“If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” — Barack Obama
“I’m not worried about poor people.” — Mitt Romney
This is not a blog post about negative campaigning. It’s not about the frightening power of digital viral communications, which can rip a quote from its context like a sapling in a tornado. And it’s not about…gee, why don’t I quit telling you what it’s not about and start telling you what it is about?
The power of positive messaging is about more than being upbeat and hopeful. It’s also a smart strategy for avoiding misquotes.
Say what is.
Not what it isn’t.
It’s that simple. It’s too easy for a negative statement to be pulled out of context. And for negative statements, context is all. For example, here’s the greater context of Obama’s now-infamous quote:
“Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that.”’
Recast this as: ““Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you built it as part of a community. We are all invested in your business, and your business is invested in your community. “
Totally different. And any single sentence could be pulled out as an accurate representative quote.
Always spot on, Peggy Noonan makes a related point in her Wall St. Journal column: “Mr. Obama was trying to conflate a nice thought — we must help each other — with a partisan and ideological one, that government has and needs more of a role in creating personal success. He did not do it well because his approach was, as it often is, accusatory and vaguely manipulative. Which makes people lean away from him, not toward him.”
In other words, backing into a comment is confusing. And offputting. So go positive.