I missed catching the debate live, when it aired on Saturday Morning, 27th Sep singapore time. Thanks to YouTube, I’ve been able to watch it in full (albeit with the occasional pauses for buffering) and thus make up my own mind, instead of depending on the many pundits in the internet and print media that I would have had to in the past.
Both candidates must have been through intensive coaching by their PR teams. In events like this, one listens out for “facts” uttered, to know if they know as much or more than we, the uncoached public do. One should be ready with a BS filter at extra strength, because this is about getting their key messages out, and these would be messages crafted to win. What a candidate says in the televised debate may be very different than what he thinks and does once safely in place in the Oval Office. This is, after all politics.
So why watch if what the candidates say cannot be fully believed? I watch to see how the candidates act and behave. Yes, even that may have been guided by the PR minders, but when the pressure comes on and the debate goes in full swing, the natural behaviors have to come peeking out somehow.
What I heard McCain’s body and manner say was “I’m right. I know everything and I’m a superior being, so I don’t have to listen. This is all about me, and my ideas. I’m the clever one here”.
In stark contrast to McCain often saying “Senator Obama does not understand…”, I heard Obama often saying that that he agreed with McCain. By doing so, and through his calmer, more friendly manner, Obama conveyed respectfulness, dignity and came across as a person willing to listen, to find common ground and also willing to state his point of view clearly where opinions diverge. Some may see this as weakness, the kind attributed to Jimmy Carter that would encourage America’s enemies to double their efforts to attack. I think it’s the opposite. It shows that one is big enough to not feel threatened when he does not have a monopoly on the truth.
When you think about the armies of PR consultants involved, you think about branding. McCain is a brand. Obama is a brand. They have considerable awareness in the marketplace of votes, and strong preference, consideration and “purchase” amongst their supporters. This debate must have been about generating ACPP amongst the supporters of the opposite side, and the undecideds.
If you think of the McCain and Obama brands as being like the top tier brands in business – Citigroup, Cisco, GE, BMW, HP …… you realise that these brands behave respectfully to their competitors. Yes, they do point out where their products and services add value for their customers, are superior to competitors offerings, and employ innovation and technology. No, they do not put down competitors in their ads or press releases. There is no name calling. No belittling.
Looked at this way, I’d say the Obama brand came out looking like top-tier brand.
Just one more thought before I leave this topic. This first debate was heavy on the topic of foreign policy. Which is all about working with other countries, partners in alliance and rivals in competition. That sure sounds like life in a top tier brand company – where alliances are critical for success, and even those competitors most demonised share more in common than not.