And the winner is…The High Road!
For anyone who doubted the influence played by the art of persuasion in the USA Presidential contest, the answer is now in. The high road wins. Barack Obama was the better communicator. Throughout the campaign, he dealt with double standards and mixed messages, smear attacks on his reputation and hyperbolic labeling, and kept going forward with grace and aplomb. He stayed on message, and kept the message short and sweet. He spoke to people’s motivations, needs, interests and values.He used humor well as seasoning, but never with too sharp an edge. He showed due respect to his opponent. His rhetoric was empowered. His phrasing often inspiring. A guy with a thin resume and no reason to expect a win behaved as if a win was not only possible, but in everyone’s interest. All of this combined to make a campaign the likes of which we have not seen in this country in a very long time, if ever.
What did his opponent do? All that good will that John McCain brought with him, an unbeatable back story, much support of political moderates (I include myself in that category) from his previous campaign, and a powerful reputation as a guy who marches to his own drummer…a formidable opponent, the election was his to lose.
And lose it he did. Missed steps, missed opportunities, and a squandering of good will by alienating the middle ground voters he most needed. The promotion of hatred and the poisoning of the electorate were his methods of choice. He ran against instead of for. He failed to engage our motivations, interests, values and needs, and instead ran a Karl Rove style 20th century divisive campaign at a time when Americans wanted to come together. I just watched the speeches made by each candidate.
John McCain, in his concession speech, moved me deeply. Others watching with me had the same reaction: Where was that guy? I could have supported that guy! He was powerful, gracious, honest, authentic, and his love of country was obvious. (His crowd took some calming. I found them sorely lacking in the good sportsmanship that we try to teach our kids for dealing with loss. Eventually McCain got through to them. He did this through non-verbal disapproval. He waived it away and they got the message. He was honorable, they were lacking in honor. That got ’em. They stopped booing and began to hear a truth that McCain hadn’t told them clearly during his campaign – that Barack Obama is a good man who also wants to do good for a country that he loves. I know that John McCain is the good man I have always believed him to be. He ran an awful campaign. He failed to listen to his own better angels. Tonight, he reclaimed my confidence in him with his speech.
Barack Obama gave an historic speech, an amazing speech, and demonstrated real mastery of the art of persuasion. I found it to be so connected to my own values and deep yearning for my country, so inclusive, so honest intellectually and emotionally, that I confess, I was smitten. I have a rule about not falling in love with politicians. But tonight, I feel love. I couldn’t be happier for my country and for our world. He said it clearly. To those who seek to tear down this world, we will defeat you. His campaign proves the case.
I come away from Barack Obama’s speech with the sense that this is a defining moment in American history, and in human history. A moment when we stop backing into the future, turn and face it, embrace it, claim it, and shape it using our skills, our passion and our faith. I believe that a new dawning is possible. I believe it includes young and old, conservative and progressive because it is transpartisan in nature. We need the best of all of us, and he called on us for that, in the finest traditions of the can-do attitude that defines America still for so much of the world. I’m astonished at the feel of this moment, almost breathless with anticipation. I feel like, in some ways, I have witnessed a miracle of sorts. It’s the moon landing all over again, only better.
As far as my work on this blog about persuasive communication skills is concerned, I’m now more certain than ever that the art of persuasion is the new pre-requisite for people serious about creating positive change. Here’s hoping that the winner of this grueling contest can deliver the kind of change he has promised. Here’s hoping he can do so without us being our own worst enemy as we have been these last 8 years. I wish the President Elect and his family safety and Godspeed. It feels like there is a signpost up ahead. It says, ‘Welcome to the 21st century and the future of humanity.’ I’m glad to share this journey with you.
Back in a couple of days,
Rick is a best selling author and the founder of the Art of Change Skills for Life. His book titles include, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to bring out the best in people at their worst, Life by Design and Influence and the Art of Persuasion. These days he is spending quality time away from the spotlight enjoying the company of his wife and practicing his electric guitar.