Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York, once said that “you campaign in poetry, you govern in prose.”
Listening to Bernie on the stump, he’s mostly prose. He outlines the issues clearly. He speaks to those issues forcefully. But it’s hard not to think that most of the time, Bernie is angry — and with good reason. Income inequality. Childhood poverty. Citizens United. The list of things to be angry about is pretty long.
But I often wonder if Bernie’s rhetorical style will help him or hurt him in the long run. Will his anger — and his monotone delivery — will they get Bernie where he wants to go?
And: Will Bernie’s apparent unwillingness to tell personal stories about himself and his parents and his past — the whole politics as personal narrative approach — can Bernie run a political campaign at the national level without publicly getting in touch with his feelings?
On the other hand: Is it possible that people are actually relieved that Bernie isn’t talking about himself? Maybe voters are tired to listening to candidates who sound as though they’ve gone through months of media training and coaching on how to talk, how to emote, how to share?
Put another way: Is Bernie violating certain rules about public speaking that are as immutable as the laws of gravity?
To find out, I consulted a professional — Arabella Macpherson, the founder of Resonate Communications.
As a coach for public and corporate clients, Arabella is a big believer in a system called the Process Communication Model (PCM). It’s the brainchild of Dr. Taibi Kahler, a clinical psychologist whose work has been celebrated by none other than former President (and master of faux public emoting) Bill Clinton.
Arabella lives and works in Sydney, Australia, so she had not heard of Bernie Sanders until I contacted her. And that’s a good thing because I wanted her to assess Bernie’s communication skills with fresh eyes.
So I asked Arabella to watch a YouTube video of Bernie talking to 20,000 people in Portland, Maine... and to get a sense of what Bernie is like on the stump. Then she joined me on Skype to discuss whether or not Bernie Sanders is — or isn’t — a great communicator.