Marco Rubio’s reply to the SOTU

A few years ago during Obama’s first Presidential election campaign, many of his opponents (even those within his own party) criticized him for his use of rhetoric. Hilary Clinton famously said that “You campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose.” Unfortunately, both she and John McCain ignored this and chose to campaign almost entirely in prose, leaving the poetry field wide open and uncontested to their opponent.

Fast forward four years, and how things had changed. Mitt Romney wasn’t going to make that mistake, no sir. Knowing he was up against possibly his generation’s most effective orator, the Republican candidate was as poetic as the next man.

His use of rhetoric in many speeches really impressed me and I thought they were just as good as the President’s. His delivery was never going to match Obama’s – let’s face it, few people can match him on his day – but the rhetorical content was just as good (read a rhetorical analysis of a handful of his speeches).

And the same can be said about Marco Rubio’s ‘official’ (as opposed to Rand Paul’s ‘unofficial’ one) response to the President’s SOTU speech. A full transcript of the speech is given below, with all of the rhetorical devices and figures of speech highlighted. It’s a good speech, carefully written by someone who knows his (or her) rhetoric.

The official response is always a tricky speech to give (few recent deliverers have covered themselves in glory – remember Bobby Jindal?) . You’re beginning to speak just as the majority of America is reaching for the TV remote, and you’re doing it from an office without an adoring live audience to give you standing ovations. Plus … it has to sound like it’s a response to what the President’s just said, but has to be written before he says it.

Having said that, it isn’t as hard as it sounds. Rubio and his speechwriters had a pretty good idea what Obama would say (let’s face it, he says pretty much the same things in most of his speeches) and as an exposition of the Republican case for smaller government and growing the economy out of recession, I’d say the speech had a nice, logical flow.

The Opening

First off … a negative. I thought the opening was weak. I’m a constant critic of the way President Obama opens with what seems to be individual thanks to every single person in the audience, but I guess when you’re POTUS you’re pretty much guaranteed that people will listen to you (for a while, anyway) so you don’t really need a great opening. Plus, getting a name-check from the Prez gives these people political capital with their local constituents. So he can be forgiven.

But Marco Rubio’s not POTUS, and his audience would already have listened to a lengthy speech and not really be in the mood for another. So he really needed a powerful opening to make them sit up, put the TV remote down, and listen in, i.e. he needed to give them a very good reason to give him the next 15 minutes of their life (read 6 ways to grab ’em by the throat here).

Not many people motivated to watch the speech would have been unaware of who he was, but how did he spend that first invaluable couple of minutes? With a self-introduction and  meaningless waffle – “Good evening. I’m Marco Rubio. I’m blessed to represent Florida in the United States Senate. Let me begin by congratulating President Obama on the start of his second term. Tonight, I have the honor of responding to his State of the Union address on behalf of my fellow Republicans. And I am especially honored …..” (yadda, yadda, yadda …)

The first words out of my mouth would have been something like, “Tonight you’ve just heard a speech from a President who thinks …..” and then finished the sentence with something powerful that would have made headlines the next day, and made people want to listen to what I had to say. Score: 4/10

The Body

If you’re ever having to counter someone else’s argument, a great way to do it is to use a rhetorical device called Antithesis. This puts two contrasting or opposing ideas back-to-back, effectively saying, “It’s not X …. it’s Y.” I reckon Rubio used this device more than any other in the speech.

For example:

  • “(The opportunity to make something of yourself) “… isn’t bestowed on us from Washington. It comes from a vibrant free economy.”
  • “More government isn’t going to help you get ahead. It’s going to hold you back.
  • “More government isn’t going to create more opportunities. It’s going to limit them.
  • “And more government isn’t going to inspire new ideas, new businesses and new private sector jobs. It’s going to create uncertainty.”
  • “Hard-working middle class Americans … don’t need us to come up with a plan to grow the government. They want a plan to grow the middle class

So I thought the bit on the economy was strong. There were no real disagreements on immigration, as both parties are now singing (for once) from a similar hymn sheet. (The only real difference is the GOP has to try and sound ‘hard ass’ about border control while Obama claims that battle is already virtually won.)

The weakest part, though, was about gun control, where he didn’t even try to put forward a serious counter-argument. Perhaps because he’d been less sure what Obama was actually going to say, perhaps because he felt his argument was weak, perhaps because the President saved his full rhetorical prowess for that topic. I don’t know. But simply saying, “We must effectively deal with the rise of violence in our country. But unconstitutionally undermining the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans is not the way to do it” and then moving on to something else is not even trying to argue the case. It’s giving up. It’s surrendering the field to your opponent without a fight.

Score: 8/10.

The Close

A weak (ish) call to action, as in: “Each time our nation has faced great challenges, what has kept us together was our shared hope for a better life. Now, let that hope bring us together again. To solve the challenges of our time and write the next chapter in the amazing story of the greatest nation man has ever known.” It could have been far more powerful.

BUT … I like the final (and now seemingly obligatory) ‘God bless‘ bit. Mitt Romney normally closed with something along the lines of  “May God bless you! May god bless the American people, and may God bless the United States of America!” and Obama generally does similar (on Wednesday it was “Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.”).

Rubio added a twist by adding a blessing for the President. He said, “May God bless all of you. May God bless our President. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.” Including this was surprising per se, especially as he’d already congratulated him during his opening on winning the election.

In doing it he used a rhetorical device called Climax, which arranges several words or phrases in order of increasing importance or emphasis. Whether he did it deliberately or not I don’t know, but putting America after the President is subtly reminding the audience that the country is more important than the post. Score: 6/10

(NB: You might think that all politicians end their speeches with a variation of ‘God bless America’, but Richard Nixon was the first to do so in 1973. None of his successors did until Ronald Regan, who said it at the end of every speech for 8 years, and now it’s become de riguer.)

The Delivery

Rubio’s delivery was fluent and confident, with lots of vocal inflection. And he managed to sound as conversational as it’s possible to do when speaking direct to camera. BUT … he does let his body language betray his nerves on big occasions. Last time it was not knowing what to do with his hands. (Read my blog about his recent immigration speech:How your body language shows your nervousness even before you present.)

This time it was reaching off-screen for a bottle of water to hydrate his dry throat (watch it on video here), something that was tweeted about endlessly. Two things if you worry about having a dry throat. Have a glass of water in view and don’t be afraid to sip from it quite openly; his faux pas here was reaching off-screen for a bottle out of shot because it was obviously unplanned. Second, rub a small amount of Vaseline on your teeth; run your tongue over this when your mouth feels dry and you’ll automatically salivate. Score: 7/10

Speech Transcript

(The speech transcript is below. As usual, I’ve identified the rhetorical devices used and highlighted them in bold with their names in brackets and (CAPITALS). If you’re unsure about what any of them mean, visit Rhetorical Devices for full explanations and examples.)

