LANGUAGING 101. The "I will" speaker vs. the "we will" speaker.
Have you seen Obama lately? Or heard him speak? Or listened carefully? I
was one of the nine million Americans who saw the debates on
ABC-TV before election. I was with a friend who is a skilled facilitator, and we
immediately saw and heard why Obama is different from the rest of the
Democratic (and Republican) pack.
Basically, the other candidates are all saying, "I will do this," "I
will do that," "I will be there in this way for you," as they recite the
fine print of issues to show what they would do as president. Indeed,
most of the horserace coverage from this and other debates is on the
points scored by the candidates as they joust on this wavelength.
Obama, on the other hand, is not emphasizing the "I" pronoun. He is all
about we and you. "We can do this." "We can do that." "If we come
together, we can achieve ..." The former grass-roots organizer is making
his candidacy inclusive. Obama is asking people to join him, implying
that he will listen, hear them and include them in solutions that rely
on the best in them and in society, not the worst.
The "I will" versus "We can" stance is not a minor distinction.
On Saturday, Hillary Clinton and Obama even debated this point on ABC.
"Words are not actions," Clinton said, "and as beautifully presented and
passionately felt as they are, they are not action. You know, what we've
got to do is translate talk into action and feeling into reality."
A few minutes later, Obama responded."The truth is actually words do
inspire," he said. "Words do help people get involved. Words do help
members of Congress get into power so that they can be part of a
coalition to deliver healthcare reform, to deliver a bold energy policy.
Don't discount that power, because when the American people are
determined that something is going to happen, then it happens. And if
they are disaffected and cynical and fearful and told that it can't be
done, then it doesn't. I'm running for president because I want to tell
them, 'Yes, we can.' And that's why I think they're responding in such
Obama's campaign can be summed up in the power of three words, "Yes, we
The candidates who engage in first-person boasts or the pundits who
nit-pick the issues and attenuate the horserace do not appreciate this
distinction. Have you noticed how often in recent days pundits have
written that Obama is different, special and unique in American
politics? But they cannot say why.
"This is new. America has never seen anything like the Barack Obama
phenomenon," wrote New York Times columnist Bob Herbert on Jan. 5.
"Shake hands with tomorrow. It's here."
Obama's campaign may be a phenomenon, but it is not a mystique. Nor it
is not unique. SEE: HOW TO LANGUAGE EFFECTIVELY.
George Lakoff, who has written many books on political communication,
psychology and how both parties frame and win elections, said Obama's
use of "we" and "you" -- and his gift for making people feel good and
that they are being heard -- makes all the difference.
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