As most of us in the political world know, Martin Sheen played Josiah Bartlet, the President of the United States on the television series "The West Wing".
In season four, President Bartlet ran for re-election. That election was decided by Bartlet making a simple request of his opponent during their debate.
For those of you not “West Wing” viewers, let me set the scene. In the midst of the big debate, President Bartlet's opponent, Governor Robert Ritchie, played by James Brolin, was asked about his tax policy, to which he responded: "We need to cut taxes for one reason - the American people know how to spend their money better than the federal government does."
"President Bartlett's response was the election’s tipping point: He asked him for his "next ten words”.
"That's the ten word answer my staff's been looking for two weeks. There it is. Ten-word answers can kill you in political campaigns. They're the tip of the sword. Here's my question: What are the next ten words of your answer? Your taxes are too high? So are mine. Give me the next ten words. How are we going to do it? Give me ten after that, I'll drop out of the race right now…” (Gohere for more)
Over time, politicians have perfected ten word answers, sound bites perfect for the nightly television newscast or a newspaper headline. Overused and often misunderstood, I think presidential politics needs to re-examine the use of the ten word answer.