Op-Ed: If perception is reality, Obama campaign needs a reality check
The idea that perception is reality is something I tried to teach my children when they were, well, children. If you look like you’re doing something wrong, people are going to think you’re doing something wrong.
It’s a simple concept they picked up all too well, which made them pretty good at looking like they were doing something right when they were doing something wrong.
Teenagers can figure out this concept pretty quickly; whether they put it into action is another matter. That can be said for managers of organizations, institutions, and businesses. They fully understand the direct relationship between perception and reality, but many times they just blow it off out of carelessness or the teenage-belief that they can get away with anything.
The U.S. military came up with the term “perception management” to describe in two words the techniques used to persuade foreign leaders to get behind Uncle Sam. Public relations firms peddle their expertise in perception management in much the same way (except for bombs and bullets) by finding the perception gap for businesses, which is the difference between how the business perceives itself and how its stakeholders perceive it. Whether a stakeholder’s perception is either good or bad depends on the stakeholder’s experience with the business or organization.
And in politics, perception management is paramount to success. Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 “Daisy” commercial made Barry Goldwater look like he would take the world into nuclear war if elected president. The idea that George H.W. Bush was “amazed” by a check-out scanner, an event that did not happen, gave the perception that he was out of touch with Americans who work hard every day and go to the grocery store every week, which contributed to his re-election defeat.
Well, it seems the Obama re-election campaign needs a big ol’ heaping helping of political perception management.
The campaign began sputtering when the president’s re-election surrogates started doing the one thing you cannot do in Washington politics: speak the truth. First came Democratic rising star and Newark mayor Cory Booker
who was supposed to hang Bain Capital
like a political albatross around the neck of Mitt Romney. Instead, Booker went on NBC’s “Meet the Press
" and declared attacks on Bain were “nauseating” to him. “If you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record . . . they’ve done a lot to support business, to grow business.”
Well, that set a lot of hair on fire in the White House and throughout the Democratic Party. And Booker’s subsequent attempts to clarify his remarks only dug his political grave a little deeper.
Next, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick
went on another NBC program, this time “Morning Joe
” on MSNBC and declared Bain “a perfectly fine company” that has been “distorted in some of the public discussion.”
Finally, former president Bill Clinton became the campaign’s Bain Capital bane when he told CNN
that Bain did “good work” and described Romney as having a “sterling” career.
Then there’s that whole perception campaign that rich-guy Romney is out of touch with middle America. Not a bad strategy, but one that requires Obama to look like he feels the pain of the 99 percent. But you don’t do that by having the Prada Devil herself, “Vogue
” editor Anna Wintour, cutting a spot inviting people to enter a lottery to win a seat at a big-deal Big Apple $40,000-a-plate dinner with herself and actress Sarah Jessica Parker, along with FLOTUS and POTUS.
You can almost hear the lucky winner singing “I got a golden ticket” with Wintour in the background saying “let them eat Wonka Bars.”
And then, in an effort to look hip, the Obama campaign tapped rocker Jon Bon Jovi
to headline a different New York City campaign event for about 500 supporters, and flew him in aboard Air Force One, with the campaign picking up the tab.
But Bon Jovi may not have been the best act to give the perception that Obama can rock and roll even with a rocky economy rolling toward the cliff.
The trouble with Bon Jovi is that his songbook is not noted for hope and change. Take “Lost Highway” with all of its meaning about starting fresh somewhere else (“I don't know where I'm going, but I know where I've been/And I'm afraid of going back again”).
Instead, Bon Jovi sang “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles, giving the perception that even a successful American rocker has to turn to foreigners to bail out the show.
If perception is reality, then the Obama campaign needs a reality check.