Saturday, July 31, 2010

Along for the Ride to the Whitehouse

Just finished reading the book Game Change. It was like reliving the 2008 presidential campaign, but this time with an all-access pass. As most Americans, I already knew about most of the campaign’s high and low points, including the Rev. Wright controversy, the Edwards affair and the unexpected emergence of Sarah Palin as a candidate for vice president.

I didn’t know the stories behind these stories. This book shares them all, as well as the tremendous toll it took on the candidates.

The star players in the unfolding drama are Barack Obama and the Clintons. You get an inside look at the discipline of Obama’s campaign and the growing frustrations of the Clintons as they try desperately, and unsuccessfully, to sidetrack it.

My favorite stories though involved the bit players. I was fascinated by the arrogance that led to Edwards’ downfall. Similarly, the story of the unraveling of Sarah Palin was so well told it made me feel uncomfortable, yet I couldn’t stop reading it. The fact that she remains on the national stage today indicates she had more moxie than the authors knew.

On balance, however, I thought the book was pretty even-handed. If the authors had biases, they did a good job of hiding them. That said, I’ll never agree that Obama pummeled McCain in those debates as badly as the pundits said.

You often hear the presidential campaign called the “Road to the Whitehouse.” If that’s the case, then Game Change lets you ride shotgun.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Refudiate This

I’m no fan of Sarah Palin, but I am beginning to be convinced that she is indeed receiving hostile treatment from the media.

Today was a good example. The headlines screamed “Sarah Palin Compares Herself to Shakespeare.” When I saw the headline, I was shocked. I figured Palin must have gotten a hold of some bad bear meat or something … until I read a little further.

As it turns out, Palin had accidentally invented a word on her Twitter account. She said “refudiate” when she really meant “repudiate.” That’s not such an egregious sin in this world of 140 characters. I’ve been a professional writer for more than 20 years, and yet I’m sure my Twitter feed wouldn’t withstand a full-blown investigation by the grammar police.

Since I’m not a conversional national political figure, I get by with it. No such luck for Palin. The media pounced on her misstatement, sensing a Dan Qualye “potatoe” moment. Palin’s response was self-effacing. She joked that “Shakespeare liked to coin new words, too.”

Somehow this was interpreted by headline writers at CNN and others as Palin “comparing herself to Shakespeare.” That might be factually accurate, but it certainly didn’t capture the context. If you glanced at the headline alone, you would have thought – as I did – that Palin had lost it when she was actually just being playful.

Palin clearly wasn’t seriously comparing her mastery of the language to Shakespeare. In fact, she really was suggesting just the opposite.

Ironically, Palin’s gaffe may actually have helped her image with people like me who bothered to read the whole story. It humanized her. I, for one, appreciate the fact that she’s willing to post her thoughts – warts and all – without a bevy of speechwriters sanitizing them.

If you don’t agree, then I invite you to refudiate me.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Not So Fast Food

I’m ashamed to say I’ve spent so much time in the drive-thru lane at fast food restaurants that I’ve caught onto the rhythms of them. I’ve learned some subtle, yet surefire cues that a transaction in front of you has gone horribly awry. I’m sharing these tips with you in hopes you can spot them, too. Armed with this information, you can successfully shift into neutral and turn up the radio. Or, if you see several of these traps in the same trip, you may want to commit the most egregious offense of all in fast food land, and speed away without your order.

So, without further adieu, here are 10 tips that your fast-food jaunt is becoming a journey, along with a forecast of expected delays.

Tip 1: The person in front of you has extended his or her head out the car window. This is a sign communication has broken down. Add two minutes.

Tip 2: Person in front of you gets his or her food from the window, but refuses to pull away. This is a burger bookkeeper. It requires a honking horn and a delay of three minutes.

Tip 3: The person in front of you has extended his or her arm out the window. This is not as serious as Tip 1 by itself, resulting in a delay of only about a minute. However, when accompanied by an extended head, can be a serious situation. Add five minutes.

Tip 4: Person in front of you is on his or her cell phone. This is the rare occasion where stupid meets incompetence. Add six minutes.

Tip 5: There is a Buick LeSabre or Crown Victoria in front of you. This person may be one of the first of the billions served. Add seven minutes.

Tip 6: There are now multiple heads and arms out both the driver’s and passenger’s windows. Add eight minutes.

Tip 7: Attendant asks you to repeat your order or repeats your order back to you incorrectly. Count on a loss of nine minutes … and one cheeseburger.

Tip 8: Same as tip 7, but in an accent you’ve never heard before. Prepare for a loss of two cheeseburgers and 12 minutes.

Tip 9: The person in front of you makes it to the window, gets his or her food and then promptly returns it to the attendant. This is the most serious situation you will encounter without requiring police intervention. Call your loved ones and expect a 15-minute delay.

Tip 10: The back-up lights of the vehicle in front of you are activated. Prepare for impact, a police report and a delay of an hour or better.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Power of a Good Story

As a former journalist and current public relations practitioner, I consider myself, above all else, to be a good storyteller. As such, I appreciate a well-told story. I heard one the other night from the guy sitting next to me at the B.B. King concert.

The guy told me he always remembered one person from his grade school above all others. Her name was Tammy. On those rare occasions whenever he ran into someone from grade school, the conversation always turned to Tammy.

Fast forward many years. I’m guessing he’s been married and divorced by then. He pops into a party. He’s not at his best. He’s been hitting it a hard lick all weekend. To his surprise, he runs into no one other than the oft mentioned Tammy. They reconnect.

“The rest,” he says, motioning to his wife, “is history.”

Maybe it was the open bar, but that seemed like a good story to me. It was simple, yet powerful.