Monday, 17 October 2011

Communicator of the Week

Politicians are held in a level of contempt in America that makes their British counterparts look like Mother Teresa. One of the reasons for this has been a lack of candour and action on many issues over recent years but particularly on the economy.

In my view, the last presidential candidate to make a real mark on the race for the White House by landing significant punches on the economy was Bill Clinton. While President Obama's successful campaign was built around a change message, on the economy a new approach wasn't immediately apparent.  

Furthermore, Obama in office has disappointed many while the US political class as a whole seems unable to grip the most pressing issue of these times: the economy. Ordinary Americans are crying out for genuine change not merely more rhetoric promising it. This means the level of interest and scrutiny of Obama's eventual challenger, and those fighting to be this person, is considerably heightened.  

Clinton's famous campaign against George Bush senior broke down the debate over the size of the national debt - yes, it did get a mention even all those years ago - in terms that were relevant to the average voter. His success was to use language and concepts that resonated on Main Street USA. Clinton connected with middle America by demonstrating he understood their problems. Critics called this dumbing down but his populist, and relentlessly simple, approach to dealing with a complex issue allowed him to successfully get across messages despite a relatively strong economic situation.

The US economy is nowhere near as strong as it was then but is once again central to the ongoing battle for the Republican nomination for the presidential election. Herman Cain, the former chief executive of the Godfather pizza chain, has learnt from Clinton's success by delivering easily understood messages on getting the US economy going.

His "9-9-9" proposal would scrap the current tax code - seen be many small businesses as overly burdensome - and in its place introduce a nine per cent income tax, a nine per cent business tax and a nine per cent national sales tax.

The simplicity and boldness of the proposal has had a huge effect. Mr Cain has raced to top the most recent polls on who will win the Republican nomination. Critics have dismissed the plans as they haven't been drawn up by a recognised economist while Cain himself is unproven. This criticism, painting him as an outsider - willing to try new tactics - designed to harm him, may actually make his chances stronger.
With the level of voter dissatisfaction with establishment politicians and their failed plans to get the US economy moving in the right direction, Cain has cut through because he is talking the language of the businesses on Main Street USA. This is why he is my communicator of the week.

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