May 19, 2004

The Clinton Formula
Michael Tomasky

Observing Bill -- No matter what you think of William Jefferson Clinton, you have to acknowledge that he is a gifted (albeit, sly) communicator. The former President’s skills are center stage in this November 2003 interview from American Prospect magazine. A close reading serves as a master class in communication. Watch Clinton choose words that resonate. (He says “responsible” or “responsibility” about two dozen times throughout the interview.) See Clinton distill various facts into succinct summaries. (Speaking of the Democratic Party, Clinton states: “We’re the party that gave you responsible welfare reform. We’re the party that gave you fiscal responsibility, low interest rates and high growth.”) Witness Clinton recite a litany of values-charged statistics. (“We’ve gotta have $87 billion spent in Iraq, but we’re gonna kick 300,000 kids out of after-school programs, 84,000 kids out of student loans … 25,000 uniformed police off the street?’”) Listen as Clinton employs the one-two debater’s punch. (In a portion of the interview concerning tax cuts, Tomasky notes how emotionally compelling it is when conservatives say, “It’s your money, you deserve it back.” Clinton agrees, then adds, “I think we ought to say, “It’s your money, and it’s your country. What kind of country do you want?” So his first punch counters by redirecting the discussion and his second punch is a swift undercut: “I also think we ought to say, ‘It’s not like they’re not spendin’ money!’”) Finally, learn as Clinton speaks simply, plainly (providing a jargon-free description of how our nation needs “good diplomacy and a good domestic policy”) and with bountiful vision (“… the historic mission of America [is] to form a more perfect union. What does that mean? It means widening the circle of opportunity, deepening the meaning of freedom and strengthening the bonds of community.”) In addition to showcasing these lessons in strategic communication, the interview also features an important socio-political insight. “The public is operationally progressive and rhetorically conservative,” Clinton observes. “The more they believe that you’re careful with tax money and responsible in the way you run the programs and require responsibility from citizens, the more the public in general is willing to be liberal in the expenditure of tax money.”


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