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Obama’s PR Woes: Part 2
By: Gerard E. Mayers
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As a politician, how do you lose an election? Simple. Just say something that comes back to haunt you and refuses to go away.

The President’s four little words, “you didn’t build that,” uttered during his now-infamous Roanoke speech of July 13 continue to haunt him. Just the day after my last blog on Obama’s PR Nightmare, a column in the Wall Street Journal by Kimberley Strassel echoed the perception, now growing, that Team Obama is indeed rattled and worried about possibly losing the national election come November.

Ms. Strassel noted, “’You didn't build that’ is swelling to such heights that it has the president somewhere unprecedented: on defense. Mr. Obama has felt compelled—for the first time in this campaign—to cut an ad in which he directly responds to the criticisms of his now-infamous speech, complaining his opponents took his words ‘out of context.’”

Ms. Strassel continued, “That ad follows two separate ones from his campaign attempting damage control. His campaign appearances are now about backpedaling and proclaiming his love for small business. And the Democratic National Committee produced its own panicked memo, which vowed to 'turn the page' on Mr. Romney's 'out of context . . . BS'—thereby acknowledging that Chicago has lost control of the message. ...

“The obsession with tested messages is precisely why the president's rare moments of candor—on free enterprise, on those who ‘cling to their guns and religion,’ on the need to ‘spread the wealth around’—are so revealing. They are a look at the real man. It turns out Mr. Obama's dismissive words toward free enterprise closely mirror a speech that liberal Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren gave last August....

“The Obama campaign's bigger problem, both sides are now realizing, is that his words go beyond politics and are more devastating than the Romney complaints that Mr. Obama is too big-government oriented or has mishandled the economy. They raise the far more potent issue of national identity and feed the suspicion that Mr. Obama is actively hostile to American ideals and aspirations. Republicans are doing their own voter surveys, and they note that Mr. Obama's problem is that his words cause an emotional response, and that they disturb voters in nearly every demographic.

“It's why Mr. Obama's ‘out of context’ complaints aren't getting traction. The Republican National Committee's response to that gripe was to run an ad that shows a full minute of Mr. Obama's rant at the Roanoke, Va., campaign event on July 13. In addition to ‘you didn't build that,’ the president also put down those who think they are ‘smarter’ or ‘work harder’ than others. Witness the first president to demean the bedrock American beliefs in industriousness and exceptionalism. The ‘context’ only makes it worse.

“This gets to the other reason the Obama campaign is rattled: ‘You didn't build that’ threatens to undermine its own argument against Mr. Romney. Mr. Obama has been running on class warfare and the notion that Mr. Romney is a wealthy one-percenter out of touch with average Americans. Yet few things better symbolize the average American than a small-business owner. To the extent that Mr. Romney is positioning himself as champion of that little business guy and portraying Mr. Obama as something alien, he could flip the Obama narrative on its head. “

As I have previously noted in earlier blogs, in public relations, what is perceived as being reality can oftentimes be more tenacious than what actually is reality. For the first time, perhaps, Mr. Obama is now widely supposed to be anti-American in his core values and beliefs. That in itself could turn the election in Mr Romney’s favor come November.

As I said last week, stay tuned.


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About the Author
Gerard E. "Gerry" Mayers writes about PR and other relevant topics for PR professionals. A former PR manager for Sensor Products, Inc. (currently based in Madison, NJ), he lives in Milford, NJ.
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