“Good evening. I’m Marco Rubio. I’m blessed to represent Florida in the United States Senate. Let me begin by congratulating President Obama on the start of his second term. Tonight, I have the honor of responding to his State of the Union address on behalf of my fellow Republicans. And I am especially honored to be addressing our brave men and women serving in the armed forces and in diplomatic posts around the world. You may be thousands of miles away, but you are always in our prayers (ANTITHESIS).

The State of the Union address is always a reminder of how unique America is. For much of human history, most people were trapped in stagnant societies, where a tiny minority always stayed on top, and no one else even had a chance. But America is exceptional because we believe that every life, at every stage, is precious, and that everyone everywhere has a God-given right to go as far as their talents and hard work will take them.

Like most Americans, for me this ideal is personal. My parents immigrated here in pursuit of the opportunity to improve their life and give their children the chance at an even better one. They made it to the middle class, my dad working as a bartender and my mother as a cashier and a maid. I didn’t inherit any money from them. But I inherited something far better (ANTHITHESIS) – the real opportunity to accomplish my dreams.

This opportunity – to make it to the middle class or beyond no matter where you start out in life (EXPLETIVE) – it isn’t bestowed on us from Washington. It comes from a vibrant free economy (ANTITHESIS) where people can risk their own money to open a business. And when they succeed, they hire more people, who in turn invest or spend the money they make, helping others start a business and create jobs.

Presidents in both parties – from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan – have known that our free enterprise economy is the source of our middle class prosperity.

But President Obama? He believes it’s the cause of our problems (ANTITHESIS). That the economic downturn happened because our government didn’t tax enough, spend enough and control enough (TRICOLON & ANTISTROPHE). And, therefore, as you heard tonight, his solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more (TRICOLON & ANTISTROPHE).

This idea – that our problems were caused by a government that was too small (EXPLETIVE) – it’s just not true. In fact, a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies.

And the idea that more taxes and more (ANAPHORA) government spending is the best way to help hardworking middle class taxpayers – that’s an old idea that’s failed every time it’s been tried.

More government isn’t going to help you get ahead. It’s going to hold you back.

More government isn’t going to create more opportunities. It’s going to limit them.

And more government isn’t going to inspire new ideas, new businesses and new private sector jobs. It’s going to create uncertainty (TRICOLON, ANAPHORA & ANTITHESIS x 3)

Because more government breeds complicated rules and laws that a small business can’t afford to follow.

Because more government (ANAPHORA) raises taxes on employers who then pass the costs on to their employees through fewer hours, lower pay and even layoffs (TRICOLON).

And because many government programs that claim to help the middle class, often end up hurting them instead (ANTITHESIS).

For example, Obamacare was supposed to help middle class Americans afford health insurance. But now, some people are losing the health insurance they were happy with. And because Obamacare created expensive requirements for companies with more than 50 employees, now many of these businesses aren’t hiring. Not only that; they’re being forced to lay people off and switch from full-time employees to part-time workers.

Now does this mean there’s no role for government? (HYPOPHORA) Of course not. It plays a crucial part in keeping us safe, enforcing rules, and providing some security (TRICOLON) against the risks of modern life. But government’s role is wisely limited by the Constitution. And it can’t play its essential role when it ignores those limits.

Catch the rest of this rhetorical analysis by clicking here ……

It’s Abe’s birthday! As a tribute, here’s a look at the rhetorical devices he used in the Gettysburg Address

I just learned it’s Abraham Lincoln’s birthday today (or would have been if he’d still been alive; is there a word for the anniversary of someone’s date of birth, even after they’re dead? If there is, I don’t know it), so thought I’d do an analysis of the Gettysburg Address, possibly THE most famous speech in American history (with ‘I have a dream!‘ coming second). That despite it being only 2 minutes 270 words and 10 sentences long.

It’s proof that you don’t have to be verbose or a hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophile (someone who uses 10-dollar words when a 10-cent one will do fine) to be a great communicator. If he’d been alive today, Abe would have been a great Tweeter!

I love the opening scene in the movie ‘Lincoln’ where two ordinary, uneducated soldiers not only know the speech, but can recite it by heart.

I know you’ve all seen it in print 100 times, but I’ve included it below and highlighted the rhetorical devices he used in bold, with the name of the device in brackets and (CAPITALS). I count 20 used in 2 minutes, yet it’s not ‘forced’ or ‘hammy’ and is stirring rather than theatrical.  If you’re unsure what any of the names mean, visit my article on Rhetorical devices for a full explanation with other examples.

Four score and seven  (ANASTROPHE) years ago our fathers brought forth (ALLITERATION) on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated (ANAPHORA & PARALLELISM), can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We (TRICOLON & ANAPHORA) have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives (ANASTROPHE) that that nation might live (ANTITHESIS). It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow (TRICOLON, PARALLELISM, ANAPHORA) — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power (ALLITERATION) to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here (ANTITHESIS & EPISTROPHE)). It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us  to be here dedicated (ANAPHORA) to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we may take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion (EPISTROPHE) — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people (TRICOLON, ANTISTROPHE & ASYNDETON), shall not perish from the earth (ANASTROPHE).”

If you like this, have a look at the dozens of articles on public speaking and making presentations on my website.

Low-impact openings: How NOT to open a speech or presentation.

Research has shown that the first and last 90 seconds of any speech have the most impact and are the most memorable, so you should always give the opening and closing of your talk extra thought, time and effort.

Often your audience will have already listened to a number of other presentations and may be brain-dead, suffering from ‘Death by PowerPoint’ or simply thinking about something else they deem to be more important.

Just stop and consider the 1001 things that might be going on in your audience’s brains as you get on your feet to present. They could be thinking about the big game on TV that evening, the argument they had with their partner before going to work, a big date on Friday, the clunking noise their car engine was making on the way to work, the fact their child isn’t doing well in school or their pet is sick, financial worries or even what they’re going to cook for dinner that evening.

And that’s just personal stuff. That’s before we throw in all the things that are happening at work. And with everybody’s new-found ability to multi-task and the fact that attention spans are getting shorter, there is always the temptation to open some of the 500 emails in their inbox while you’re speaking (while looking like they’re being attentive and taking notes)

And because you think your presentation is important, you expect them to put everyone of those things to one side, forget about them and give you their full attention instead. Let’s be objective for a moment. What are the chances of that happening without you giving them a very good reason for doing so? Pretty slim, I’d say.

