President polls well with State of the Union address

MARGERY KRAUS, President and CEO, APCO Worldwide, Washington,


For a man who often jokes about his own history of verbal gaffes,

President Bush forcefully articulated his administration's priorities.

Casually draped over the rostrum, the president occasionally stumbled

over his words, but their meaning was clear. This was a major break with

the recent past - Bush used his State of the Union address to frame his

agenda without weighing it down with minutiae. He did a good job of

delivering a speech built around his own plain-talking, direct manner.

This reinforced the credibility and force of his message, and enabled

audiences around the world to walk away with a clear understanding of

his resolve as well as his priorities. The State of the Union also

ushered in the new political era. It is the first major event in an

election year, and while the goals between the parties might not appear

that different, the paths for accomplishing those goals will clearly be

different. For us and our clients, it will be time to get back to work

in advocating our clients' respective positions - all under the mantra

of what is good for the country.

JEFFREY PHILPOTT, Ph.D., Rhetorician, Department of Communication,

Seattle University

State of the Union speeches are difficult to do well. They invite

presidents and speechwriters to resort to lists, which are challenging

to write and deliver eloquently. The country's war against terrorism

gives President Bush a way around this problem and a strong central

theme. The character of the nation's citizens, the actions of its

government, and the President's proposals are all presented as deriving

from the ongoing war. This theme created both an overall coherence to

last week's speech as well as a rationale for the President's proposals.

This also works well in the ensuing media coverage. Press reports since

have been replete with quotations emphasizing the war setting and the

President's call for action in response to it. Crafted effectively, this

kind of overarching metaphor for a speech is picked up in both media and

political responses and spread by others far beyond the original

message. Even opponents are picking up and using the language of


CHRIS VARONES, SAE, Hill & Knowlton public affairs practice, Chicago

Not too long ago, George W. Bush seemed to have a rhetorical clumsiness

about him. During the 2000 presidential election, he was known to garble

his syntax, mispronounce words, and wander aimlessly when speaking off

the cuff. The things he said and how he said them weren't befitting of a

leader, some thought. Now fast forward to President George W. Bush in

the days after September 11: "I can hear you. The rest of the world

hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all

of us soon." President Bush's State of the Union address only reaffirmed

the notion that the bully pulpit is the presidency's best asset.

During a crisis, the right words, messages, and images can inspire

confidence, capture imagination, and sustain one of the highest approval

ratings for a sitting president ever. The distance traveled by Bush from

candidate to president, best illustrated in the State of the Union,

reminds us in the public relations industry that words have consequences

- both positive and negative.

STAN COLLENDER, Partner, national practice group leader, public affairs,

Fleishman-Hillard, New York

President Bush's first State of the Union speech last week was truly a

masterful performance. The President came across as being thoroughly

self-assured about his position, his messages, and how his audience -

both in attendance and on television - would react to what he was

saying. Equally as impressive, however, was the way the White House

managed the event. The President's appearances during the days leading

up to the State of the Union address surely paved the way for - and

therefore greatly enhanced - what he eventually told the nation that

night, despite the fact that the President actually made little


Indeed, everything that was done the week before the speech - including

the types of presentations that were made, the locations at which they

were given, the audiences, as well as the rhetoric - only seemed to whet

the public and media's appetite for the State of the Union itself.

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