Obama's Eloquence, McCain's Lack of Authenticity, and Other Lessons From Election 2008

Last Updated Nov 5, 2008 11:08 AM EST

Finally, the 2008 Presidential election is history. I'll leave it to others to comment on the political ramifications, of which there are plenty. Here's a quick review of the communications lessons from this amazing race:
  • Barack Obama will be the most eloquent President in modern history. I'm no Presidential historian, but my knowledge of Presidential speeches goes back to Franklin Roosevelt. From what I've heard of their speeches and other public pronouncements, they range from pretty good (Roosevelt, Kennedy, Clinton) to terrible (Carter, Ford, Nixon, Bushes I & II). Obama will set a standard for public discourse that we have not seen in generations, and certainly not in the always-on Internet era, that will impact both public and private communications.
  • John McCain's inauthenticity could not be masked. McCain had no choice but to change his stripes to appeal to the right wing of the Republican base, embracing ultra-conservative religious views and tax-cutting that he had previously opposed. The true believers on the right didn't buy it and neither did McCain, and it showed. He found himself having to talk about things he didn't care about. Last night, in his concession speech, the real John McCain was free of those constraints, and it was stunning. His authentic personality came shining through. If THAT John McCain had been running for President, he would have given Obama a much closer fight.
  • Sarah Palin's lack of preparation came right out. Was Spiro Agnew ready to be President? Was Dan Quayle? Arguably not. But both ran and were elected VP in the pre-Internet era and their limitations were masked. Poor Sarah Palin was stripped of her defenses within two weeks. One example: her interview with Katie Couric was a media relations disaster, but what made it 10 times worse was the second life it got on the Internet. I didn't watch any of it on CBS. I watched it on the net, as I imagine many people did.
  • Joe Biden is indeed a gaffe machine. As a media trainer, I was stunned that a man who has been in the U.S. Senate for more than 30 years is still coming out with stink bombs like the one predicting a foreign crisis to "test" Obama. It just goes to show that some communication styles are innate, and no amount of training and practice will change that.
One more bonus insight:
  • As many of you have already assumed, I was in fact a supporter of Obama for president. That means I got daily emails from the campaign, with "From" lines including Obama himself, Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, and more frequently, his campaign staff. Sometimes there were two or three in a day. They always included a call to action to do something, and a button to click to donate money. Communicate, communicate, communicate. It's one of the mantras of this blog and it's what I'm talking about here. I don't know if the McCain side was as active (I imagine they were, and please comment if you were getting McCain emails), but it was a serious strong suit of the Obama campaign.
  • Jon Greer

    Jon Greer has been analyzing media and PR for more than 25 years. He's been a journalist and a PR executive, and has been a featured speaker for many years at the Bulldog Reporter Media Relations Summit, and served as Bulldog's Editorial Director for their PR University series of weekly how-to audio conferences.

    Jon provides PR services including media relations and freelance writing to clients including start-ups, law firms, corporations, investment banks and venture capital firms. In addition, Jon provides spokesperson training. Learn more about Jon's training programs at The Media Bridge.