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September 6th, 2012
06:24 PM ET

Letters to the President #1326: 'The big speech'

Reporter's Note: Tonight is the president’s big speech in Charlotte, where I will be watching with a focus group…I mean, in addition to writing my daily letter to the White House.

Dear Mr. President,

So tonight your big speech comes up. I’m sure you’re every bit as excited as everyone else in this town, and let me tell you, they’re plenty jazzed. My producer, Eric, and I went for a bit of a walk after lunch (two tables away from Nancy Pelosi…go figure) and the streets are just filled with folks who absolutely adore you.

Well, that is not entirely accurate. We also encountered a fair number who don’t like you. I mean, really don’t like you. Some had bull horns with which to bellow at the crowd, others had signs or flags or costumes, and all had an attitude. Granted, they had to. You don’t wade into a fervently partisan crowd and start badmouthing the big man unless you have a pretty thick hide. I suppose that is no matter to you. You won’t have to see them or talk to them, and you couldn’t win them over even if you did. They, like your true fans, have made up their minds and won’t be shifted by either dynamic speeches or dynamite.

The question is, who can you shift? When you think about it, the entire purpose of your speech tonight can be summed up in a few words: You have to convince some people to support you, who right now don’t plan to. It’s that simple. Your words must compel someone who likes you but not enough to go vote, to get up off the sofa, ride to the polling place in November, and throw a lever next to your name. Or you must convince someone who thinks voting itself is a waste of time, to not think that anymore. Or you must convince someone who mistrusts you, and has no faith in your policies, to reconsider.

It is tempting before any big speech (as I know from my own experience) to obsess about the great lines; the clever or soaring moments that will bring the crowd to its feet. But I also know that, to borrow an old phrase, you have to keep your eyes on the prize.

In terms of pure politics, anything you say tonight that does not move levers in the voting booths this fall, is wasted. I hate to say that, because I wish political leaders could or would focus on just doing their jobs and let re-elections take care of themselves. But since that will never happen, I repeat: You must weigh every word in terms of the people who, at this moment, have no actual plan of voting for you. If you reach them, the speech will be a success. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter a nickel’s worth what the pundits have to say after the confetti flies.

Good luck. Call if you can.

Regards,
Tom

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