New Talking Points
It’s not every day that you get a bipartisan bang-up line-up of President Clinton, President Bush, Madeleine Albright, Tom Ridge and Bill Gates in the same room. If you’re Liz Schrayer and the team from USGLC, however, it is within the realm of possibility. These were the names tonight during USGLC’s annual tribute dinner. The line-up was a power-punch of big names who care about international issues and carry major sway. More interesting to me than the speakers was a perceptible shift in the general themes and tone of the messages.
The smart people in the room, and almost everyone else, realizes that we are facing a completely new landscape when it comes to international engagement. New faces in Congress, a new urgency about value-for-money and an increasing suspicion of anything that appears to take resources outside of U.S. borders, is on the chopping block. That’s why it was good to see new talking points emerge from the podium at the USGLC dinner.
Madeleine Albright and Tom Ridge agreed that there was a need for “noise” in telling the story of foreign assistance and international engagement. They made it clear that, whether “R” or “D,” the community of people who care about foreign affairs and who want foreign engagement need to be using their voices. Their comments reminded me that good storytelling and smart communications over the next 6 months will help ensure that sure rash and emotional budget cuts don’t come back to bite the U.S. in the form of deeper poverty, increased instability, and deflated goodwill with our allies and our perception abroad.
I was glad to hear Bill Gates put math behind the messages, and help the entire room think about the logic that supports foreign assistance. His remarks are worth a read. He underlined what we all know – Americans overestimate and undervalue foreign assistance. Many think we are throwing money around the world when in reality it is a tiny portion of the U.S. taxpayer dollar. And it’s worth it. Once Americans hear what this money goes to fund, they immediately identify it as valuable. More later on polling that proves that Americans want foreign assistance levels to remain strong in a future post…
Like any of these events, where anti-poverty people get together to talk about world issues in deluxe locations, it can feel a bit ironic. But tonight’s event brought the level of emotion and urgency up a notch. From conversations I had with everyone from a former cabinet secretary to some PR buddies to a new Senator (welcome to Washington, Senator Mike Lee!) , it is clear that the work started the minute the speeches were over. I think everybody in the ballroom knew what was coming – and crafting a new set of talking points starts today.