The Words Obama Needs To Say

[Cache #222]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

Barack Obama, with the next presidential election less than a year away, is now what the Americans call a lame duck president.  Yet that positioning is very much inadequate to describe the distinct power held by a US president solely in the dying days of his office.

Lame duck refers to the notion that a president ineligible for re-election doesn’t have the power to get anything of substance done, either because he has indicated he will not run for a second term, or because he is completing his constitutionally-mandated two-term max.  Because no one will be beholden to him for another four or eight years, the theory goes, no one has to listen to him anymore (and in the American system and during the Obama presidency in particular, one must add:  if they ever did).

The president’s unique power at this time is the flip side of the lame duck proposition: because he will never again face voters in a general election, he can say pretty much whatever he wants.  Perhaps the classic example is the stark warning in 1961, given by President Eisenhower in his farewell address, to guard against the military-industrial complex, a term he is credited with coining.

That was 54 years ago.  To this day, the term is dominant in public thinking about the fearsome combined power of corporations and the US Defense Department.

And so the moment is at hand for Obama to say something truly bold in service of repositioning two phenomena that have in considerable measure defined his presidency – and impotence – on the home front.  The first is mass shootings, and the second is the excessive violence and killing inflicted on black Americans by their police forces.

As of two months ago, in 2015 there had been more mass shootings than there had been days (a mass shooting is defined as more than four people being shot in short succession).  CNN reported this week that there has been at least one mass shooting every week of Obama’s seven years and counting in office.

And as the Washington Post reports, black Americans – note, unarmed black Americans – are seven times more likely to be shot dead by police than unarmed white Americans.  Specifically, the Post says, fifteen of these unarmed black Americans were shot dead by police in the year following Michael Brown’s August, 2014 death in Ferguson.

There is fundamentally no sign whatsoever that either bloodbath is going to stop. There are plenty of signs, on the other hand, that a very bad situation is going to get much worse.

Words will definitely not be enough, but they can absolutely be a good start.  Obama’s opportunity is to explode a particular three sacred cows of the American mindset:

-The Civil War is over, and the North won.
-The only people degenerate enough to inflict war on Americans are non-Americans.
-An American president is never, ever to admit that America has any weakness.

And so the president should say:  “America is at war with itself.”  Or even better:  “This is America’s new Civil War.”

IN THE MEDIA THIS FALL:  In the National Post re Amazon and Etsy; oCBC Radio One re Volkswagen; in the National Post re Mac’s convenience stores.
NEW VIDEO: Check out my presentation in Houston earlier this year (to client USG) on what a brand really is.  (For the abbreviated version, start at 3:45 and stop at about 6:00.  For the longer version, watch the whole thing.)

This entry was posted in brand names, key messaging, positioning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Words Obama Needs To Say

  1. Michael Armata says:

    Thanks Andris. I knew nothing about Eisenhower’s speech until now, and there are so many direct parallels between his warnings and the current state of the US.

    I’m curious about one alternative option: it would also be remarkable for Obama to spend his last few minutes in the spotlight to simply re-read Eisenhower’s speech, word-for-word (with perhaps a little commentary to help the audience connect the dots on topics such as the reduction in military spending to the rise in domestic security forces’ budgets, and highlighting the current US debt and deficits). The goal would be add extra clout to a message by leveraging existing “recognizable association” (parallel with “brand value” in the consumer product space).

    Assuming the case where he did follow such a course of action, (as opposed to creating his own speech as you suggested above) I’m curious as to how this could effect Obama’s personal brand going forward in his career and in the history books. Would it underline, elevate, and reinforce people’s perception of him by association with Eisenhower? Or would it be remembered as a backward-looking “we-told-you-so” (slightly troll-ish) moment without much added value?

  2. Coin says:

    Thank YOU, Michael. If Obama wants his remarks to echo through the ages, he has to say something original – he has to use a term or phrase that has not been used before. Something that repositions the way Americans see themselves and their particular situation. That’s my view on it. I think that if he were to re-read Eisenhower, his brand would be associated with having nothing new to add. Thanks again – Andris.