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If, as the adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, then the weight of the recent landmark speeches by Messrs. Obama, Christie and McDonnell is telling... maybe. Consider these simple and possibly silly facts:
President Obama's speech on National Security, Jan. 17, 2014
-- Length: 5,500 words
-- Pages: 18 (15 point type)
-- Weight: 3.0 ounces (with staple)
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's inauguration speech, Jan. 21, 2014
-- Length: 1,800 words
-- Pages: 6 (15 point type)
-- Weight: 1.0 ounces (with staple)
Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's statement on his 14-count federal indictment, Jan. 21, 2014
-- Length: 850 words
-- Pages: 3 (15 point type)
-- Weight: 0.5 ounces (with staple)
What the president, one sitting governor and one former governor have in common is that each is ensnared by a crisis: NSA snooping revelations for Obama, a widening scandal of political strong-arming for Christie, and back-scratching drama of gifts and access for McDonnell. But each was compelled to run different plays to finesse their respective problems. Here's a quick summary of their moves and motives:
DRONING DISCOS For Barack Obama's part, the choice was to go long and go to school. His speech was more a lecture on the lessons and history of privacy and security, and the tradeoffs thereof. This president revels in ambiguity and is expert in presenting his intellectual dilemmas. (No wonder the speech did nothing to boost his popularity; his students were dozing). To get there, he first described the intelligence innovations of Paul Revere, Civil War reconnaissance balloons, and World War II code crackers. And like any good politician, he sought to explain his prior positions on espionage and overreach. As such, it was not until the half-way mark (2,250 words) that he detailed new policies to curb government snoopers. In any case, Obama's plays were a mixture of freezing and framing strategies -- Bear Hugs that agreed with both sides of the argument and Discos that acknowledged the damage done but the need for moderation. True to form, Obama said the radioactive words, drones and Edward Snowden, a signature move that proactively positioned his flying predators and fleeing turncoat.
CLOGGED FILTER Chris Christie was not so clever. In a far more compact speech -- where the words "dream" and "education" were uttered seven and five times, respectively, and "bridge" and "retribution" were uttered not at all -- the GOP's 2016 hopeful ran a simple play of omission, the Filter. For Christie, the play might instead be called the hermetic seal. He said nothing of the white-hot scandal that envelopes his administration and has derailed the state's legislative agenda. It was the only thing for him to talk about, and yet he talked around it. What was notable were the governor's surrogates, like former Republican NJ governor Tom Kean, who mocked gotcha questions about the oversight and insisted that the speech was about looking ahead. This, he might want to know were the same words of failed public figures like Anthony Weiner and the sterioid-taking major leaguer Mark McGuire. Another New Jersey politico made similar apologies, remarking that the inauguration had constitutional bearing. In each case, the loyal surrogates ran all-too-smelly Red Herrings that neither diverted nor convinced even unbiased viewers.
STRATEGIC SCREEN Holding forth in a marbled elevator foyer, Bob McDonnell was more like Obama than Christie insofar as he willingly narrated the electric words in his 14-count indictment -- Jonnie Williams, Star Scientific, gifts and influence. He was crisp and more compelling. Where his strategy mirrored his fellow governor was in his use of surrogates, but of the paid variety, Proxies. And his were better prepared. Challenging the feds, McDonnell's legal team ran Red Herrings, too, but also Screens by way of rich and contrasting images that suggested overreach if not legal incompetence: "It has been a long time since the Roman Emperor Caligula imprisoned people for violating laws written in tiny lettering on a pillar too high to see."
Chris Christie had the weight right -- one ounce -- but his strategy lacked the detail of the president's and the contrition and control of McDonnell. In the matters of influence and strategy it's the plays that trump the poundage.