Podium: The three laws of communication

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Michael Deaver

From the Social Market Foundation Lecture

given by President Reagan's former Deputy Chief of Staff

I HAVE been giving lectures about American politics and communications for 10 or 12 years or so, since I left the White House. And I thought I would just explain a little bit about what I think is going on, and a little bit about why Tuesday night happened, and why Bill Clinton is the success that he is in politics in the United States today.

I used always to say that there were three basics of communications. Whether you were talking about politics or anything else, there were three basic communications.

The first basic of communication was that you had to know who you were. If you did not know who you were, you could not communicate. I still believe that to be true. I would cite people such as Harry Truman and Jack Kennedy and Ronald Reagan as people who absolutely knew who they were before they got up to speak. So they were able to communicate because they were credible.

I do not think Bill Clinton knows who he is. I think he is whoever his pollsters tell him he is. But in the age of communication that we have today, in the age of people getting all of their information and news through an entertainment medium, in an age when they do not stay on any particular channel for long enough to get anything more than an impression - maybe what I have believed all these years is not true. Maybe you can get away with not knowing who you are.

The second axiom of good communication is a clear and concise message. Bill Clinton understands that in spades. The Republicans do not get it.

We used to say about Bill Clinton that he could not get it right. We used to say about him that he had a great day but he never had a good week. He has now figured it out. He has not only figured out how to say the message, because he has got someone testing it all night long, but he understands what the gesture is that goes with it, because he works on it. He uses it. He studies films about it.

If you look at Bill Clinton today you will see this. All this business of atonement that we have been going through, it is all gesture and face. There are not a lot of words that go along with it.

He may not have the first part of it down, but he certainly has the second part of it; that is, getting a clear and concise message.

The third part of it is: understanding that you cannot say something once any more. It just is impossible.

You cannot make a speech today and say it once. You have to say it over and over and over and over again. Bill Clinton understands that. The Republicans do not understand it.

And so Tuesday was one of the most fascinating days, at least in my life, of watching politics and participating in politics. Last Tuesday we came into the election thinking that it was going to be close, but certainly a traditional kind of mid-term election for the President; and that the President would lose seats in the House and probably in the centre. The truth of the matter is that the President did something unbelievable. He won seats in the House. It has not happened in almost 35 years in the United States.

The election gave a tremendous boost to Clinton. Here is a party that has been beaten and humiliated, and, all of a sudden, they are winners again. How long will that last? Bill Clinton has the capacity, every time he is ahead, to step on his coat tail. That could happen again, too. But it is not a simple issue in the United States just to get your Prime Minister to resign, and you pick somebody else out of your party to run it. It is a trial. It is a day-in-and-day-out humiliation for the system. We are still living with remnants of Watergate. That was 25 years ago.

And I think the American public does not have the stomach to go through impeachment. We have never really gone through a trial in the Senate, certainly not in this century. Only once before. I think the American public, as disgusting as the behaviour of the President was, do not think that it is worth going through that kind of a process with only two years left. We are so very close to our Presidential elections - although not close in the terms you would probably think. All of that will now begin again.

So what did the election really mean. I do not think it meant much. It is pretty much the status quo. The people really said: "I don't want anything to change what is happening. I don't care about morals and ethics, particularly if it gets in the way of getting the job done. I particularly do not want any kind of big issues that are going to scare us to the point where we may have a rise in unemployment, because I have got it better than I have ever had it and I don't want anything to happen to that."