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Talking Points

It's an election year, if you hadn't noticed, and from now until voting day the presidential candidates will be working hard to win our vote – or at least the 55% of us that bother to vote in presidential elections.  (Is not voting the ultimate expression of democratic freedom?)

Candidates woo us mostly through a refined technique called "talking points". I know about this because of "media relations" training I once took where we learned how to explain a big boo-boo in a positive light to a bloodthirsty press corps. The secret is, 1) Listen to the question, 2) Answer briefly (one word is a good goal), 3) Bridge to your talking points (be sure to have some).

In the heat, and smoke, of a presidential campaign, step 2 (answer) is often skipped. Step 1 (listen) is also frequently bypassed although it's harder to detect because candidates master the unblinking "I'm listening" look while, in fact, they are imagining the audience all as penguins or wondering if they put on the same color socks that morning.

The listen-and-bridge thing is so entrenched that it often becomes a media story when a candidate actually does answer a question. If they answer simply and honestly it can be cause to send the satellite trucks.

Here in the Methow straight answers are the norm (except, of course, when postponing honesty is in everyone's best interest).

"Hey – how ya doing? Coming to the potluck?"
"I'm good. Thanks. Yep, I'll be there – I'm bringing organic acai jello shots."

But what if what's good for our presidents suddenly became good for the valley? What if we too pledged allegiance to talking points?

"Hey – how ya doing? Coming to the potluck?"
"That's an excellent question and I thank you for it. I'm doing okay, but the real question is how are WE doing as just two more struggling members of the forgotten middle class. And as far as potluck, that's about the best we can hope for from the failed leadership now in place."

"Do you guys carry replacement burners for a 1963 GrillKing barbecue? I got one at a yard sale for 35 cents."
"No, but what we do carry is the burden of oppressive state and federal regulations that stifle business opportunity and innovation. Have you ever wondered what a small business has to go through to bring you the products you need?"
"Ah, no . . . I was just wondering if you have replacement burners."

You’re probably starting to see the problem. In a place where it can take 30 minutes to “grab a quart of milk” because of the visiting involved, we probably don’t want to take another bite out of our time allotment by turning something as simple as getting a price into a quasi legal proceeding:

"How much is it?"
"Ah, how much - there's the heart of the matter. I'd love to be able to say it's $24.95 but, as I'm sure you're aware, there are many factors involved, some of which are beyond our control in terms of . . ."

Then again, there could be quite an upside to this – we'd never argue or disagree because we'd never have a clue what anyone actually thought. And, this being the Methow, we’d probably see the opportunity and run with the change, creating talking points forums and events, spawning a micro-industry of talking point consultants, setting up a non-profit to aid the talking point challenged. We could even attract a political convention because it would be the friendliest place in the country for focus-grouped candidates.

Still, you have to ask - if communicating this way has the potential to bring our bustling towns to a language fog halt, why do we vote for national representatives who consider using  “yes” and “no” to be like self-inflicted gunshot wounds?

Alas, I have not the answer (even with Google in my pocket). But I do have solace - our local candidates. Well, most of them. Not only will they embrace yes and no, they’ll bump it to the next level of verbal eye contact, yep and nope. At least that’s how it seems to me, and once I cling to a comforting fantasy I don’t let go easily. So, no matter who you like for commissioner, let’s hear it for them speaking from the hip (and sometimes past the foot in their mouth).

Okay. I have time for one more question.
Thank you - great question.
To be honest, I haven’t really thought about what’s cuter, lambs or calves, but I can see how that would be important to the hard-working farm families that will benefit from my plan for creating jobs, cutting the deficit, strenghtening our military, insuring health care, reducing regulation, protecting the environment, protecting gun rights, making government accountable, caring for the needy, ending homelessness, reducing gas prices, attending to the needs of spinners and weavers . . .


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Oh Curtis, you're always so straight forward!!

Denny O'Callaghan