John McCain… Troops returning home not important?

If you are staying current with the news, you know that Republican candidate John McCain has been pummeled because he suggested it was unimportant when and if our troops vacated Iraq. How do you feel about this?

If you are like many people, you feel insulted and disgusted when you hear this soundbite. More importantly, when you read it here you may wonder, “What does this have to do with speaking and presenting?” As a speaker and presenter, you can examine other speakers and presenters and learn from what they do. For example, if you look you may find the complete transcript of the above conference call.  It goes like this…

LAUER: If [the surge is] working, senator, do you now have a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq?

MCCAIN: No, but that’s not too important. What’s important is the casualties in Iraq. Americans are in South Korea. Americans are in Japan. American troops are in Germany. That’s all fine. [What’s important is] American casualties and the ability to withdraw. We will be able to withdraw. Gen. [David] Petraeus is going to tell us in July when he thinks we are. But the key to it is we don’t want any more Americans in harm’s way. And that way they will be safe, and serve our country, and come home with honor in victory, not in defeat — which is what Sen. Obama’s proposal would have done. And I’m proud of them, and they’re doing a great job, and we are succeeding, and it’s fascinating that Sen. Obama still doesn’t realize that.

You can now see that what John McCain was saying is that we want our troops to not be injured or killed. We want them out of harm’s way. We have had troops in other countries since World War II and they have not been an issue because they are not being killed. Iraq, he contends, will one day be the same. But the important part is that they won’t be targeted and harmed. If you would, let’s set aside agreeing or disagreeing with Senator McCain, and let’s look at this objective, how he tried to get it across, and why he failed.

You can certainly see how telling people he said “No, but that’s not too important.” can by no means be called a lie. However, it is two things. It is the wrong phrase to have been put right there. And it is very easy to be used alone and against Senator McCain.

Senator McCain is a long-time politician and he should have been wary of how words can be used against you. I am sure he was. But can you argue with the fact that sometimes we all mess up? While we can’t fix his mistake, we can learn from it. So what do we think he could have done.

Knowing that your words will be used against you, always try to make it as difficult as possible. Make every sentence (a possible sound bite) say exactly what you mean. Leave no lone sentence out there that can mean the wrong thing by itself.

If we changed Senator McCain’s response to this…

MCCAIN: No, what is most important is the casualties in Iraq. Americans are in South Korea. Americans are in Japan. American troops are in Germany. That’s all fine. [What’s important is] American casualties and the ability to withdraw. We will be able to withdraw. Gen. [David] Petraeus is going to tell us in July when he thinks we are. But the key to it is we don’t want any more Americans in harm’s way. And that way they will be safe, and serve our country, and come home with honor in victory, not in defeat — which is what Sen. Obama’s proposal would have done. And I’m proud of them, and they’re doing a great job, and we are succeeding, and it’s fascinating that Sen. Obama still doesn’t realize that.

In this way, he has not said that anything is “not important”. by saying “most important” he hasn’t even suggested that anything other than casualties is “not important”. He has only said that of all the concerns, American casualties are the “most important”. This would have disarmed the whole assault.

However, let’s keep in mind that we are not trying to win his campaign. We are only trying to learn from his mistake. When we present, we want to be clear and understood. Otherwise, what is our audience walking away with?

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