The Government Shutdown PR Score Doesn't Matter – Just End The Game

1_photoWho’s “winning” the Government Shutdown? Who cares?

Of course the members of Congress and their minions do, tracking the media coverage by the hour to see whose message is “breaking through.” Of course, the polling companies do, as they collect a bundle conducting surveys to please their clients of one party or the other. You can put the political campaign fundraisers in the same category. And the zealots glued to one cable “news” channel or the other probably care, as they view stalemate as a spectator sport.

But for the rest of us, the vast majority of the public, we don’t care about who “wins” and who “loses.” We just want to get the government back operating and want Congress to get to work to get over its dysfunction and solve problems they are constitutionally charged with working with the Executive Branch to fix (For starters, maybe the U.S. government’s debt? – your share alone is about $53,000).

No matter what the political PR types are telling those they are paid to consult, the public has a very low tolerance for disputes in which, essentially, everybody loses. In our careers, we have seen more than a few. A classic example is an airline pilots’ strike we worked on years ago. Before the strike, messages dueled and the public took sides. But when the strike shut down the airline for more than two weeks and customers missed weddings, births, funerals, vacations and business trips, the public couldn’t have cared less who “won.” They just wanted the airline back flying and nothing less that was acceptable.

Years later, we worked with a medical school in a public battle against a hospital system. After battling back-and-forth for months in the media, the community no longer could tolerate the dispute, didn’t care who was right and longed for a resolution. Our advice, for months, was for our client to be the first to suggest mediation, something the public understands as an example of above-board leadership and a step toward a settlement.

The classic example of this phenomenon was the first “millionaires versus billionaires” dispute – the Major League Baseball strike of 1994. Ask any fan now who remembers that and they’ll tell you the same thing – they didn’t care and don’t remember what the two sides were even fighting about. They just wanted to get it resolved and see them play ball.

This morning on NBC’s Meet The Press, fill-in host Savannah Guthrie asked Senator Rand Paul “Do all of you have any idea how totally disgusted American people are with these antics?” He gave a long politician answer that I’ll take as a “no.”

There’s only one way to end this PR crisis for both parties. End the crisis.