).
In this spirit, Mr. Walsh is painting a portrait of the politician as an opportunist and clear-minded individual that is not afraid of speaking his opinion on important matters.
This has been a key to his success as a believable and inspirational communicator and has paved the way for him to provide momentous messages that fueled his campaign and his career in politics. On President Obama and Vice President Biden’s homepage on the internet they have a banner quote by Obama that reads, “I’m asking you to believe. Not just about my ability to bring about real change in Washington…I’m asking you to believe in yours” (Organizing). The call for change and hope that were the hallmarks of Obama’s communication zeitgeist echoed throughout the voting polls, the town hall meetings, the local taverns and on the streets.
This message proved so successful because it was not a one-way message. Obama’s campaign ideology does not stand outside of participation, in fact, in stands on participation. This quote that headlines the interfacing between the public and the White House demonstrates the necessity for people to believe not just in the power of words, but in the power of believing in politics, politicians, and ourselves. This discourse of interaction and participation has been a proven tactic in successful politics throughout history but President Obama did not rely on the traditional methods.
He has demonstrated fluency in technological mediums such as his famed Blackberry cell phone, his YouTube video messages, the revamping of the White House website, his grassroots campaign financing that was largely based on small donations by a multitude of supporters through his website. That being said, his positive and optimistic personality has carried him a long way in successfully communicating his ideals and his platform in face-to-face conversations.
As an example, his Presidential Acceptance Speech in Chicago has been viewed over 4,760,000 times on YouTube, his Inauguration Speech in Washington has been viewed over 3,770,000 times in addition to the two million people that turned out to witness it live (Obama). President Obama’s communication strategy has implemented a variety of mediums and platforms that politicians in the past either neglected or did not have access to. For example, President Bush and Presidential Nominee John McCain are notorious for their refusals to use E-mail whereas President Obama had to fight to keep his internet and Instant Messaging Blackberry.
Furthermore, all of his books have become New York Times Bestsellers. Mr. Walsh, later in the article speaks of President Obama’s mass appeal and popularity that is thanks to his gifts as a successful and believable communicator, “Obama’s Chicago background has enabled him to appeal to many divergent groups, from poor African-Americans to white businessmen, working-class folks, middle-class professionals, wheeler-dealers, mainstream reporters, teachers, suburban parents, professors, and college students (Walsh).
His reach is both focused and widespread and in this way President Obama has created long-lasting and personal relationships with his constituency that transcends the formulaic and generic mass media approaches. Through his unbridled ambition and his thirst for honest discourse, President Obama has changed the way politicians will communicate with the public. He has changed it in the spirit of optimism and transparency without having to rely on attack ads, even though he has not been above harsh criticism of his opponents and the Bush Administration.
He has not been afraid to speak his opinion, even when that has proved to be unpopular, as in the case of defending the controversial Reverend Jeremiah Wright, or when he said he would open forms of dialogue with Pakistan and Iran, or when he made the speech attacking the latent and blatant forms of racism. His popularity has been a direct result of his honesty and his gifts for communicating and as he was elected he continued this approach, even though some people wanted him to deliver a soaring speech at his Inauguration.
This keen sense of setting and circumstance allowed President Obama to deliver not the speech of fantasy, but a sobering and directly honest speech about the current state of affairs we now find ourselves in, “That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age (Transcript).
In this spirit, he has not abandoned optimism and the hope for positive change, but he is acknowledging the uphill battle and the fierce struggles that we are going to face. Although he could have delivered a speech that overlooked these struggles in the name of developing a popular national fervor of (false) support, instead he decided to continue his tradition of straightforward honesty, albeit in an eloquent and reassuring tone. This has led some critics to attack President Obama and his administration as our country is trying to climb ourselves out of a record national debt and widespread uncertainty as to the future of our country.
The massive bailouts of the automotive industry and the large investment firms and banks have led critics to wildly label Obama as a Socialist and as a reactionary when in fact, as evidenced by the White House website, the Obama mission is to restore good faith and honest business practices to the industries that have helped to build up the United States in the first place. That being said, he has harsh words for executives that are receiving massive amounts of bailout money for their failed institutions while at the same time writing enormous bonus checks to themselves, as in the current example of AIG.
In an attempt to restore justice and balance to both business and politics, President Obama has done something that no other President has – he has reached across the political isle and assigned three cabinet posts to Republicans. His spirit of unification cannot be denied and yet some critics still label him as a staunch Democratic Party ideologue and stalwart, when in fact he has made huge efforts to bridge the gap.
As Mr. Walsh points out in his article this tendency goes back all the way to his community organizing in Chicago and to his days as a young Illinois Senator, “Overall, he built a respectable record, working with both Democrats and Republicans to win approval for a series of bills…He showed his potential when the Senate overwhelmingly passed a controversial law he sponsored on campaign finance reform in May 1998, prohibiting legislators from raising campaign funds… (Walsh). His bipartisanship has proven to be beyond mere rhetoric in spite of the allegations that are distributed throughout the media.
Overall, President Obama has changed the game of politics. He has instituted a communication style built on honesty and transparency while at the same time utilizing all the tools at his disposal in order to fulfill the missions that he promised to the American public. His communication strategy will be the model upon which future successful campaigns will be built. Works Cited Obama Speeches. (2009). YouTube. com. Retrieved 20 March 2009, from http://www. youtube. com/results? search_type=&search_query=obama+speeches
Organizing for America. (2009). Retrieved 20 March 2009, from http://www. barackobama. com/index. php Transcript – Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address. (2009). The New York Times. Retrieved 20 March 2009, from http://www. nytimes. com/2009/01/20/us/politics/20text-obama. html Walsh, Kenneth T. (2009). Obama’s Years in Chicago Politics Shaped His Presidential Candidacy. U. S. News & World Report. Retrieved 20 March 2009, from http://www. usnews. com/articles/news/campaign-2008/2008/04/11/