January 20, 2008
Barack, Hillary, Language, and VictoryBy Lee Cary
Political campaigns are fought with the weapon of language. Barack's campaign uses it as a subtle and surgically-applied force. Hillary's uses it as a blunt instrument. Two items from last week's political news illustrate the difference.
The Obama campaign ran a 30-second TV ad in Nevada entitled "Something Is Happening." The title repeated a theme from his New Hampshire concession speech. The ad ended with "Si, Se Pueda!"
The English translation, "Yes, we can," was used in that same speech in a litany format akin to that of an Old Testament-era antiphonal hymn where the priestly figure speaks varying sentences, after each of which worshippers respond with one repeated sentence-a practice with which many Christian church goers are familiar, particularly among more liturgical congregations.
"Si, se pueda" was also the key motivational motto of the movement to organize migrant farm workers led by Cesar Chavez (1927-1993). It continues to be cited as a core value of the United Farm Workers founded by Chavez in 1962.
Si Se Puede Attitude: The embodiment of a personal and organizational spirit that promotes confidence, courage and risk taking.
During the immigration protest marches across the country, CNN reported that on April 10, 2006,
The not-so-subtle impact of "Si, se puede" was aimed at the Hispanics among the Culinary Workers Union members in Nevada who cast their votes in Nevada at the hotels and casinos where they work.
The Obama campaign successfully linked a key concept from the candidate's most recent major speech to a Spanish language in Nevada. The result was the transfer of a core theme, via memorable and concise language into a new setting, designed to trigger a predictable response -- votes. It was either cleverly planned or serendipitously coincidental. We should opt for the former.
Meanwhile, the Hillary campaign may burn a news cycle brushing off questions that emerge from three documents released from the Clinton Presidential Library, posted by Judicial Watch , and related to the failed effort by the Clinton administration to successfully promote a comprehensive healthcare plan through a National Taskforce on Health Care Reform. In 1993, it was Mrs. Clinton's first major sortie into national politics.
The opening sentence in a June 18, 1993 memo, written by an unidentified author(s), summarizes the cumulative impression with which a reader of all three documents is left:
As we now know, the enormous effort turned impossible.
The battle plan for promoting "Health Care Reform," as outlined in 24 pages attributed to Senator Jay Rockefeller (D. WV), was tediously controlling-some might even say, manipulative-in-the-extreme. But then, to be fair, it was a big goal and this is a big country, so it would be unreasonable to expect it to be profiled in two pages.
The third and more telling document is a memo dated February 5, 1993, from Alexis Herman and Mike Lux, to Mrs. Clinton. The subject lines reads, "Office of Public Liaison Plan For Health Care Reform Campaign." A major section of the plan is entitled "Surrogates," with subheadings of "Inside Surrogates (people inside the administration)," "Outside Surrogates (friends outside the administration)," and "Overall Surrogate Scheduling Considerations (coordinating the use of surrogates)." The lead sentence in this section defines the purpose of "surrogates."
In light of this insight into Clintonian puppetry, acceptance of the denials of involvement by her campaign, in the recent thinly veiled references to Obama's previous drug usage brought to us by surrogates inside and outside the Clinton campaign, verges on requiring from us a willing suspension of disbelief.
That same memo also brings to mind Mrs. Clinton's photo-opportunity visit to a poor Hispanic families in Nevada when the authors wrote,
The forensic evidence around the Clinton campaign's use of language points to a blunt instrument weapon.
In comparison, Obama campaign's evolving theme development relies on language use that is more artful, and may prove in the long run to be more compelling.