John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Blinded by Science

Posted on April 2, 2009
Blinded by Science

According to a new story by Michael Grunwald of Time, ('How Obama Is Using The Science of Change: It's more than a campaign slogan. Inside the White House's plan to employ behavioral economics to promote its agenda-and fundamentally alter the way Americans live):

“Two weeks before election Day, Barack Obama's campaign was mobilizing millions of supporters; it was a bit late to start rewriting get-out-the-vote (GOTV) scripts. 'BUT, BUT, BUT,' field director Mike Moffo wrote to Obama's GOTV operatives nationwide, 'What if I told you a world-famous team of genius scientists, psychologists and economists wrote down the best techniques for GOTV scripting?!?! Would you be interested in at least taking a look? Of course you would!!' Moffo then passed along guidelines and a sample script from the Consortium of Behavioral Scientists, a secret advisory group of 29 of the nation's leading behaviorists. The key guideline was a simple message: 'A Record Turnout Is Expected.' That's because studies by psychologist Robert Cialdini and other group members had found that the most powerful motivator for hotel guests to reuse towels, national-park visitors to stay on marked trails and citizens to vote is the suggestion that everyone is doing it. 'People want to do what they think others will do,' says Cialdini, author of the best seller 'Influence.' 'The Obama campaign really got that.'”

I always wondered why before each Obama rally or event or inauguration, a story would leak out about how experts expected record crowds. Now I understand that they didn’t expect the record crowds at all. They just said that in order to get record crowds (or at least something close to records) to turn out.

For example, word first leaked that 5 million people were going to descend on Washington D.C. for the President’s inaugural. The actual number was slightly north of a million, but by then, the die had already been cast that this was going to be a really big day.

Obama’s team has taken the art of cynicism in a completely new direction. He has discovered that the best way to cynically manipulate the emotions and actions of the American people is to appear to be completely absent of any cynicism.

The President’s key campaign insight was that the election was really not about him. He said that time and time again during the campaign. Mr. Obama offered this bargain. If you vote for me, you will feel good about yourself. If you vote against me, you will feel bad about yourself.

Since the Obama campaign knew that so many Americans have a desperate desire to feel validated, to feel good about themselves, they gave them to keys to internal happiness. “Vote for me, and you will be free,” the campaign whispered incessantly.

Republicans, on the other hand, had a different tack. The McCain campaign, of course, had no coherent message from one day to the next. The alternated between “vote for Obama or you will die” to “vote for Obama and you will be taxed” to “vote for Obama and you will vote for a socialist”, that they never really gave swing voters a decent reason to vote for McCain.

I have said this before and I will say it again. For Republicans to be able to compete with the Obama machine, they have to spend some quality time really thinking about what the American people want from their government, and then invest some resources to figure out ways to communicate their proposals on how to achieve those desires.

Simply trying to resurrect the legacy of Ronald Reagan is not going to do it. If Republicans want to compete in the 21st century, they are going to need to communicate in ways that make sense in the 21st century. Otherwise, Mr. Obama is going to continue to out-think, out-talk, and out-flank them for the next 8 years.