So your job is to grab them by the throat, shake off their torpor and give them a compelling reason to listen. Because if you don’t, why should they bother?

However . . . . . . most people lose this tremendous opportunity, simply ambling into their introduction without any real forethought. They put all their preparation into the body of their talk or presentation, and give none to the opening at all!

Let’s look at the ways most presenters begin.

1. Greetings. Do not open with “Hi/Hello/Good morning/afternoon/evening, it’s a pleasure to be here today …..” Every single presenter before you has probably already said it, it’s bland and obvious and it wastes too much of your precious 90 seconds.

2. Self-introductions, i.e. “My name is Earl . . .” I’ve even heard people open with this when presenting to their co-workers and every single person in the room knew them! It was simply their default way of opening. But even if you’re presenting to people who don’t know you, this is a low-impact, unimpressive opener. There are 3 things you can do instead:

a) Introduce yourself to everyone individually before the presentation, during coffee, if this is practical.

b) Get someone else to introduce you before you get on your feet. If you’re going to do this, give that person a piece of paper with the exact details of what you want them to say. I was once speaking at a conference in Galway, Ireland, and the conference moderator introduced me by saying, “Our next speaker is a consultant from the UK, Nick Skellon. He’s just finished his first book …. and he’s going to start coloring in another one on Monday!” The audience all laughed and I thought it was a brilliant introduction.

A couple of months later I was speaking at an evening event and the organizer asked me how he should introduce me. I told him about the coloring book introduction, and he opened by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming along. Our speaker this evening is Nick Skellon, who’s going to talk about XYZ. He’s just finished his first book, but I’m told the next one will have pictures in it.

In other words, he completely screwed it up! So prevent this from happening by giving them that little slip of paper.

c) Have your name on your opening slide.

If you still feel a self-introduction is necessary, do it after you’ve grabbed their attention, not as the first thing that comes out of your mouth.

3. ‘Fluff’ such as “OK, here goes …”, “1-2, 1-2 … is this mike working?” or “Can everyone hear me at the back?” (especially when tapping the microphone). Or starting with a conversational inanity, such as “How you all doing this morning?”, “Hey, what do you think of those Cowboys/Giants/Patriots/Bears?“, or comments about the weather and how difficult it was to get to the venue in the snow.

4. Thanks, e.g. “Thank you for inviting me to speak here today,” or “When John asked me to speak here today I was delighted to accept …” Again – mundane, everyday, ‘safe’, predictable, boring ……

Yes, I know President Obama usually opens his speeches by thanking the event organizers, but that’s deliberate ego-stroking; it’s important to them that the audience knows the President knows them by name, and Obama realizes this. You’re not the President.

5. Apologies, such as “I’m really not used to doing this sort of thing”, “I’m glad there’s a lectern here so you can’t see my knees knocking”, “When I accepted my invitation to come tonight, I didn’t know I’d have to say anything. If I’d known that I’d probably have made an excuse,” or “I’m sure there are a lot of you in the audience more qualified to speak on this subject than myself”.

Nervous speakers say something like this for two reasons: to lower the audience’s expectations so they don’t seem so bad and gain sympathy and appear likeable, but to me it’s the kiss of death. As soon as I hear words like this I wilt inside, for two reasons.

Firstly, nervousness is contagious. If a speaker owns up to it, it makes me nervous. If she is obviously uncomfortable, I start to squirm and look at the floor, avoiding eye contact. Is this the reaction you want from your audience? Audiences are like wild dogs; they can smell fear.

Secondly, if there are people in the audience more knowledgeable than you, why isn’t one of them presenting instead? You’re hardly giving me a compelling reason to listen to you by admitting your lack of expertise! So I can’t stress this enough – No matter how nervous you feel, DO NOT comment on it in a pathetic, wimpish attempt to gain the audience’s sympathy.

6. Praise such as “It’s a great honor to be here today speaking to such a distinguished audience,” or “Thank you for the opportunity to come along and present to you today, I know how busy you all are.” Churchill once said that praise at the beginning of a speech sounds like you’re sucking up. Praise given halfway in sounds genuine. So if you must praise the audience, do it after the opening, not as part of it.

Comments about how busy the audience is are usually accompanied by something like, “This won’t take long,” or “I’m just going to rush/dash/sprint through a few slides …” Saying you’re going to ‘rush through a few slides really quickly‘ makes it sound as if your presentation is unimportant. If even you don’t think it’s important, how can you expect the audience to think it is? Such comments hardly fill the audience with a burning desire to forget the 1001 things we mentioned earlier, stop everything and listen!

Often people will combine some (or all) of the above and say something like, “Good morning everyone, my name is Nick Skellon and I’d like to thank you all for giving me the opportunity to present to you today, I know you’re very busy. The weather was so bad today I didn’t think I’d ever get here; what did you think of that snow? A 25 minute journey took me 90 minutes today. Amazing! I don’t do many of these things so I’m a bit nervous, I hope you’ll make allowances. Can everyone hear me OK at the back?

By which point 75% of the audience is thinking about the clunking noise the car was making on the way to work, or checking their emails. 25 seconds and you haven’t said a single thing of interest! You DESERVE to lose their attention.

Now it’s not that these methods of opening are bad. Nobody ever got the sack for opening with a self-introduction. People won’t talk about you around the coffee machine for starting with a greeting. They’re just not memorable, that’s all.

They’re boring, mundane, so-so, average, bland, colorless, middle of the road, everyday, predictable, humdrum, conservative, safe, obvious, grey, low-impact, unimpressive and instantly forgettable. Do you really want any of these adjectives or phrases to apply to you? No, I thought not.

You’re objective when opening is to reach out and grab the audience by the throat and give them a compelling reason to give you the next 15, 30 or 45 minutes of their lives. And none of the above do that.

Rhetorical devices in Rand Paul’s foreign policy speech, Feb 2013

President Obama and Mitt Romney aren’t the only American politicians who know how to use a nifth rhetorical device. The rhetorical devices used in this speech by Rand Paul have been highlighted in bold font with the name of the device in brackets in (CAPITALS). If you’re unsure about any of the terms, go to Rhetorical devices for a full explanation with examples.

“Foreign policy is uniquely an arena where we should base decisions on the landscape of the world as it is … not as we wish it to be (ANTITHESIS). I see the world as it is. I am a realist, not a neoconservative, nor an isolationist.

When candidate John McCain argued in 2007 that we should remain in Iraq for 100 years, I blanched and wondered what the unintended consequences of prolonged occupation would be. But McCain’s call for a hundred year occupation does capture some truth: that the West is in for a long, irregular confrontation not with terrorism, which is simply a tactic, but with Radical Islam (ANTITHESIS).

