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Communicate your words

March 1st, 2012

This week on “Meet the Press,” moderator David Gregory interviewed Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. There are a lot of things on which I do not agree with Rick Santorum (like most of what he says). He talked about fellow Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, and the upcoming primaries. He also spent some time defending remarks he made the previous week about the separation of church and state, whether to encourage people to seek a college education and his voting record on No Child Left Behind (he said he voted for it, even though it was against his conscious).

The interview was interesting, but not earth shattering by any means. Rick Santorum has views I don’t agree with, but it’s not news to me. What I found particularly interesting was the discussion during the roundtable segment. Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist who ran John McCain’s campaign in 2008, mentioned that Santorum has been losing momentum because he’s had to backtrack to explain and defend statements he’s made, rather than focusing on his campaign’s message.

Kathleen Parker, a columnist for The Washington Post, further honed in this point. She said, “[Santorum has] that lack of prudence in selecting your battles and choosing your words wisely […]” This, she said is his biggest flaw.

These points got me thinking about what role communication plays not only in campaigns, but government as a whole.

Anger, distrust and confusion ensue when leaders and politicians fail to competently communicate to people what they mean and what they do and why they do it.

I think Santorum is a good example of not communicating well. Because he does not pick his battles or words well, he ends up off message and on tangents. This past week, while at a tea party event in Michigan, Santorum mentioned President Obama once said he wanted everyone in America to go to college. Santorum then said, “What a snob.”

In defending his statement afterward, Santorum said he meant that everyone should have the opportunity to attend college but that it isn’t for everyone and we as a nation shouldn’t look down upon those who attend trade schools instead.

In defending his position on multiple news programs afterward, he better communicated his position. But by this time what people were talking about was his snob comment. I don’t necessarily agree that we shouldn’t set a goal to get all people to attend college; I think it has a greater value than simply attaining a degree. But his view that not all people should attend college is just that – his view – and perhaps one that others share. Effectively communicating his view and explaining why he thinks that way would better serve him. Explain to people how it will benefit them and society.

I don’t want to pick only on Santorum. Many fall prey to the pitfalls of bad communication.

Take the health care law, for example. I think that health care is important for all to have. As a student, I particularly like being able to stay on my parents’ insurance longer.

However, what I remember most clearly when the law passed was the mob-like town hall meetings. While I think the law was an important step in health care, I think the White House and Democrats did not do their jobs in effectively communicating to people what the health care law entailed or how it would benefit them.

Communication is fundamental to human existence. It’s how we relate to one another. If our leaders don’t communicate with us effectively, how can they effectively lead us? Aside from having policy ideas, our leaders need to have good communication skills. A person may be the smartest person in the world, but I don’t think he/she would accomplish much if they could not successfully explain their ideas and plans to people.

Maybe it’s because I’m a communication minor, maybe it’s because I fancy myself a good writer, but I think communication skills are the most important skills a person can have. If you can’t communicate to someone what you want, you won’t get it.