Friday, October 03, 2008

Things I Learned

Should I ever have the privilege of standing on the stage as a political candidate, here are a few things I learned from watching/reading the presidential debate last week and the vp debate last night:

1. Learn to say 'nuclear'. It is not pronounced nu-ku-lur. Why politicians can't manage to learn how to say this simple three-syllable word properly is a mystery. Nu-clear. How hard is that? If you can manage to spout Ahamdinejad, work on nuclear, please.

(1b. And, while we're at it, pronounce the whole word, don't drop the 'g. Words have final consonants in English. It's not folksy, it's not cute, it's a weird affectation.)

2. Answer the questions that you are asked. Don't just spout words on a topic that you pick, so that the moderator has to ask you if you intend to 'address the topic'. You just look disorganized and an awful lot like a droid spouting words you don't understand if your answer isn't related to the actual question.

3. Keep track of your comparisons so that you don't argue that a = b for your side, but that a <> b for your opponent. McCains programs are a tax cut because of tax savings in other areas, but Obamas programs are a tax increase despite a tax savings in other areas. People are smart enought to notice that, and will be angry that you think they're stupid. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

4. Know when your mike is on and when it is not. Don't mutter, don't speak under your breath, and don't gush.

5. Speak in complete sentences. Yes, I know that we often speak in sentence fragments and short bursts, that's just the way the spoken language works. But when you are trying to explain something or present an idea, use a complete sentence with a subject, a verb, and an object. Try to express a complete thought before moving on to the next one. Talking in little sound-bites that are all over the place makes people sound stupid and ill-informed, even if they are brilliant.

6. Pay attention to what your opponent says and does. At least acknowledge a personal revelation or moment of difficulty with some sort of approrpriate response. And make sure you know what sort of family history or family tragedy is involved so you don't stick your foot in your mouth. A brief moment of sympathy or a nod of understanding will go a long way.

7. Don't stare into the camera all the time, thinking it means you're 'connecting with the people', it comes off kind of scary. Look at your opponent, look at the moderator, and try not to grimace like it's painful. But also don't smile like a goofball, either. Practice in front of the mirror. Don't squint so your eyes disappear, either, especially if you have wrinkles.

8. Folksiness only works when it's real. It's easy to overdo. "Doggone", " darn it". "you betcha", "yup", "ain't", "joe six-pack" are ok once or twice, but repeated they start to sound condescending and dimwitted. Intelligent, capable people do not talk like this when addressing the electorate. We aren't afraid of big words, really.

9. Make sure you actually understand the positions of your own party and can explain them correctly. Contradicting yourself or your running made doesn't inspire confidence. If you manage to contradict yourself in only a few sentences, that's even worse.

10. Don't try to give yourself a nickname and make it stick. Everyone remembers the geeky, weird high-school kid who made up his own nickname and started to use it all the time, hoping it would catch one. It's pathetic and painfully awkward. You cannot give yourself a nickname or a catchphrase; someone else has to give it to you. Period.

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