As many are quick to note, the war is not with Islam but with a radical element of Islam — the problem is that this element is no small minority but a vibrant, often mainstream, vocal and numerous minority (ANTITHESIS). Whole countries, such as Saudi Arabia, adhere to at least certain radical concepts such as the death penalty for blasphemy, conversion, or apostasy. A survey in Britain after the subway bombings showed 20% of the Muslim population in Britain approved of the violence.

Some libertarians argue that western occupation fans the flames of radical Islam – I agree. But I don’t agree that absent western occupation that radical Islam “goes quietly into that good night” (SENTENTIA). I don’t agree with FDR’s VP Henry Wallace that the Soviets (or Radical Islam in today’s case) can be discouraged by “the glad hand and the winning smile.”

Americans need to understand that Islam has a long and perseverant memory. As Bernard Lewis writes,“despite an immense investment in the teaching and writing of history, the general level of historical knowledge in American society is abysmally low. The Muslim peoples, like everyone else in the world, are shaped by their history, but unlike some others, they are keenly aware of it.”

Radical Islam is no fleeting fad but a relentless force (ANTITHESIS & ALLITERATION). Though at times stateless, Radical Islam is also supported by radicalized nations such as Iran. Though often militarily weak, Radical Islam makes up for its lack of conventional armies with unlimited zeal.

For Americans to grasp the mindset of Radical Islam we need to understand that they are still hopping mad about the massacre at Karbala several hundred years ago. Meanwhile, many Americans seem to be more concerned with who is winning ‘Dancing with the Stars.’

Over 50% of Americans still believe Iraq attacked us on 9/11. Until we understand the world around us, until we understand (ANAPHORA) at least a modicum of what animates our enemies, we cannot defend ourselves and we cannot contain our enemies (ANAPHORA & PARALLELISM).

I think all of us have the duty to ask where are the Kennan’s of our generation? (HYPOPHORA) When foreign policy has become so monolithic, so lacking in debate that Republicans and Democrats routinely pass foreign policy statements without debate and without (ANAPHORA) votes, where are the calls for moderation, the calls for restraint? (ANAPHORA & PARALLELISM)

Anyone who questions the bipartisan consensus is immediately castigated, rebuked and their patriotism challenged (TRICOLON). The most pressing question of the day – Iran developing nuclear weapons – is allowed to have less debate in this country than it receives in Israel.

In Israel, the current head of the Mossad, Tamir Pardo states that we need to quit discussing Iran and nuclear weapons as an “existential” threat to Israel as that confines us to only one possible cataclysmic response. The former head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, also cautions of the unintended consequences of pre-emptive bombing of Iran, both the possibility the strikes are ineffective and that Israel suffers a significant conventional missile response.

Yuval Diskin, the former chief of Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service, recently said “an attack against Iran might cause it to speed up its nuclear program.”

Israel’s army chief of staff suggested in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the Iranian nuclear threat was not quite as imminent as some have portrayed it.

On the other side of the coin, Prime Minister Netanyahu warns that Iran is on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons.

It seems that debate over Iran is more robust in Israel than in the US.

I have voted for Iranian sanctions in the hope of preventing war and allowing for diplomacy. The sanctions have not been fully implemented but they do appear to have brought Iran back to the negotiating table.

I did, however, hold up further sanctions unless Senator Reid allows a vote on my amendment that states, “Nothing in this bill is to be interpreted as a declaration of war or a use of authorization of force.” The debate over war is the most important debate that occurs in our country and should not be glossed over.

I am persuaded, though, that for sanctions to change Iran’s behavior we must have the commitment of Iran’s major trading partners, especially China, Russia, Japan, and India.

Understandably no one wants to imagine what happens if Iran develops a nuclear weapon. But if we don’t have at least some of that discussion now, then the danger exists that war is the only remedy.

No one, myself included, wants to see a nuclear Iran. Iran does need to know that all options are on the table. But we should not pre-emptively announce that diplomacy or containment will never be an option.

In a recent Senate resolution, the bipartisan consensus stated that we will never contain Iran should they get a nuclear weapon. In the debate, I made the point that while I think it unwise to declare that we will contain a nuclear Iran, I think it equally unwise to say we will never contain a nuclear Iran. War should never be our only option.

Let me be clear. I don’t want Iran to develop nuclear weapons but I also don’t want to decide with certainty that war is the only option.

Containment, though, should be discussed as an option with regard to the more generalized threat from radical Islam. Radical Islam, like communism, is an ideology with far reach and will require a firm and patient opposition.

In George Kennan’s biography, John Gaddis describes President Clinton asking Strobe Talbot “why don’t we have a concept as succinct as ‘containment.’” Kennan’s response, “that ‘containment’ had been a misleading oversimplification; strategy could not be made to fit a bumper sticker.” The President laughed . . . “that’s why Kennan’s a great diplomat and scholar and not a politician.”

Kennan chafed that his opponents drew conclusions from it that were disagreeable to him but the fact of the matter is that the concept of containment succinctly described a strategy or as Gaddis put it “a path between the appeasement that had failed to prevent WWII and the alternative of a third world war.” (ANTITHESIS)

What the United States needs now is a policy that finds a middle path. A policy that is not rash or recklessA foreign policy that is reluctant, restrained by Constitutional checks and balances but does not appease. A foreign policy that recognizes the danger of radical Islam but also the inherent weaknesses of radical Islam. A foreign policy that recognizes the danger of bombing countries on what they might someday do. A foreign policy that requires (ALLITERATION), as Kennan put it, “a long term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of . . . expansive tendencies.” A policy that (ANAPHORA) understands the “distinction between vital and peripheral interests.”

No one believes that Kennan was an isolationist but Kennan did advise that non-interference in the internal affairs of another country was, after all, a long standing principle of American diplomacy . . . that should be excepted only when: A) “ there is a sufficiently powerful national interest” and B) when “we have the means to conduct such intervention successfully AND can afford the cost.”

In Kennan’s famous ‘X’ article he argues that containment meant the “application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and manoeuvres of Soviet policy.” He later clarified, though, that did not necessarily mean that the application of counterforce had to mean a military response. He argued that containment was not a strategy to counter “entirely by military means.” “But containment was not diplomacy [alone] either.”

Like communism, radical Islam is an ideology with worldwide reach. Containing radical Islam requires a worldwide strategy like containment. It requires counterforce at a series of constantly shifting worldwide points. But counterforce does not necessarily mean large-scale land wars with hundreds of thousands of troops nor does it always mean a military action at all.

