How Will Obama Rally Our Nation?

Ideas. Insight. Inspiration.

How Will Obama Rally Our Nation?

January 18, 2009 Persuasion Politics 2

President-elect Barack Obama certainly has his work cut out for him.  The collapse of the housing market, financial institutions and baseline manufacturing in the US has given him an extraordinary combination of circumstances requiring an extraordinary level of effort on his part and support on our part.  How can he rally Americans behind any attempt to bring about significant and meaningful change?  He is certain to frame his persuasive case as ‘Meeting The Challenge of Change.’  

Meeting The Challenge

The challenges are unquestioned.  The country is not faced merely with a smattering of problems needing solutions, though indeed there are problems in need of solutions.  Thefact is, there are plenty of solutions to most of the problems we face.  They require more of us than implementation.  They require willingness, focus, and a commitment to rise as a nation and move towards a that future where all these problems were but stepping stones to glory.  Meeting the challenge is exactly what we must be called to do.

Why?  Because the real problem festering beneath the surface of our national psyche, and in some places already roaring to the top, is despair.  And despair multiplies problems and blinds people to solutions.  I should know.  I have had my share of despair in life.  In every case, it kept me from doing what I needed to do, obstructed my view and hid away otherwise obvious choices from my view.  Oddly, at the time when I most needed help, I isolated myself and lost my confidence and competence in concern.  

I’m not alone in this. It’s just human nature to despair, after a prolonged period of a worsening situation.  And that’s what we’ve had here in the USA.  It’s just human nature to despair when all that is talked about is what is wrong, or going wrong, and what can’t be done because time has past or the window of opportunity has closed.  The failures of the Bush administration are now well known to 3/4’s of our citizens, while a quarter of us still cling to illusions and give credit where little credit is due, choosing instead to lay blame at anyone else’s doorstep.  

Some of us saw the writing on the wall sooner than others, and wondered when the chickens would come home to roost.  Some chose to wear the blinders as long as possible. Some still do.  Some have already given up hope of ever solving our problems.  Under these conditions, talking about our problems and how to solve them is unlikely to be persuasive. It’s the wrong choice, emotionally, and intellectually. 

It’s such a bad choice that, since I began this post listing the problems, you might have even tuned out after just the first paragraph!  But if you’re still with me, (and I’m counting you still being with me) then hear me now.  The time of reckoning is upon us. What we do with this moment says everything about who we are and what matters most to us.  That’s the challenge.  And leadership must call on us to meet this challenge.  The challenge of major, fundamental, bottom line change in the way we do things inside the country and in the world, within our own families and communities, and with each other. 

In the art of change, in the art of persuasion, you do not despair!  You find the challenge there!  When you frame a problem as a challenge, your language naturally shifts to do or die, success or failure, rising or falling.  The persuasive theme of meeting a challenge allows you to take an undeniably difficult situation based in fact and convert it to an emotionally powerful opportunity.  This theme creates a license for empowered rhetoric.  

Winston Churchill used this theme to harden the resolve of his countrymen for the bitter war ahead.  John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King used this theme to engage the hearts and minds of people, young and old alike.  Nelson Mandela used this theme to transform a divided country.  Ronald Reagan used this theme to remind people of the power of possibility.  Preachers use it.  Teachers use it.  The Mystery Men used it.  Obama has used it, is using it and will use it for some time to come.   And so can you.  

The theme of meeting the challenge of change gives you poetic license to wax poetic.  “Let us boldly go into the fray, and always seek the better way.”

You can use alliteration (beginning several words in sequence with the same sound.)  “Each and every earnest soul can find their own opportunity opening before them, you need only pay attention for it.  There is a plethora of possibilities (hey, I’m riffing here!) that are particularly pleasing to the person with determination and drive.”

You can give personality to objects and entities.  “These antiquated systems are threatening to bring our entire enterprise to an early end.”  Though despair wants to divide and destroy us, it shall not succeed.” 

You can use rhetorical questions.  “Have we not overcome seemingly insurmountable odds in the past? I say Yes, and again Yes.”

You can repeat a key phrase to punctuate ideas.  “We’re number one! We’re number one!”  or in President Obama’s case, “Yes we can.  Yes we can.”

Put them patterns together, and your rhetoric can rally the recruits and ready their responsiveness!  “We shall not go quietly into the night.  We shall not give up without a fight.  We will never give up. Never surrender. Victory will be ours!”  (Those words are spoken by the President in one of my favorite movies, ‘Independence Day,’ to rally the entire world!)

Of course, there’s no need to go over the top.  But the language of challenge, of success and failure, of victory and defeat, calls on the depth of people’s feelings and the heights of their aspirations, on their hearts rather than just their minds, and allows leadership to create a rallying point that may indeed bring out the best in people and carry worthwhile solutions to fruition. 

