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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Granholm: Obama’s Job One is an Appeal to ‘The Great National Heart’

If anyone has earned the right to advise President Obama on how to juice up his presentation in the next debate, it would have to be former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, who delivered the most energetic speech of the Democratic convention. In her HuffPo post, “Mr. President: Next Debate, Make Moral Choice Clear,” riffing from an earlier conversation she had with message strategist George Lakoff, Granholm explains:

Every one of the president’s most moving speeches — the speeches where he inspired and lifted our country up — had one thing in common. Speeches like his 2004 convention speech, the speech on race and the speech in Osawatomie, Kansas all spoke with moral clarity about who we are, about deep American values.
Yes, they talked about issues, but the issues were an outgrowth from the call to our character.
So, with respect, Mr. President, when you walk on stage in the next debate I would like to hear you say that the choice is not just about whose tax plan you like or who has the better health care strategy. It’s much more fundamental than that. This is a choice about our national character.

Obama’s problem has never been eloquence, but Granholm suggests a script for the President, the nut of which includes,

…That great small business owner that you talk about?
We all contributed to make sure she was educated at the public schools and public university. That we all participated doesn’t take anything away from her individual accomplishments. It’s okay, really. We’re proud to have helped. We all, together as Americans, invested to build the public libraries and the roads and the national parks. We have organized ourselves, as a country, in a way that allows us to pool our resources to make sure that we all have the chance to be successful and to exercise that liberty. It’s who we are as a nation.
My God, it makes me proud.”

Not bad. Passion, clarity and appeal to the higher citizen in every viewer– it hits some sweet spots. Granholm continues:

Say it at the start of the debate: “This election involves a moral choice. As an American family, will we force autistic children to simply be on their own? Will we force Uncle Ron, with a history of heart disease to go uninsured? We. Will. Not. ”
Say it strong, Mr. President. Say, “I’m determined, in this family, that all of the children will be fed, and have shelter. In our family, we insist that we honor those who have brought us along — the elders in our home, the veterans who have served us — and we make sure they don’t have to worry about health care or social security. Compassion as strength, not as softness. In our larger family, we take care of our own. That’s who we are; that’s what we do. This is a moral issue.”

Granholm concludes,

That’s the moral choice I’d like to hear about at the next debate, Mr. President. Sure, you could talk about the $716 billion in Medicare savings and the capital gains tax rate. But that’s not what I really want to hear. Those are the little things, I want the big things. I don’t want to hear about our smallness, I want to hear about our greatness. I don’t want to hear about lies; I want to hear great truths. Tell us about our great national heart, our compassion, our character as a nation.
Tell us that, sir, and we’ll follow you anywhere.

It’s about understanding that the moral vision is what energizes the presentation and connects with real, flesh and blood people. Romney can connect to some extent with animated body language, as he did in the first debate. He can blither on with glittering generalities about “freedom,” as Republicans like to do. It’s like sleight-of-hand that distracts from his lack of substance. That can work against someone who doesn’t bring his “A” game. But he can’t really touch the energetic appeal to the commonweal that Granholm is talking about. Lack of a compassionate moral vision is Romney’s Achilles’ heel.
Speeches and debates are like apples and oranges to some extent. But debates do offer opportunities for “mini-speeches.” The President does just fine in his speeches. He’s just got to bring that energy to the next debate and Granholm makes some good points about keeping centered on an energizing moral vision. View and hear Granholm’s lively editorial at The War Room right here.

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