Kennan objected to the Truman doctrine’s “implied obligation to act wherever Soviet aggression or intimidation occurred, without regard to whether American interests were at state or the means existed with which to defend them.”

He was also concerned that the Truman doctrine was “a blank check to give economic and military aid to any area in the world.”

Likewise, today’s “Truman” caucus wants boots on the ground and weapons in the hands of freedom fighters everywhere, including Syrian rebels. Perhaps, we might want to ask the opinion of the one million Syrian Christians, many of whom fled Iraq when our Shiite allies were installed. Perhaps, we might want to ask: will the Syrian rebels respect the rights of Christians, women, and other ethnic minorities?

In the 1980’s the war caucus in Congress armed bin Laden and the mujaheddin in their fight with the Soviet Union. In fact, it was the official position of the State Department to support radical jihad against the Soviets. We all know how well that worked out.

Out of the Arab Spring new nations have emerged. While discussion of Iran dominates foreign affairs, I think more time should be allotted to whether we should continue to send aid and weapons to countries that are hostile to Israel and to the United States. I, for one, believe it is unwise to be sending more M1 tanks and F-16 fighters to Egypt.

Kennan argued that “integrating force with foreign policy did not mean “blustering, threatening, waving clubs at people and telling them if they don’t do this or that we are going to drop a bomb on them.” But it did mean maintaining “a preponderance of strength.”

Kennan wrote, “The strength of the Kremlin lies in the fact that it knows how to wait. But the strength of the Russian people lies in the fact that they know how to wait longer.”

Radical Islam’s only real strength is just such an endless patience. They know we eventually will leave. They simply wait for us to leave and leave we eventually must. We cannot afford endless occupation but this does not mean that by leaving we cannot and will not still contain Radical Islam.

Everybody now loves Ronald Reagan. Even President Obama tries to toady up and vainly try to resemble some Reaganism. Reagan’s foreign policy was robust but also restrained (ANTITHESIS & ALLITERATION). He pulled no punches in telling Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down that wall.” He did not shy from labeling the Soviet Union an evil empire. But he also sat down with Gorbachev and negotiated meaningful reductions in nuclear weapons.

Many of today’s neoconservatives want to wrap themselves up in Reagan’s mantle but the truth is that Reagan used clear messages of communism’s evil and clear exposition of America’s strength to contain and ultimately transcend the Soviet Union.

The cold war ended because the engine of capitalism (METAPHOR) defeated the engine of socialism. Reagan aided and abetted this end not by “liberation” of captive people but by a combination of don’t mess with us language and diplomacy (ANTITHESIS) not inconsistent with Kennan’s approach.

Jack Matlock, one of Reagan’s national security advisors, wrote “Reagan’s Soviet policy had more in common with Kennan’s thinking than the policy of any of Reagan’s predecessors.” Reagan himself wrote, “I have a foreign policy. I just don’t happen to think it’s wise to tell the world what your foreign policy is.”

Reagan’s liberal critics would decry a lack of sophistication but others would understand a policy in having no stated policy, a policy of Strategic ambiguity If you enumerate your policy, if you telegraph to the Soviets that the Strategic Defense Initiative is a ploy to get the Soviets to the bargaining table, the ploy is then made impotent.

Strategic ambiguity is still of value. The world knows we possess an enormous ability of nuclear retaliation. Over sixty years of not using our nuclear weapons shows wise restraint. But for our enemies to be uncertain what provocation may awaken an overwhelming response, nuclear or conventional, is an uncertainty that still helps to keep the peace.

I recognize that foreign policy is complicated. It is inherently less black and white to most people than domestic policy. I think there is room for a foreign policy that strikes a balance.

If for example, we imagine a foreign policy that is everything to everyone, that is everywhere all the time that would be one polar extreme. Likewise if we imagine a foreign policy that is nowhere any of the time (ANTITHESIS) and is completely disengaged from the challenges and dangers to our security that really do exist in the world – well, that would be the other polar extreme. There are times, such as existed in Afghanistan with the Bin Laden terrorist camps, that do require intervention.

Maybe, we could be somewhere, some of the time and do so while respecting our constitution and the legal powers of Congress and the Presidency.

Reagan’s foreign policy was much closer to what I am advocating than what we have today. The former Chairman of the American Conservative Union David Keene noted that Reagan’s policy was much less interventionist than the presidents of both parties who came right before him and after him.

I’d argue that a more restrained foreign policy is the true conservative foreign policy, as it includes two basic tenets of true conservatism: respect for the constitution, and fiscal discipline.

I am convinced that what we need is a foreign policy that works within these two constraints, a foreign policy that works within the confines of the Constitution the realities of our fiscal crisis.

Today in Congress there is no such nuance, no such (ANAPHORA) moderation of dollars or executive power.

Last year I introduced a non-binding sense of the Senate resolution reiterating the President’s words when he was a candidate that no president should go to war unilaterally without the approval of Congress unless an imminent threat to our national security exists.

Not one Democrat voted to support candidate Obama’s words and only ten Republican senators voted to support the notion that Congressional authority is needed to begin war.

Some well-meaning senators came up to me and said, Congress has the power of the purse strings and can simply cut off funds. The problem is that there is occasionally a will to avoid war in the beginning but rarely, if ever, is there the resolve to cut off funding once troops are in the field. No historic example exists of Congress cutting off funds to a war in progress. Even during Vietnam, arguably our most unpopular war, funds were never voted down.

Madison wrote, “The Constitution supposes what history demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch most prone to war and most interested in it, therefore the Constitution has with studied care vested that power in the Legislature.

Since the Korean War, Congress has ignored its responsibility to restrain the President. Congress has abdicated its role in declaring war.

What would a foreign policy look like that tried to strike a balance? first, it would have less soldiers stationed overseas and less bases. Instead of large, limitless land (ALLITERATION) wars in multiple theaters, we would target our enemy; strike with lethal force.

We would not presume that we build nations nor would we presume that we have the resources to build nations. Many of the countries formed after WWI are collections of tribal regions that have never been governed by a central government and may, in fact, be ungovernable.

When we must intervene with force, we should attempt to intervene in cooperation with the host government.

Intervention against the will of another nation such as Afghanistan or Libya would require Declaration of War by Congress. Such Constitutional obstacles purposefully make it more difficult to go to war. That was the Founders’ intention: To make war less likely. We did not declare war or authorize force to begin war with Libya. This is a dangerous precedent. In our
foreign policy, Congress has become not even a rubber stamp but an irrelevancy. With Libya, the President sought permission from the UN… from NATO… from the Arab League—everyone BUT the US Congress!