And this is the rhetorical tone that the President elect needs to set in the first hundred days of his first term.  I have no doubt that he will offer a splendid example of this theme in his inaugural address.   He’ll use it to inoculate us against the inevitable difficulties we’ll face.  He’ll use it to give us a vision of a better future.  He’ll cast our problems as a challenge that we must meet.  He’s a savvy persuader.  

In a time when so much time has been wasted, so much treasure and so many of our soldier’s lives lost, when so many opportunities have been unmet…he will tell us that this day, this presidency, is the signal for us to rise as one nation, to put the polarization and division behind us, and declare to ourselves and to the world that this is our time, this is our purpose, this is our chance to build a future worth living in, for ourselves, for our children, and for their children to come.  

For while we are faced with unprecedented challenges, they merge with our shared interest as unprecedented opportunities for positive change, renewal and progress.  He will tell us that we can recover the health of our environment for future generations while restoring vitality and opportunity to our economy.  That we can recover the health of our people while restoring our institutions to a healthy condition as well.  He will keep us from floating off on a rhetorical sugar high by reminding us at least a few times that it won’t be easy, and it will take more time than we wish it would.  He will tell us that we must meet these challenges head on, as we always have, as Americans, that we must do the important things, the necessary things, and in doing so,  demonstrate to our posterity that we possess wisdom, courage, character and strength.  

At least, I hope he does.  I’m so inspired by what has transpired already.   This Barack Obama seems to have his head on straight, knows how to talk, and is bringing together what may be the smartest and most effective administration we’ve ever seen in this country.  Time will tell if he can get Congress to come together and work for the good of all of us instead of some of us. Time will tell if he can get my fellow citizens to come together and work together for a better tomorrow.  Time will tell if he can mend fences, forget about differences and build the common ground necessary for making the truly big changes needed.  

He has my support and encouragement.  I hope and trust he has yours.  Let’s give this guy the chance to make some game changing plays, to demonstrate for our entire nation the art of change and the art of persuasion.  I’m personally ready for my country to stop backing into the future, turn and face it, and work today for a better tomorrow. 

Your comments are always welcome.  

Be well,

2 Responses

  1. J.D. Meier says:

    There is something powerful about reframing problems as challenges.

    I think challenges imply there’s a way forward that you simply have to overcome. It almost automatically shifts you from why questions to how questions to find a way forward.

    There’s a challenge with rallying cries in terms of the thinking, feeling, doing loop. Rallying cries work great when somebody can cycle through positive thinking to positive feeling to positive actions. It builds momentum. This shows up in the industrial age, battle cries, physical labor, sports … etc. In the knowledge age, it’s a bit tougher. People get excited, change their thinking, change their feeling, then get stuck on what to do or how to do. I’ve noticed this quite a bit with knowledge work.

    I haven’t figured out a great frame for it, but I do see a stuck pattern. To bottom line it, it goes something like this … “I’m ready, willing and able … but “what to do?”

  2. Gary C Smith says:

    Dr K, This is my blog from Jan 15, perhaps a flu induced, a hope filled dream:
    Get ready it is coming.
    The greatest speech of our lifetime, perhaps of the history of the USA.
    “How do you know?”
    “What else could Mr. Obama do?”
    “He is going to amaze us, make us cry, give us hope, speak complete sentences and really, really, really mean it!
    “Oh yea?”
    “I know cause I’ve had the flu and tapped into some amazing auditory hallucination. I can’t remember the speech word for word.
    I am a little confused about the ideas, I am sick, but by golly, by gum I feel it! ‘
    “The road he’s traveled, the colleagues he’s gathered, the family he loves and his ability to put his attention in the moment!

    “Here & Now boys & girls.”
    “Here & now boys & girls.”

    “Get ready to listen.
    “Practice with your children, your co-workers, at the unemployment line, applying for a job, working the soup kitchen, listen.
    “Listening is not about the sounds hitting the ear drum, the hammer and anvil doing some type of symphonic cacophony, but, like in my auditory hallucinations, hearing what’s important. Grasping meaning and being able to share the meaning.
    “Listening is looking right in the eyes, and not switching channels, or adding a new down beat or changing the tempo.
    “Listening is about letting the speaker speak, without your agenda, the Democrats or Republicans agenda, not your mothers or Gods agenda.
    “Things will be said that sway us into hearing each other better.
    “And that’s what I want, to hear the message that everyone has to say.

    A message came in my dreams
    Where Mr. Morpheus planted seeds
    Of magic beans & missing friends
    who speak words bearing love
    hidden beyond sights, sounds & smells
    wonders of life
    & dark days being celebrated.
    Seeds holding gifts of fruits
    Faces inspiring poets
    & play of children holding hands
    & whispering
    “I’ve got a secret.
    Let me tell you how it goes.
    If your real quiet
    You can see
    & feel
    how we’re all the same.

    Our neighborhood here in Crockett, California, is getting up early for Coffee, Tea and Croissants to join the Inauguration Celebration and sound our auto sirens when he takes office. Be loud, be happy, get prepared.
    Dr. K may your words ring true.

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