Policy Leadership & Public Speaking
Difference in a focus on policy
- Focus is on a specific action. To this point we have examined
political leaders responding to the conditions of their time by marshaling
public will to address the conditions. Ofttimes those responses have not
been very specific - they simply motivate commitment and leave the question
of what action to take for other processes. We now want to focus on those
processes - when the leader wishes to achieve adoption of a particular
- Speaking must be contextualized within a complex web of communication.
Messages about policy have their effect within a complex web of interrelationships
involving the President, the Congress, lobbyists, the active or politically
engaged public, and the general public.
- A President seeks first to move the boundary between the general public
and the politically engaged public. He wants to bring more into the politically
engaged group from the general public.
- In modern American politics, the opportunities for citizen persuasion
of legislators (including Congressmen and Congresswomen) is minimal. The
activated public may have contact in lobbying situations, and positions
on key policy issues will be recorded in Congressional offices, but true
persuasion where there is an exchange of views and reasoning outside lobbying
frameworks is rare.
- Despite this, Presidents persuade the public with the hope that they
will contact Congress and/or lobbyists and record their positions on the
policy issue. Also at stake is the general acceptance of the policy by
those that are affected by it.
- The most dramatic change in policy leadership in the last few years
is the dramatic increase in lobbyists using the media to go to the public
in favor and opposed to policy. This change often means that a policy leader
must be more conscious of counterarguments.
Powers of Policy Leadership
Policy leadership involves two different power dimensions:
- Policy Advocacy. Leaders support particular policies because
they believe that they are good ideas. This power involves the use of discourse
to define the problem and support the action entailed in the policy. In
the late twentieth century United States, policy is governed by a utilitarian
logic - that is, a policy leader must establish that there is a problem
severe enough and appropriate for public action, and that there is a policy
solution that will address that problem.
- Political Power. Policy advocacy can also, however, be an effective
enhancement to the leader's political power. Leaders must, first of all,
develop focus on a policy issue, and then deliver success in addressing
the policy problem. Doing so enhances their political power.
Although these are two dimensions of power, both are enhanced by successful
Dimensions for Evaluating Policy Rhetoric
There are six dimensions that we query when we are studying the rhetoric with which policy leaders attempt to induce acceptance of particular policies. These dimensions are all in play in an evaluation of policy rhetoric. They are not separate categories but overlap as a policy campaign proceeds.
These dimensions relate to how well the leader explains the problem so that it will be understandable, clear, and compels attention.
- Descriptive Dimension. Is the problem described to focus attention? The rhetoric must provide a compelling account of the problem that motivates government action. The leader must name the problem in a way that creates a clear understanding and compelling understanding, and must invoke accepted values that lead the audience to accept the problem as something within the purview of public action.
- Responsibility Dimension. Who or what does the policy target as responsible for the problem? The rhetoric must provide a plausible narrative of why the problem exists. The target named will become the focus of the policy.
These dimensions relate to how well the leader marshals political support for the policy s/he proposes.
- Activating Dimension. Does the rhetoric lead others to support the policy? This dimension stresses that a policy leader must bring others involved in the policy making process to support of the policy. S/he must have others from the legislature and the public supporting the change.
- Normalizing Dimension. Does the policy seem like a normal way of addressing such problems in the society? Any political culture has standard ways it approaches problems. Policies are more likely to be adopted when they employ oone of these standard ways of addressing problems. The rhetor's task is to place his/her policy proposal into such standard political patterns.
Together these two dimensions produce the satisfaction that a policy was successful. This entails a sense that it successfully addresses the problem and that it does so in an acceptable way.
- Catharctic Dimension. Does the rhetoric produce faith that the problem will be solved? Proposed policies must be seen to address the problem successfully. The rhetoric must deliver such faith.
- Legitimacy Dimension. Is the policy the right way to approach the problem? Is it a fair way of doing so? Legitimacy is the sense that a policy is right. This is a mix of two senses of the policy: that it is the right way to approach the problem, and that it is a fair way of doing so. The rhetoric often accomplishes this through the use of historical resources that identify the characteristics of the society that support the proposal.
Communication in Policy Leadership
Communication in policy leadership has some characteristics that are
particular to it.
