One Fortune 500 CEO commented that he always brings his wife to dinner with potential top executives because he trusts his wife's intuition as a reliable barometer of a candidate's character and trustworthiness -- important characteristics that aren't measured by other aspects of the job interview process. With the president's State of the Union address (SOTU), it didn't take women's intuition to see through the rhetoric and understand the tone and defensiveness of the speech.
The president promised the moon, but he said nothing for which he could be held accountable. He did a brilliant job of giving the impression that he was addressing issues, but in case after case, one could only wonder about the particulars. Most women listen carefully when a man dishes out flowery promises. Most have learned from bitter experience not to fall for vague promises. Instead, they look for the particulars, and most importantly, they look at a man's actions.
The president's rhetoric, as usual, was phrased in a way that any listener could shape the message according to her particular point of view. As the president wrote in his autobiography, The Audacity of Hope, he believes that one of his strengths is that he is a "blank screen" on which different people can "project" different views. Clearly, he believes that he can say anything and people will believe it in a way that has personal meaning and significance, even when these people have different perspectives and ideologies. He doesn't seem to understand that words have to be associated with reality -- not to mention truth and accuracy. There was an almost total disconnect between what he said in his SOTU and what he did -- the actions he took -- last year in regard to Iran, earmarks, transparency, bipartisanship, and I could go on and on.
Ultimately, the president's SOTU was deceptive. This goes to the issue of character, which leads directly to the question of whether he can be trusted.
Mr. Obama talked about the need for a government that "matche[s] the people's decency." He praised the people's resiliency as a prime reason for the nation to be hopeful. Women will welcome his promises about creating jobs, tax credits to small business that create new jobs, improving education. Health care, too, is a bread-and-butter issue for women. Women will notice that while he talked passionately about the vital "preexisting condition" issue, Mr. Obama did not touch on the issue of federal funding for abortion. He challenged Congress to "continue down the road toward earmark reform" -- a smokescreen that ignores the fact that they have been porking up every bill they write.
The president talked about "relieving the burden on middle class" and "helping working families." He talked about improving schools by emphasizing achievement and excellence. He expressed a goal of "world class education" for America's children. He didn't want anyone to go "broke because they [choose] to go to college." The Congress applauded when he talked about "not accepting second place for the United States of America." He expressed strong feelings about bipartisanship and stopping politics as usual. He wanted to end distrust and division, and he promised not to give up on trying to change government (supposedly in regard to trust and unity, but again, one can give Obama's words one's own meaning). He told the assembly that "people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills." He said that Congress was "sent here to serve citizens, not our ambitions." He promised to help military families. He spoke often, in fact, about "families." He talked about the difficulties people are facing; he echoed former President Clinton's mantra about "feeling people's pain." He embraced the vision of JFK and Reagan. Get it? He is bipartisan -- he cares, he is compassionate, he is working and providing leadership to "advance the prosperity for all people." He applauded his more popular wife and chided her for being "shy." He kept saying that he "wouldn't walk away from" the job he was elected to do, but he gave no road map and presented no plan.
One of the basic principles of communication is that when there are discrepancies in a person's words, listeners believe what they sense from the non-verbal communication. In that regard, President Obama has major problems. His total reliance on the teleprompters is a hindrance to his believability. Obama lifts his head to read the teleprompter screens in a way that makes him appear arrogant and condescending. He almost never looks at real people during his speeches; his head swings from side to side as he reads first one screen and then the other. Even during applause interruptions, he looks above the heads of the audience or at the screens rather than at those in his audience. The president spoke very reassuringly about feeling great hope for America. But his tone of voice was strained. He talked about regretting that "people are still hurting," but as Congress applauded him before he began his speech, his chin in the air and rigid stance communicated that he was not backing down from his leftist policies or taking blame for their failure.
People, especially women, don't like whiners or those who blame others instead of accepting responsibility for their own actions. Mr. Obama kept blaming Washington as though he were an outsider -- as though he was not the president and his party in the majority. He continued to whine about the nation's condition when he took office; he said that he took office "during awful times" and that he "acted immediately and aggressively." He lamented the deficit that the nation was in "before he walked in the door." He claimed that "anxieties aren't new" -- that we've "struggled for years." The problem, he said, is what we did "for eight years" before he came into office -- "that is what helped us to this crisis." He lamented the "partisanship and pettiness," and he talked about "deep corrosive doubts" and "credibility gaps" as though they had nothing to do with his leadership or his party's failures. He had many bogeymen -- the banks, the lobbyists, Wall Street, the health insurance companies. The president talked about a "deficit of trust" as though it had nothing to do with him or his leadership. In short, he praised people's "resilience in the face of adversity," and blamed everything else. Then he reiterated that he came into office to "change" all those "bad things."
Women don't like bullies, and they don't like finger-pointing. The president apparently has no clue that he is out of touch with reality. He was expected to "pivot" away from his failed policies; instead, he almost belligerently insisted that "[o]nce temperatures cool," Congress must "take another look at our bill" and demanding that Congress not "walk away from health care reform." He seemed genuinely to think that the failure of the deeply-flawed health care reform bill was because he "didn't explain" it well enough. In spite of everyone's expectation that he would learn from his failures this year and try a different approach, he refused to bend to reality. As one focus group participant said, "Obama is turning out to be a great conservationist; he is just recycling all of his old campaign rhetoric."