Attention political speechwriters/copywriters: just when you really think nobody pays any attention to the stuff you write, disaster strikes. The National Review Online and Politico have caught the Obama Administration over using the phrase “this is a defining moment for America”. They uncovered at least 8 major speeches where different challenges and issues were all billed as “America’s defining challenge”.
At one point, the phrase was used three times in major speeches in the same month to represent talking about his own election as president and fighting for education reform.
Obama is likely trying to offer us a glimpse of his presidential vision, but instead he’s just become another victim of rushed speechwriting. America may be at a defining moment, but not every issue, every speech, or everything Obama says is what is defining our future. Bigger challenges and forces are driving our history. The distinctions are clear, and they are noticed by voters and the media.
This is a great opportunity that reminds us when delivering a message, context is everything.
Every public statement matters and the media will alway interpret them as a part of the bigger picture. Your press releases, emails, tv ads, and direct mail all build a narrative about your campaign. Many campaigns approach each public statement as if it’s the only thing people will read and forget that for reporters and voters, the context of the comments will often take precedence over what is actually said. That is because each statement builds on the next and the sum of the statements is the substance of your campaign.
When managing your larger context, remember that in the end it’s always about the voters and not you. And if it’s the other way around, consider whether you’re running to serve yourself or to serve the people. Making that narrative a self-centered conversation isn’t going to sit well with voters who are looking for your help and your solutions.
Obama’s right, we’re at a defining moment – not for America, but for our political discourse. Can we have campaigns that are about the people and their problems, or will they continue to be about ego and candidates whose true motivation is themselves? As campaign professionals, we need to take great care that we are good stewards of the political conversation and do our best to remember our greater purpose and the greater context of the things we say and write. Not because when we get sloppy we get caught, but because we can do great damage to our candidate’s political image and the larger debate in our country.