Structure of Messages
Although not invariant, policy messages are nearly always in a standard
organizational pattern. In cases where organization does not follow this
pattern, all of these elements must be within the message.
- Problem: Naming the Focus. Rhetors must decide how they will
talk about the problem. What they name as the problem will have a profound
affect on the policy outcome. Names do several things:
- An effective way of naming the problem allows the public to more clearly
see the problem working in the world around them. Success in this allows
the public to experience the problem again and again and increases the
persuasiveness of the message.
- An effective way of naming the problem communicates the pain that accompanies
the problem. Public will is generated in the empathy for those affected
by the problem.
- A sufficient name must locate the problem in such a way that a solution
is possible. Because the way in which the leader names the problem sensitizes
the public to certain characteristics of the problem, those characteristics
must disappear for a feeling of success to follow.
- Attaching Responsibility: Fixing the Target. The nature of policy
is such that it will marshal political power to alter an economic or cultural
system. Effective policy messages must fix a target that political power
can be gathered against. Some targets are better than others. A good target
- a target against which action will solve the problem.
- a target that will enhance the political power of the leader's supporters.
Pick one's own supporters as a target and your political power is diminished.
- a target that lobbyists can love. In today's policy framework, targets
have to be selected in such a way that your lobbyists will outperform opposition
- Name the Action. The actions entailed in the proposed policy
must be tangible. Leaders must manage ambiguity and specificity in such
a way that promotes an understanding of their policy.
- The policy must have enough specificity so that the public and the
interest groups have a sense that they know what is being proposed. The
public needs something that they can identify that is a concrete manifestation
of the policy. For example, Clinton flashes the Health Care Security Card
that is something tangible that people can identify as his program.
- On the other hand, since many factions have to support a leader's policy,
ambiguity allows diverse interests to view the policy as one that can be
in their benefit.
- Effectiveness: Faith in results. The leader must give people
faith that the policy will address the problem. The larger the problem,
the more force there is to adopt the policy; the larger the problem, the
more difficult the task of proving that the policy will address the problem.
There are several ways to develop that faith:
- Often leaders go to history to provide that faith. Clinton flashes
the card that looks like the social security card to associate his health
care policy with social security - the New Deal program that gave Americans
some measure of security in their old age.
- It is on this issue where the dialectic of permanence
and change had to work its way out. There has to be that comfort that
the methods of addressing the problem are tried and true approaches to a
- Because of the influence of utilitarianism in the late twentieth century,
effectiveness is often cast in these terms. It becomes a technical question
using the technical language to provide an assurance that the policy is
bathed in the blessing of experts who have analyzed its capabilities and
can assure you that it will solve the problem.
The Language of Policy
Policy advocacy in the United States is conducted in two different languages,
one public, the other technical.
- Public language. This language
is easily accessible to all in a democracy. It motivates public support by
developing the general sense of community concern, and builds support for
the leader as speaking for the community.
- Public language is marked by greater informality and is based in identification
with the audience.
- Public language is more likely to use narrative, metaphor, and other
strategies which contextualize policy in the people's history.
- A leader's authority in public language is constructed democratically
- that is, the leader speaks as the instrument of the people and responds
to their demands to address problems in particular ways.
- Public language is particularly effective in establishing the motivation
for a policy. It marshals public opinion in favor of the policy.
- Technical language. This language is built around experts and
the particular characteristics of the "policy area." It says
that problems are complex and it takes a great deal of intelligence to
understand them and to figure out how to solve them.
- Technical language is marked by a demonstration of the superiority
of the leader to the public that grows from his/her greater knowledge.
That is, the leader's authority to act comes from a superior understanding
of the "policy area."
- Technical language is marked by more formal and semi-formal argument,
including particularly statistical argument, analogy, causal argument,
and proof by "detailed analysis" of the policy area. Arguments
are presented as much to establish the expertness of the speaker as they
are to convince the audience of the truth of the claims.
- Technical language is the bureaucratic side of government speaking.
Its sense that the government is doing the "right" thing is a
sense of correctness rather than appropriateness.
- Technical language is particularly effective in communicating the substance
of the policy and in establishing the effectiveness of a policy approach.
