“Listening to Potential Believers”

November 9, 2011

from CHAPTER 10 of Branding Obamessiah

I t was clear that Obama connected with people because he spoke their language. He used words that were “listener centered.” They were open and interactive, not closed or one sided. These carefully chosen words and phrases didn’t convey a single meaning to one huge, monolithic, homogenized mass of humanity. His audience actively interpreted the meaning of these key words and phrases from their own point of view. Every citizen understood Obama’s call for “Change We Can Believe In” in their own distinctive way. The sacred words set off intense emotional reactions because they triggered conceptions of who we were or who we aspired to be both as individuals and as a nation. Depending on whether or not the right switches were tripped, those words either rattled around unable to get a foothold or resonated deeply into the core of your being. There was no in-between. You either joined the faith or you didn’t.

“We are choosing hope over fear,” Obama assured his true believers. “We are choosing unity over division and sending a powerful message that change is coming to America.” 3 And Americans desperately wanted change from this audacious merchant of hope. His words were the place where everyone’s personal, individual dreams could come true. Without an original meaning to deliberate, the uninformed masses were free to project their own wishes and desires onto the candidate’s language.

I f you wanted to “change” the world into a safer place and alter international opinion, then Obama’s winsome and sophisticated presence on the global stage would surely make it less brutish. If your greatest “hope” was spreading social justice across the land, then electing the first black president would be the first step in creating “fairness” and eliminating disparity. Citizens “hoped” that Obama’s wealth redistribution would get the collapsing economy back on its feet. If you wanted to “believe” that one man could change the whole of Washington politics, then Obama was your man.

The scope was limited only by the devotee’s imagination. The call for “change” could be as specific as “Obama’s going to pull the troops out of Iraq.” Or it could be more grandiose, something like “Obama’s going to make the world safe for generations to come.” It could be whatever the listener wanted. Obama didn’t set any limits on his imparted vision. The candidate intimated that he, too, wanted all of the above. His change would be your change. You shared his hope. You believed in him. The hazy terms and nebulous phrases triggered personalization. “I’m not just asking you to take a chance on me,” the candidate entreated. “I’m asking you to take a chance on your own aspirations.” 4 People saw themselves—and their own hopes and dreams and beliefs—in Obama’s words and ultimately in Obama himself. Team Obama was aiming to evangelize rather than merely impress the unconverted.

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