John Feehery: Speaking Engagements



Posted on April 5, 2009



            An item in a news story caught the eye of my good friend Bill Pitts about President Obama’s otherwordly ability to connect with voters.  According to the article, Mr. Obama has a high E.I. quotient. 


            What is E.I.?


            According to Wikipedia:  “Emotional Intelligence (EI), often measured as an Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ), describes a concept that involves the ability, capacity, skill or (in the case of the trait EI model) a self-perceived ability, to identify, assess, and manage the emotions of one's self, of others, and of groups.”


            Maureen Dowd, seemingly concurred in this assessment of the President in her Sunday column, calling Mr. Obama “The First Shrink”. (


Barack Obama grew up learning how to slip in and out of different worlds — black and white, foreign and American, rich and poor. The son of an anthropologist, he developed a lot of “tricks,” as he put it, training himself to be a close observer of human nature, figuring out what others needed so he could get where he wanted to go...


…Gabriel Byrne’s brooding psychoanalyst on “In Treatment” might envy Barack Obama’s calming psychoanalysis in Europe. He may not have come away with all he wanted substantively. His hand was too weak going in, and there was too much hostility toward America, thanks to W.’s blunders and Cheney’s bullying. But he showed a psychological finesse that has been missing from American leadership for a long time.”


            Mr. Obama was born with certain political gifts that allow him to communicate at a level that Republicans are only now beginning to understand.  But as Mike Grunwald of Time magazine uncovered (,9171,1889153,00.html), Obama plays all the angles in order to gain an advantage over his opponents, including relying on a cadre of behavioral scientists to help him win politically:


“The existence of this behavioral dream team — which also included best-selling authors Dan Ariely of MIT (Predictably Irrational) and Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago (Nudge) as well as Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman of Princeton — has never been publicly disclosed, even though its members gave Obama white papers on messaging, fundraising and rumor control as well as voter mobilization. All their proposals — among them the famous online fundraising lotteries that gave small donors a chance to win face time with Obama — came with footnotes to peer-reviewed academic research. "It was amazing to have these bullet points telling us what to do and the science behind it," Moffo tells TIME. "These guys really know what makes people tick."  President Obama is still relying on behavioral science. But now his Administration is using it to try to transform the country. Because when you know what makes people tick, it's a lot easier to help them change.”


            And as Politico wrote last week, the Obama team is fixated on polling ( 


"As President Barack Obama works to sell the American people on a sweeping agenda of domestic spending and policy changes, he’s relying on three men who have gone through neither Senate confirmation nor cable news spin cycles. 

Data from pollsters Joel Benenson and Paul Harstad has become increasingly important to shaping the White House’s message as the crucial battle over the president’s budget intensifies. 

“The pace [of polling] is picking up,” said one source familiar with the data."


            This might all be a bunch of New Age mumbo-jumbo, but it seems to be working for the President.  Republicans are flailing away at him, making nary a dent.  Europe seems to be puddy in his hands (at least the non-government Europeans).  And the press, despite some ritualized crankiness, still loves him. 


            Undoubtedly, Obama has political talent that cannot be underestimated.  And with his pack of behavioral scientists and pollsters, he seems to be capturing well the sentiments of a large swath of voters.  One wag once said that the key to politics is sincerity and if you can fake that, you can go far.  For the moment, the President is exceptionally adept at faking his authenticity, as he reads off of teleprompters and consults with his image-makers.


            Republicans will be resistant to any kind of new age communications methods.  They seem content to rely on old forums, decrepit delivery mechanisms, and tired messages.  But if they are going to be able to offer any kind of alternative that makes sense to the vast middle of American politics, they should learn a few things from the Obama message machine.

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