An effective policy leader in the late twentieth century will master
both of these languages and will know when to use one and when to use the
Policy leadership demands the skills of argument more than other aspects
of political leadership. Particularly leaders need to master:
- Locating Issues. Leaders must understand where it is that the
arguments will occur on which the success of policy advocacy will turn.
The structure of argument above indicates the possible places where issues
might arise on a policy, but to locate the issues one must be able to understand
the specifics of a particular issue. Not only must the leader anticipate
where the issues will be on the policy, s/he must be able to see the issues
that are emerging and figure out how to address them.
- Forwarding claims. Claims are statements of position on the
issues on which successful advocacy of a policy turns. Leaders must be
able to succinctly, clearly, and forcefully assert the claims that will
satisfy the issues and convince the public to support policies.
- Supporting claims. Effective leaders must know how to forcefully
identify and associate information with their claims on the policy to lead
to acceptance of the policy. Knowing what kind of support is appropriate
for particular arguments is a necessary part of effective policy leadership.
The Clinton Health Care Proposal
- As Bill Clinton campaigned for President, there were two issues that he stressed over all others: the recession that had begun under his predecessor's administration and the health care crisis.
- As Clinton came to office, no president had won a major change in governmental policy since the civil rights, medicare, and poverty initatives of the 1960s. Only incremental changes, or adjustements in already functioning government policies had won approval.
- The American health care system was not appreciately different than it is now. The program is a combination of:
- private payment by citizens at the time of service. Sometimes this was co-payment meaning that part was covered by the citizen and part by one of the other second tier payers below.
- insurance coverage. Typically the cost of insurance was funded by employers and employees each contributing to the cost of insurance. Insurance coverage was marked by numerous rules including such things as limitation on coverage of costs associated with health problems when the covered individual came under the plan, limits on the payouts by insurance companies, lists of services covered and uncovered by insurance, limitations on doctors or facilities that could be used and reimbursed by the insurance, limitations on expenses reimbursed without approval by the insurance companies. Insurance companies often maintained central offices where patients and/or doctors had to receive permission before care was administered.
- governmental support. Four primary programs provided this support: medicare for the aged, medicaid for the poor, funding for research into diseases and new drugs, and regulatory approval of new drugs and medical techniques.
- drug companies who developed new drugs, were protected for a number of years by patents on those drugs, with drugs subject to approval by the Food and Drug Administration, but could set prices on those drugs they held in monopoly without restriction.
- hospitals, health maintenance organizations, and medical personnel who provided care, submitted bills to government and/or insurance companies, and provided pro bono (or free) care when citizens could not pay.
- The health care crisis had several dimensions that were signs of a system that did not work well:
- Inflation in health care was taking place at rates many times higher than other prices or wages and salaries. This inflation was squeezing private citizens, insurance companies, and governmental programs. The inflation was driven by the cost of drugs and by the expansion of expensive medical technology purchased by hospitals and physician services competing to attract customers.
- The high cost of health insurance was leading to many employers no longer offering health insurance, cutting the benefits contracted with the insurance providers, or passing the inflating costs of insurance through to their employees.
- Decisions on health care procedures were being made less by doctors and more by payers including private citizens, insurance companies and government agencies.
- Second tier support for health care (insurance or government or pro bono covering services) prevented pricing mechanisms from properly rationing who received care. Many argued that rationing health care based on the ability of citizens to pay was immoral. This was often expressed as a "right to health care."
- Clinton proposed a dramatic reorganization of health care.
- His proposal was developed by a task force chaired by Hillary Rodham Clinton who heard from many of the stakeholders in the medical care system and proposed a specific plan.
- The White House planned a rhetorical campaign to create public will to change the system and public pressure on Congress to adopt the administration's plan. This plan included speeches by the two Clintons, town hall meetings, meetings with interest groups in the health care system, and negotiations with Congress to secure the votes for the program.
- Arrayed against the White House were politicians with an interest in defeating the proposal so that the Clinton administration did not get credit for the program, and various health care and non-health care lobbying groups who attempted to alter the program to maximize the economic benefits of their clients
- .Timeline for the Clinton Health Care Debate.
- Clinton's rhetorical task was to convert the material conditions in the health care system into public support for his particular program and energize citizens to express that public will in pressure on Congress.
- Those who opposed Clinton's program needed strategies which blocked this effort.