And how did Congress react? Congress let him get away with it.

The looming debt crisis will force us to reassess our role in the world. Admiral Mullen calls the debt the greatest threat to our national security. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted that “At some point fiscal insolvency at home translates into strategic insolvency abroad.”

Gates added that addressing our financial crisis will require both “re-examining missions and capabilities” and perhaps most importantly “will entail going places that have been avoided by politicians in the past.”

It is time for all Americans, and especially conservatives, to become as critical and reflective when examining foreign policy as we are with domestic policy. Should our military be defending this nation or constantly building other nations? What constitutes our actual “national defense” and what parts of our foreign policy are more like an irrational offense? (2 x HYPOPHORA) It is the soldier’s job to do his duty—but it is the citizen’s job to question their government—particularly when it comes to putting our soldiers in harm’s way.

And of course, the question we are forced to ask today is—can we afford this?

I hope such questions begin to be asked and we see some sort of return to a Constitutional foreign policy.

I hope this occurs before the debt crisis occurs and not amidst a crisis. To that end, I will fight to have a voice for those who wish who wish to see a saner, more balanced approach to foreign policy.”

Rhetorical devices used in Obama’s Immigration speech

A good speech in Las Vegas, I thought, from President Obama on immigration. Let’s look at the rhetorical devices used. As usual, I’ve highlighted them in bold and put the name of the device in capitals in brackets. If you’re unsure about the meaning of any of them, visit Rhetorical devices.

“…. last week, I had the honor of being sworn in for a second term as President of the United States. And during my inaugural address, I talked about how making progress on the defining challenges of our time doesn’t require us to settle every debate or ignore every difference that we may have, but it does require us to find common ground (ANTITHESIS) and move forward in common purpose. It requires us to act.

I know that some issues will be harder to lift than others. Some debates will be more contentious (ANAPHORA & PARALLELISM). That’s to be expected. But the reason I came here today is because of a challenge where the differences are dwindling (ALLITERATION), where a broad consensus is emerging; and where (TRICOLON & ANAPHORA) a call for action can now be heard coming from all across America.

I’m here today because the time has come for common-sense, comprehensive (ALLITERATION) immigration reform. The time is now. Now is the time. I’m here because most Americans agree that it’s time to fix a system that’s been broken for way too long. I’m here because (TRICOLON & ANAPHORA) business leaders, faith leaders, labor leaders, law enforcement, and leaders from both parties are coming together to say now is the time to find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as the land of opportunity. Now is the time to (ANAPHORA) do this so we can strengthen our economy and strengthen our (ANAPHORA) country’s future.

Think about it — we define ourselves as a nation of immigrants. That’s who we are — in our bones. The promise we see in those who come here from every corner of the globe, that’s always been one of our greatest strengths. It keeps our workforce young. It keeps our (ANAPHORA) country on the cutting edge. And it’s helped build the greatest economic engine the world has ever known.

After all, immigrants helped start businesses like Google and Yahoo!. They created entire new industries that, in turn, created new jobs and new prosperity for our citizens. In recent years, one in four high-tech startups in America were founded by immigrants. One in four (ANAPHORA) new small business owners were immigrants, including right here in Nevada — folks who came here seeking opportunity and now want to share that opportunity with other Americans.

But we all know that today, we have an immigration system that’s out of date and badly broken; a system that’s holding us back instead of helping us grow (ANTITHESIS) our economy and strengthen our middle class.

Right now, we have 11 million undocumented immigrants in America; 11 million men and women from all over the world who live their lives in the shadows. Yes, they broke the rules. They crossed the border illegally. Maybe they overstayed their visas (TRICOLON, ANAPHORA & PARALLELISM) Those are facts. Nobody disputes them. But these 11 million men and women are now here. Many of them have been here for years. And the overwhelming majority of these individuals aren’t looking for any trouble. They’re contributing members of the community. They’re looking out for their families. They’re looking out for their neighbors. They’re (ANAPHORA) woven into the fabric of our lives.

Every day, like the rest of us, they go out and try to earn a living. Often they do that in a shadow economy — a place where employers may offer them less than the minimum wage or make them work overtime without extra pay. And when that happens, it’s not just bad for them, it’s bad for the entire economy (ANTITHESIS). Because all the businesses that are trying to do the right thing — that are hiring people legally, paying a decent wage, following the rules (EXPLETIVE) — they’re the ones who suffer. They’ve got to compete against companies that are breaking the rules. And the wages and working conditions of American workers are threatened, too.

So if we’re truly committed to strengthening our middle class and providing more ladders of opportunity to those who are willing to work hard to make it into the middle class, we’ve got to fix the system.

We have to make sure that every business and every worker in America is playing by the same set of rules. We have to (ANAPHORA) bring this shadow economy into the light so that everybody is held accountable — businesses for who they hire, and immigrants for getting on the right side of the law. That’s common sense. And that’s why we need comprehensive immigration reform.

There’s another economic reason why we need reform. It’s not just about the folks who come here illegally and the effect they have on our economy. It’s also about the folks  who try to come here legally (ANTITHESIS) but have a hard time doing so, and the effect that has on our economy

Right now, there are brilliant students from all over the world sitting in classrooms at our top universities. They’re earning degrees in the fields of the future, like engineering and computer science. But once they finish school, once they earn that diploma, there’s a good chance they’ll have to leave our country. Think about that.

Intel was started with the help of an immigrant who studied here and then stayed here. Instagram was started with the help of an immigrant who studied here and then stayed here (ANTISTROPHE). Right now in one of those classrooms, there’s a student wrestling with how to turn their big idea — their Intel or Instagram (EXPLETIVE) — into a big business. We’re giving them all the skills they need to figure that out, but then we’re going to turn around and tell them to start that business and create those jobs in China or India or Mexico or (POLYSYNDETON) someplace else? That’s not how you grow new industries in America. That’s how you give new industries to our competitors (ANTITHESIS). That’s why we need comprehensive immigration reform.

Now, during my first term, we took steps to try and patch up some of the worst cracks in the system.

First, we strengthened security at the borders so that we could finally stem the tide of illegal immigrants. We put more boots on the ground on the southern border than at any time in our history. And today, illegal crossings are down nearly 80 percent from their peak in 2000.

Second, we focused our enforcement efforts on criminals who are here illegally and who endanger our communities. And today, deportations of criminals is at its highest level ever.

And third (TRICOLON), we took up the cause of the DREAMers the young people who were brought to this country as children, young people who have grown up here, built their lives here, have futures here (TRICOLON, PARALLELISM, ASYNDETON, ANTISTROPHE). We said that if you’re able to meet some basic criteria like pursuing an education, then we’ll consider offering you the chance to come out of the shadows so that you can live here and work here legally, so that you can finally have the dignity of knowing you belong.

