Clarity: the overlooked opportunity for presidential hopefuls

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Irene Etzkorn runs the simplification practice at strategic branding company Siegel+Gale. She helps clients clarify and simplify their every interaction with customers – a powerful competitive advantage. Now she is calling for the political candidates to do the same thing. In fact, she states that clarity is an opportunity overlooked by each of the candidates, and it could provide a tremendous political advantage to the candidate who embraces it first.

“Despite the fact that each of the Presidential candidates is desperately seeking a point of distinction, they are all missing one relevant and appealing promise: making the government truly more accessible to its citizens. A call for clarity is a powerful message that would resonate with voters.

“It is particularly interesting that Obama, who has made ‘change’ the refrain of his campaign, and McCain, who travels on the Straight Talk Express, have both overlooked this rallying point.”

A trail of paper from cradle to grave

“As citizens, over our lifetimes, we must interact with certain government agencies – notably the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration – and often need to interact with others, whether Medicare, Medicaid or even FEMA. These interactions often occur at times of stress, anxiety or infirmity, and are confusing and frustrating beyond belief. New York Congressman Steve Israel summed it up when he said, ‘Seniors believe they need a Nobel Prize in mathematics to understand this program’ when describing the complexity of the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan.

“Clarity, transparency and relevance are critical to engaging the hearts of the voters. Too often, citizens believe that federal agencies are hiding behind jargon, vicious cycles of paperwork and complicated procedures. This undermines citizens’ faith in government and sets up an unproductive ‘me versus them’ attitude. One of the candidates has an opportunity to distinguish himself or herself from the gobbledygook that pervades Washington by making Simplification a campaign plank.

“Ironically, the message of streamlining and clarifying government works well for any of the candidates:

Helping vulnerable audiences navigate the government maze would work well for Senator Clinton, who has consistently championed issues involving children and the elderly.  Senator Obama could easily champion the cause of plain English and easy access to information. He is bringing a diverse group of people into the voting process; he can hold them if they believe that government is protecting rather than intimidating them.  Similarly, Senator McCain’s belief in smaller government with fewer layers of bureaucracy would mesh well with a message of shortening the gap between the people and government services.

“Most of us really can’t evaluate the nuances of international monetary treaties; but we sure can understand the outrage of filling out reams of paperwork when our home has blown away in a hurricane.

“The candidates should also stop letting corporate America hide behind complexity at the expense of the consumer. The most educated among us do not understand our insurance policies, annuities, warranties, contracts, phone bills and credit card statements. Is there anyone who knows what their wireless phone contract means?

“Companies knowingly put consumers through hurdles and hide behind legalese. Will any of the candidates have the courage to call to task companies who adhere to the letter of the law while avoiding the spirit of the law? How many federally-mandated disclosures really inform us? Companies comply but do not explain. There is an opportunity for one of the candidates to champion the cause of the consumer’s right to know over the company’s right to hide.

It is time for one of the candidates to recognize a truly human value: simplicity.”

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