John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


The Declining Art of Subtlety

Posted on October 26, 2012

There is no subtlety in politics anymore.

And that’s a shame.

I was thinking about that when I watching television the other day.

Sandwiched between brutal attack ads, where Obama was slamming Romney for being a capitalist and Romney was slamming Obama for being a socialist, there appeared a commercial that featured laughing.  First, a baby, then a small child and then through all stages in life, ending with an old dude laughing his butt off.

At the end, Volkswagen.

Now, that’s subtlety.

But you don’t get that anymore in politics.

Now, you get smash-mouthed attacks, all the time.

The Obama campaign calls Romney a liar.  They call him heartless.  They accused of killing a woman, because he took her health care insurance away (a charge that turned out to be a bald-faced lie).

Ronald Reagan was the master of the subtle commercial (well, his campaign was).

The best was the famous bear commercial.  It showed a big bear lurking in the woods.  The moderator intoned that isn’t better to be as strong as the bear, if and when you have to face up to it.  It closed with picture of a man staring straight ahead at the bear.

The bear was interpreted to be the Soviet Union.  It was a great ad because it made its point by being subtle.

It used to be that you had to be subtle in American politics.

If you called somebody a liar, in the old days, you most likely would be challenged to a duel.  That was why Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton dead.  Honor was at stake.  So, if you wanted to avoid get shot and killed, you avoided calling your opponent a liar.

More subtlety makes it easier to cut deals later on.  It is good for the legislative process.  If you accuse the other political party of being no good, lying cheating scum, how can you reach agree on a plan to prolong the life of Social Security.

That kind of language only makes voters think that everybody is a lying, cheating scumbag.  It hurts the entire political process.

Madison Avenue believes that the American people are smart enough to reach conclusions on their own, that it is better to show consumers about their product rather than just tell them.

Politicians clearly don’t believe that.  They are no longer subtle.  And I think that hurts the political process.

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