WORST COMMUNICATOR -- Runner-Up
Oh, what can we say about a lousy communicator for all seasons, the supposedly "most popular governor" in all of the U.S. of A., the Honorable Sarah Palin. She started out promisingly enough, as I noted right here in this blog after her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. I believed she hit her objectives of introducing herself to the public and promoting candidate McCain. I also found her to be confident in her manner (though clearly that was partially due to reading from a TelePrompTer). But I also noted some characteristics that came to pass, such as her sarcasm and uninspired word choices. This was okay for a biased audience, but I wondered how it play to the country at large. I also found her voice irritating. Ultimately, I wondered if her act might wear thin in the future.
Boy, did it ever. Someone should have advised Palin that the majority of voters in this country live in cities, so it was impolitic of her to dis city dwellers by calling small town residents the "real" Americans, Well, folks in the cities cast "real" votes against her.
I was really unprepared for her lack of wit or preparation. Sorry, but when a network anchor like Katie Couric asks what you have been reading in preparation to be Veep, that is not a "gotcha" question. That type of question is so elemental to mental acuity that her inability to answer it on the spot was a red flag. She was supposedly a journalism/communication major in her five colleges, so why couldn't she improvise a few publications? And then she appeared on the news a few days later with John McCain, much like a father accompanies his teenager in traffic court for support. That was an unsettling image for anyone who aspired to be back-up to the Leader of the Free World.
Yes, the Tina Fey imitation was damaging. But the worst part of that was that Fey used Palin's own words! Didn't anyone ask how those same words sounded coming from the Governor's own mouth?
By Election Day, all polls -- too numerous to list here -- showed hat approximately two-thirds of voters thought Palin was not qualified to be President. She was given the bully pulpit and failed to make her case.
WORST COMMUNICATORS -- Winners
Wow, the CEOs of the Detroit Three were really remarkable this past year. There they were, asking you and me for a handout to prop up their sorry excuses for companies, and they apparently forgot the power of words OR symbols. Just as Senator Ted Kennedy fumbled the question of why he wanted to be President, these Three Kings of Disorient are unable to tell us what they will do with our money. And then traveling to the hearings in separate private jets? Just stunning.
BEST COMMUNICATOR -- Runner-up
Colin Powell was the epitome of articulation and grace on the October 19 edition of Meet the Press. However, I am NOT speaking of when he endorsed Barack Obama for President. He spoke to a much larger issue that morning: When did it become acceptable for the American public to disqualify a candidate for religion? My blood boiled when I heard people say privately and publicly that Obama should not be elected because he was a Muslim. Powell gave the right response to that charge: "What if he is?" I have heard denigrating remarks about Mitt Romney's membership in the Mormon Church and John Travolta's adherence to Scientology. What's next? Joe Lieberman is unqualified to hold office because he's a Jew? All of it is wrong, all of it is inexcusable. And despite my admiration for Barack Obama himself, he gets demerits for not raising that question himself during the campaign.
BEST COMMUNICATOR -- Winner
Okay, despite the comment above, there is no one who came close to Barack Obama for his ability to communicate in 2008. How do I love thee, Barack? Let me count the ways:
- Despite the fact that I thought you were overreaching when you won the Iowa caucuses, you still set a high standard for inspirational speech when you treated your victory as an epochal oment.
- Your response to the Jeremiah Wright issue at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia will go down in American history as one of the major statements on race.
- I know people who were gunning for you in the debates against McCain, convinced that without a prompter, you could not articulate your positions. The poll after each debate proved them wrong.
- While candidates over the last 48 years won with mastery of television, you engaged the nation with that new-fangled Internet thing. That is a sea change, Mr. President-elect
- Let's see: an African American, one-term senator who was known primarily for making one speech at the 2004 Democratic convention beats the well-funded, well-oiled Clinton machine and a worthy candidate in the Senator herself, convinces the American people that he is qualified to be President. And your consistently calm demeanor made you a tabula rasa on which the public imposed the image of leadership. If that's not an achievement in messaging, I can't think of a better example.
Okay, let's look for new role models in 2009. As this new administration gets underway, I can't wait to see how they do in a difficult global environment.
I wish you a year replete with clear communications. I look forward to hearing from you in 2009.