Teeing it Up for Hillary

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Wow! If Hillary Clinton would follow the advice of Peter Sandman and Jody Lanard (hat tip to DemFromCT at Daily Kos) tomorrow in her campaign suspension announcement, she would get off to an outstanding start in steering her supporters to the Obama camp — which hopefully is her goal. She would hit a grand slam!

The advice given by Sandman and Lanard is in the art of risk communication. DemFromCT:

Risk communication is a skill used in conveying messages about emotion-laden events (some with unfortunate consequences, such as disasters).

Make no mistake, Obama’s clinching of the Democratic nomination is a disaster for many Clinton supporters.

Here is the heart of the advice:

[Sandman and Lanard] are confident that Sen. Clinton is getting lots of advice to make a strong statement in support of Sen. Obama – his policies, his campaign, and his fitness to be president. That’s good advice. A strong statement of support is absolutely essential.

But Clinton’s praise for Obama is likely to fall flat if that’s where she starts. Even if she musters all the enthusiasm in the world for Sen. Obama, it may well sound to her unenthusiastic listeners like she is dutifully parroting lines the party heavies have drafted for her. Many will convince themselves that she doesn’t mean it. Many who decide she means it will feel betrayed rather than led.

Clinton must start instead by acknowledging and validating what her loyal supporters are thinking, feeling, and telling her – their anger, their grief, their frustration and bewilderment. Politicians will probably advise her that this is the wrong message – and in a traditional PR environment they would be right. But outraged people are unlikely to abandon their outrage until it is acknowledged and validated. Only after this has been accomplished can Sen. Clinton help her followers rededicate themselves to the Democratic Party doctrines that presumably predated, and will outlast, a single exuberant campaign season.

The risk communication principles here are empathy and anchoring frames. Both teach us that we must start our communications where our audience starts. Clinton’s followers are “anchored” by their loyalty to her, and by whatever grievances against her opponent helped spur them on to keep fighting for her. Before she can effectively urge them to move on to a different anchoring frame, she must empathize with how they feel about abandoning the one they’ve got.

Sandman and Lanard go on to provide Clinton with specific talking points.

For discouraging Clinton’s followers from acting out their ambivalence about Obama:

“So for these and other reasons, a lot of you tell me [Clinton] you are angry, angry at Barack Obama, the party’s nominee, angry because he beat us – even though I think he beat us fair and square. If you are fervent Democrats, as well as strong Clinton supporters, you may feel torn between loyalty to the party and loyalty to me. When people feel that way, sometimes it is easy to act out. It is easy to forget what the campaign is about, and what’s at stake for our country. Sometimes your passion can even make you lose track of your underlying values.”

On the incompatibility of McCain’s policies with Obama’s and Clinton’s own:

“Look, if some people flat-out prefer my [Clinton’s] policies to McCain’s, and also prefer McCain’s policies to Obama’s, they should of course vote their views. But frankly, I find that combination of preferences incomprehensible. I understand liking McCain better than Clinton and Obama; that’s called being a conservative. And I certainly understand liking Clinton and Obama better than McCain! But what set of policy views would lead someone to vote for McCain because Clinton isn’t going to be the Democratic nominee?”

On Clinton’s responsibility to unify the party behind Obama:

“Sen. Obama is twice the orator I’ve [Clinton has] ever been, and he has a knack for pulling people together that I admire and envy. He will be trying to pull the Democratic Party together now.

But frankly it is a large part of my job, as the losing candidate, to pull the party together behind Sen. Obama. It will be my failure if my followers don’t pull strongly for him.”

I’ve quoted most of the juiciest nuggets. But read the whole thing — really good stuff.

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