Romney’s 47% Blindspot

Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but I don’t think that Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s hidden camera, cough47%cough, gaffe is that crazy.

I think that people looking to get elected listen to their campaign managers who tell them to say what it takes to get elected and then deal with the clean-up later. (Wow, that sounds much worse out loud.) Politics is rough and tumble and everyone wants something different for their vote. Those who believe that everything a candidate says publicly is exactly what they believe and will promise to do is an idealist of the worst stripe.

Candidates have feelings and biases and idiosyncrasies that they tamp down or focus, depending on who they think is listening to them. In short, they’re human. There is no grand machination or cover-up here, they’re just like you and me. And you don’t get elected by telling people that their pet concern isn’t the candidate’s favorite thing in the whole world.

I don’t think this is a gaffe. I don’t think most of the things our media calls gaffes these days are really the candidates’s fault. (Even President Obama had his famous YouTube moment four years ago.) Instead, these are failures of the campaign.

Any campaign manager who tells his or her candidate to scathingly rebuke and insult 47% of the public and assume that audio or video coverage of it won’t get out isn’t worth the price of their $500 shoes. It’s their job to anticipate problems and mitigate them. And to think that YouTube isn’t the biggest potential problem is a blindspot the size of the moon. Every one of the last few Presidential candidates have had hidden camera moments show up on YouTube, how have they not yet learned?

I take two lessons from this situation.

Personal thoughts first, it’s the job of the executive to put the very best people in the most important positions. If you’re running for the office of President and you put someone who has forgotten about YouTube in charge of your image, I wonder about your judge of character (which is a bigger deal than insulting potential voters).

What this means for us as emergency communicators is the second lesson. In a Presidential campaign, all communications are emergency communications. The season is too short; the media interest is too high; think of your worst comms day and that’s every day in a campaign. I equate our jobs to that of the campaign manager, in an emergency, we tell the executive what to say, who to say it to, when and where to say it, we manage the media and media environment and ensure that our executive doesn’t insult 47% of the country.

What do we need to learn from this? Don’t forget YouTube, simply. There are no more privileged communications. If we’re speaking in front of an audience, we should assume that someone–with an axe to grind–is recording that speech. We need to train our spokespeople to speak intelligently and cognizantly ALWAYS. Rambling answers are what leads to disasters like this. Unfocused thoughts lead to this. “Winging it,” leads to this. We need to get better at protecting our spokespeople from themselves, lest we feel the wrath of a pissed off 47%

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