June 19, 2008
McCain's Elevator Speech Needs WorkBy Lee Cary
"Now is the summer of conservative discontent made fairish fall by this son of Admirals." Whether conservative republicans paraphrase Shakespeare this way after the GOP convention will depend, in part, on the evolution of McCain's elevator speech.
Elevator speech: A succinct monologue promoting a business concept or action delivered by an advocate to a decision-maker during the elevator ride up to the executive offices. Sometimes called the elevator pitch, it's used when the person who's the target of the attempted persuasion either can't, or won't, allow more time to hear the pitch. (Author's definition)
Last week, a major news outlet posed this question concerning the campaign: Who's winning the early rounds? (Guess who they favored?) The best answer is no one. The bell for Round 1 is yet to ring. The opposing corners are still arguing over the size of the ring.
McCain likes to punch in close quarters and wants a smaller, more intimate ring. Obama likes to dance between the teleprompters. He wants a big ring. While their seconds debate the debates, the fighters scowl and punch the air, practicing their combinations. The body blows are ahead.
The size of the ring is important to both. And so are their respective elevator speeches. Although that's less important for Obama than for McCain. Obama is all about the elusive dance of emotional oratory. Foot work. McCain will need to deliver sharp jabs that differentiate him from Obama, particularly if he's to score with the independent judges, i.e., voters.
McCain will need a clean, compelling elevator speech that also motivates conservative Republicans to vote for him in November. They don't have to vote gloriously. Just vote, and for him.
McCain's first general campaign speech on June 3 may tell us something about his fight strategy. If so, right now it's muddled. And that's alright. But it won't be "alright" if that's still the case in early August.
McCain's New Orleans speech displayed four parts: (A) Padding; (B) Glue; (C) a Menu of Issues; and the (D) Big Disclaimer.
(A) The Padding was largely throw-away stuff. For example: Complementing Hillary Clinton on her "tenacity and courage." The non-news that "America has seen tough times before." A bow to the Katrina victims, since the speech was delivered near New Orleans. The acknowledgement that we all want change in Washington, D.C. (Gee, no candidate has ever said that before!) And a long, 235-words close.
(B) The Glue was McCain's core theme. It popped up at several places in his speech, with some apparent capriciousness.
In condensed, first-person form, the McCain Glue might sound like this,
My opponent offers Wrong Change based a replay of "old, tired, big government policies" from the failed past. I promise Right Change that reforms government to get it out of the way of Americans exercising their industry, imagination and courage to make our nation, and the world, greater.
In short, where Barack Obama sees more government spending as the solution, I see less and more effective government because I trust in the "wisdom, decency and common sense of free people."
(C) McCain's Menu offered five topical entrees: Iraq War; Economics (focused on government spending); Oil/Energy Policy; Health Care; and International Trade.
But when run through a distillery, they boil down to three. (1) National defense, focused now on two shooting war(s) against Islamofacist terrorist. (2) Economics, focused on federal government's role in stimulating economic growth -- to include the nation's energy resources (with linkage to the Global Warming discussion) and international trade policies. And (3) Health Care made more affordable (which one could argue is also an economic issue).
That was a lot to try to cram into one 3,000-words speech. Too much, in fact. The Menu got lost in the mix, and the Glue never stuck.
(D) McCain's Big Disclaimer was that he doesn't represent a Third Bush Term -- the Democrats major oppositional mantra.
Somewhere in there is the first edition of a McCain elevator speech. What might it include?
First, let's cut what it shouldn't include. The Big Disclaimer, arguing a negative, will take care of itself, as it did long ago for conservative Republicans. They know, and painfully so, of McCain's disputes with the Bush administration. While Democrats may call him Bush III until the election, they, too, know that McCain isn't a clone of Bush. Independents that don't know that (On what planet have they been living?) will learn by the fall, if McCain makes a claim on his track record of bipartisan activism. A claim that Obama cannot make, even in an embryonic way.
Padding will atrophy on its own as the rounds pass. Plus, elevator speeches don't have time for Padding.
McCain's task is to Glue together an elevator speech wherein he succinctly differentiates his positions across a concise Menu in opposition to Obama's. From time-to-time, new opportunities will develop where McCain can further separate himself from Obama. For example, recent Supreme Court decisions offer McCain a living context to compare his profile of the ideal Supreme Court nominee with what is likely to be Obama's.
So, McCain's elevator speech will need to tighten-up and evolve as the campaign moves toward the fall. His challenge is to make the case that Obama is a young man with old, failed ideas, while he, McCain, is an older man with young ideas that will never fail the lives of free people.
As the fight progresses, late adopters among conservative Republicans will fully awaken to the damage to the nation that even a one term Obama presidency could deliver. Why? Because for conservatives, patriotism outweighs political ideology. Not just this coming November - but every November, and in the other eleven months, too.
In the meantime, though. McCain needs to get his elevator speech in shape. Without it, he could suffer a TKO.