But because this change isn’t permanent, we need Congress to act. We need Congress to act (ANADIPLOSIS) on a comprehensive approach that finally deals with the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are in the country right now. That’s what we need.

Now, the good news is that for the first time in many years, Republicans and Democrats seem ready to tackle this problem together. Members of both parties, in both chambers, are actively working on a solution. Yesterday, a bipartisan group of senators announced their principles for comprehensive immigration reform, which are very much in line with the principles I’ve proposed and campaigned on for the last few years. So at this moment, it looks like there’s a genuine desire to get this done soon, and that’s very encouraging.

But this time, action must follow. We can’t allow immigration reform to get bogged down in an endless debate. We’ve been debating this a very long time. So it’s not as if we don’t know technically what needs to get done. As a consequence, to help move this process along, today I’m laying out my ideas for immigration reform. And my hope is that this provides some key markers to members of Congress as they craft a bill, because the ideas I’m proposing have traditionally been supported by both Democrats like Ted Kennedy and Republicans like President George W. Bush. You don’t get that matchup very often. So we know where the consensus should be.

Now, of course, there will be rigorous debate about many of the details, and every stakeholder should engage in real give and take in the process. But it’s important for us to recognize that the foundation for bipartisan action is already in place. And if Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away.

So the principles are pretty straightforward. There are a lot of details behind it. We’re going to hand out a bunch of paper so that everybody will know exactly what we’re talking about. But the principles are pretty straightforward.

First, I believe we need to stay focused on enforcement. That means continuing to strengthen security at our borders. It means (ANAPHORA) cracking down more forcefully on businesses that knowingly hire undocumented workers. To be fair, most businesses want to do the right thing, but a lot of them have a hard time figuring out who’s here legally, who’s not. So we need to implement a national system that allows businesses to quickly and accurately verify someone’s employment status. And if they still knowingly hire undocumented workers, then we need to ramp up the penalties.

Second, we have to deal with the 11 million individuals who are here illegally. We all agree that these men and women should have to earn their way to citizenship. But for comprehensive immigration reform to work, it must be clear from the outset that there is a pathway to citizenship.

We’ve got to lay out a path — a process that includes passing a background check, paying taxes, paying a penalty, learning English, and then going to the back of the line, behind all the folks who are trying to come here legally. That’s only fair, right?

So that means it won’t be a quick process but it will be a fair process (ANTISTROPHE & ANTITHESIS). And it will lift these individuals out of the shadows and give them a chance to earn their way to a green card and eventually to citizenship.

And the third principle is we’ve got to bring our legal immigration system into the 21st century because it no longer reflects the realities of our time. For example, if you are a citizen, you shouldn’t have to wait years before your family is able to join you in America.

If you’re a foreign student (ANAPHORA) who wants to pursue a career in science or technology, or a foreign entrepreneur who wants to start a business with the backing of American investors, we should help you do that here. Because if you succeed, you’ll create American businesses and American jobs. You’ll help us grow our economy. You’ll help us (TRICOLON & ANAPHORA) strengthen our middle class.

So that’s what comprehensive immigration reform looks like: smarter enforcement; a pathway to earned citizenship; improvements in the legal immigration system (TRICOLON) so that we continue to be a magnet for the best and the brightest (ALLITERATION) all around the world. It’s pretty straightforward.

The question now is simple: Do we have the resolve as a people, as a country, as a government (TRICOLON, ASYNDETON & ANAPHORA) to finally put this issue behind us? (HYPOPHORA) I believe that we do. I believe we are finally at a moment where comprehensive immigration reform is within our grasp.

But I promise you this: The closer we get, the more emotional this debate is going to become. Immigration has always been an issue that inflames passions. That’s not surprising. There are few things that are more important to us as a society than who gets to come here and call our country home; who gets the privilege of becoming a citizen of the United States of America. That’s a big deal.

When we talk about that in the abstract, it’s easy sometimes for the discussion to take on a feeling of “us” versus “them.” And when that happens, a lot of folks forget that most of “us” used to be “them.” We forget that.

It’s really important for us to remember our history. Unless you’re one of the first Americans, a Native American, you came from someplace else. Somebody brought you.

Ken Salazar, he’s of Mexican American descent, but he points that his family has been living where he lives for 400 years, so he didn’t immigrate anywhere.

The Irish who left behind a land of famine. The Germans who fled persecution. The Scandinavians who arrived (TRICOLON, ANAPHORA & PARALLELISM) eager to pioneer out west. The Polish. The Russians. The Italians. The Chinese. The Japanese. The West Indians. The huddled masses (ASYNDETON) who came through Ellis Island on one coast and Angel Island on the other. All those folks, before they were “us,” they were “them.”

And when each new wave of immigrants arrived, they faced resistance from those who were already here. They faced hardship. They faced racism. They faced ridicule (TRICOLON, ANAPHORA & PARALLELISM). But over time, as they went about their daily lives, as they earned a living, as they raised a family, as they built a community, (ANAPHORA & PARALLELISM) as their kids went to school here, they did their part to build a nation.

They were the Einsteins and the Carnegies. But they were also the millions of women and men whose names history may not remember, but whose actions helped make us who we are (ANTITHESIS) who built this country hand by hand, brick by brick. They all came here knowing that what makes somebody an American is not just blood or birth, but allegiance to our founding principles and the faith in the idea (ANTITHESIS) that anyone from anywhere can write the next great chapter of our story.

And that’s still true today. Just ask Alan Aleman. Alan is here this afternoon — where is Alan? He’s around here — there he is right here. Alan was born in Mexico. He was brought to this country by his parents when he was a child. Growing up, Alan went to an American school, pledged allegiance to the American flag, felt American in every way (TRICOLON) — and he was, except for one: on paper.

In high school, Alan watched his friends come of age — driving around town with their new licenses, earning some extra cash from their summer jobs at the mall. He knew he couldn’t do those things. But it didn’t matter that much. What mattered to Alan was earning an education so that he could live up to his God-given potential.

Last year, when Alan heard the news that we were going to offer a chance for folks like him to emerge from the shadows — even if it’s just for two years at a time (EXPLETIVE) — he was one of the first to sign up. And a few months ago he was one of the first people in Nevada to get approved. In that moment, Alan said, “I felt the fear vanish. I felt accepted.”

So today, Alan is in his second year at the College of Southern Nevada. Alan is studying to become a doctor. (Applause.) He hopes to join the Air Force. He’s working hard every single day to build a better life for himself and his family. And all he wants is the opportunity to do his part to build a better America.

