President-elect Obama's presentation of his economic stimulus plan last Thursday was thoughtful, clear, and excellently delivered. Despite its charismatic delivery, the speech concerned me. First, the soon-to-be-president sought to lower the expectations of the American public concerning his first term, create a sense of unity, and to communicate a huge number of details about his economic plan. This was too much territory to cover in one short speech.
Unfortunately, his comments may have the unintended consequence of taking away the very confidence he wanted to give to the nation. I was shocked that the “Yes we can!” presidential candidate sounded more like a technician than a visionary. Hope was present, but the audacity of hope was nowhere to be found.
Consider his words, “If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years. The unemployment rate could reach double digits.” Even if these are potential realities, he is painting a very grim picture. He went on to say, “Our economy could fall $1 trillion short of its full capacity ... We could lose a generation of potential and promise, as more young Americans are forced to forgo dreams of college or the chance to train for the jobs of the future.”
Like a salesman that does not realize that he has already secured the contract, the president-elect continued to make the case that the nation needs to trust his plan. In addition, his emphasis on the role of government seemed a little baffling — especially in light of the criticism by many experts that we are becoming a “socialistic” country.
I am concerned about the heavy emphasis on the government’s role versus job creation through small and medium sized businesses. Many Americans are convinced that a revival of the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of our nation will be key to our victory.
Ironically, these two factors kept the “master communicator” from giving the nation what we need most — passionate confidence or hope. Barack Obama, more than most, knows that words matter.
In order to beat the economic problems we face, both leaders and the media must vigilantly watch what and how they communicate. Whether they like it or not, today's media often creates more history than it reports. Leaders also can shape the public's thinking by what they choose to say and they do. The negative effect of media and government communications was demonstrated by how the media over-emphasized our national financial woes during the Christmas season.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.