I read the full text of Obama's famously received speech in Berlin. As usual, it was a masterpiece of oratory, with soaring phrases and a powerful yet graceful delivery. Here are some examples:
- SPEAKING OF COURAGE: "...(T)he people of Berlin kept the flame of hope burning. The people of Berlin refused to give up. And on one fall day, hundreds of thousands of Berliners came here, to the Tiergarten, and heard the city's mayor implore the world not to give up on freedom. 'There is only one possibility,' he said. 'For us to stand together united until this battle is won...The people of Berlin have spoken. We have done our duty, and we will keep on doing our duty. People of the world: now do your duty.' People of the world, look at Berlin!"
- ON U.S. CONTRIBUTIONS TO DEFENSE: "...(J)ust as American bases built in the last century still help to defend the security of this continent, so does our country still sacrifice greatly for freedom around the globe."
- ON COOPERATION: "In this new century, Americans and Europeans alike will be required to do more, not less. Partnership and cooperation among nations is not a choice; it is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity. That is why the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another."
But these are not the words I heard. Instead nearly every newscast I heard, even among the so-called liberal, drive-by media, carried this excerpt: "I know my country has not perfected itself. At times, we've struggled to keep the promise of liberty and equality for all of our people. We've made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions."
So those who wish to impugn Obama will be able to say with some small measure of legitimacy, "He went overseas and used the occasion of his speech to talk about the mistakes our country has made. Doesn't Sen. Obama love America? If he does, then why would he criticize us to others?"
If that happens, Obama will need to face up to the fact that he handed his adversaries a loaded weapon to use against him. It may be unfair, but it is a reality. I truly believe that he loves America and that he is grateful for all he has gained as a citizen, despite his humble, non elitist roots. But as someone who has felt the sting of third-party analysis, I am all too aware that messengers must parse every single word of their public statements. It is called "staying on message." Here is how I might have written the paragraph in question to defuse its potential damage:
"Like you, my country has tried to do its best to strive for the ideal of perfection. We have always fought to keep the promise of liberty and equality for all of our people. In fact, our actions have always been matched to our best intentions for you and all our fellow citizens around the world ."
Idealistic? Probably. Selective? Absolutely! But the reality is that as he marches toward the election, this is no time to be completely honest, not when foes are ready to take every utterance out of context. And that is the way all of us in external communication must prepare. The electronic media does not live on banquets of information but on sound bites. A newscast is made up of such 20-second clips. We must know our messages, state them at every opportunity, and not deviate from them.
Again, read the full text of Obama's Berlin speech, and consider whether that is the message that you received. Then let's plan to discuss this again closer to the election, along with Mrs. Obama's statement that "for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country." That one's sure to be a crowd-pleaser!