So in the coming weeks, as the idea of reform becomes more real and the debate becomes more heated (PARALLELISM), and there are folks who are trying to pull this thing apart, remember Alan and all those who share the same hopes and the same dreams. Remember that this is not just a debate about policy. It’s about people (ANTITHESIS). It’s about men and women and young people who want nothing more than the chance to earn their way into the American story.

Throughout our history, that has only made our nation stronger. And it’s how we will make sure that this century is the same as the last: an American century welcoming of everybody who aspires to do something more, and who is willing to work hard to do it, and is willing to pledge that allegiance to our flag.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

How your body language shows your nervousness even before you present

RubioUnfortunately I haven’t been able to find a video clip on youtube that shows it, but if you saw the TV coverage of the press coverage announcing the bipartisan immigration plan, you’ll have seen every example of nervous body language that could possibly have been displayed. And a lot of it came from a very confident speaker.

When freshman GOP Senator Marco Rubio started speaking, he was his usual fluent, confident self and he spoke positively in a strong voice with good eye contact, gesturing with his hands. As you’d expect, for he’s a very good speaker. Watching him speak, nobody would guess that he was nervous.

But the tell-tale signals were there. All you had to do watch him before he took his place at the podium, as he waited for Bob Menendez to finish speaking. If you did so, the signs were obvious. And understandably so, as he was about to go on record and formally support the dreaded immigration ‘amnesty’ that is anathema to so many Republican primary voters. He was about to put his head in the lion’s mouth.

First he clasps his hands in front of him in a barrier signal known as a ‘groin hold’ or  ‘fig leaf’ (for more on barrier signals, see The power of posture), changes his mind and puts them behind him, then changes his mind again and puts them back in front. He pokes his tongue into his cheek, clenches his jaw, and licks his lips. He fiddles with his suit-jacket button once, then again, then a third time. He rubs his fingers together, then interlocks them in another fig leaf. The photo above even shows him rubbing his hand briefly over his face as if to blot out what was to come (see Giving away your thoughts: non-verbal leakage). And when his turn came and he stepped behind the podium, he briefly gripped it in a death-like vice as if he’d fall over if it wasn’t there.

When you’re sharing a speaking platform with other people, you normally don’t think about what our body language is saying when one of the others is speaking. You assume that all of the attention is on her. But it isn’t. People are still looking at you.

You still feel the same nervousness as whoever is speaking. Perhaps more so, because you’re in the spotlight (in the above case, dozens of press photographers) but don’t have the business of speaking to distract you or give an outlet to the adrenalin coursing through your body. What do you do with your hands, for example?

What most people do is adopt  the above-mentioned ‘fig leaf’ or groin hold’. Subconsciously, you’d like to fold your arms and create a barrier. But you know this would look too defensive, so you go half-way and clasp your hands in front of your groin instead. It’s a kind of ‘armsfold-lite.’

Just look at John McCain, Bob Menendez and Dick Durbin. They’re all doing a version of it. The above was taken while Sen. Menendez was waiting for his turn to speak; as soon as he’d done so and the pressure was off he became much more relaxed, and stood  confidently, with his hands behind his back.

So, remember …… if you’re sharing a platform with other people, don’t think your body language doesn’t matter when you’re not speaking. people are still watching you. And the body language you exhibit will be the number one thing that influences the audience’s perception of your confidence. Both in yourself … and your message.

David Cameron following in Obama’s footsteps

Hot on the heels of President Obama’s excellent example of how to cage an audience’s Lizards (if you don’t know what that means, have a quick look at Getting past the audience’s Lizard Brain) in his second Inaugural Speech last week (read my blog on it here), the UK Prime Minister gave a masterclass on how to do it with his speech this week on Europe.

The speech had been promised for months and postponed several times and to say that it was ‘much anticipated’ (not only in the UK but also by the governing elites of Europe) was an understatement. To see how he dealt with his audience’s Lizards it’s necessary to look at who exactly was his audience. To me it seems he had 3 audiences; eurosceptic MPs in his own party, the UK eurosceptic population (threatening to defect to the UK Independence Party, according to opinion polls and recent by-election results) and the governments of the rest of the EU.

Now talk about re-negotiating the terms of UK membership is music to the ears of the first two, so they weren’t really a problem. The more radical his stance, the better. But the more radical it was, the worse it would be received by other EU governments. They were  anticipating a speech they wouldn’t like and their ‘Lizards’ were straining to be let off the leash before he opened his mouth and said a word. The second he started talking about renegotiating terms, their Lizards would escape and refuse to listen to another word of the speech, to the extent that his argument wouldn’t really have been given a fair hearing (read Confirmation Bias: why it’s so difficult to change some people’s minds).

So what did he do? In a genius stroke, he positioned the speech as not being about UK membership renegotiation at all, but about EU reform. About changes that were needed not just for the UK, but for all members of the EU. The very first words of the speech were “Today I want to talk about the future of Europe” (NOT the future of the UK in Europe).
Then:

  • The challenges come not from within this continent but outside it. From the surging economies in the East and South” (NOT from the UK)
  • “I want to speak to you today with urgency and frankness about the European Union and how it must change.”
  • “I am here today … (to)  acknowledge the nature of the challenges we face. To set out how I believe the European Union should respond to them.”
  • I don’t just want a better deal for Britain. I want a better deal for Europe too.”

He then set out his euro credentials and how strong the links were between the UK and the rest of Europe:

  • “For all our connections to the rest of the world … we have always been a European power – and we always will be … We have helped to write European history, and Europe has helped write our.”
  • “… in Europe’s darkest hour, we helped keep the flame of liberty alight. Across the continent, in silent cemeteries, lie the hundreds of thousands of British servicemen who gave their lives for Europe’s freedom.”
  • “I (don’t) want us to pull up the drawbridge and retreat … I am not a British isolationist … I want the European Union to be a success.”

He then went on to make a strong and eloquent case for necessary reform, which I won’t go into because I’m not talking about the case he was making, but how he made it. If you want to read the full transcript, see Rhetorical devices used in David Cameron’s speech on Europe.

Now doing the above didn’t quash all opposition or criticism, of course, but the discussion that’s followed across Europe has been as much about the need for EU reform as it has been about the UK trying to claw back powers conceded over decades, with newspapers across the continent saying that he has a case and Europe really does need to change. That wouldn’t have happened had he simply talked about UK renegotiating its membership. So by thinking in advance about his audience’s concerns and how they’d perceive what he had to say, he’s changed the whole framework of the debate.