Branding the Conservative Story

Powerful communicators use stories (or parables if you’re religious) to motivate, to inform, and to teach values.  In schools, homes, and businesses, stories drive home an otherwise dry or hard-to-explain point.

Guess what? The power of a story is a political strategy as well.

We conservatives know this, yet seem to forget so easily – quite possibly because our arguments and beliefs are so darn logical that we mistakenly think no explanation is needed.   The two years that stand out as major conservative victories – 1980 and 1994 – were years in which conservatives seized the message and owned it.

I've introduced my kids to Reagan at a young age... the first two in 2000...

The first President I remember is Jimmy Carter. I remember watching his fireside chats.  I can’t tell you what he was talking about specifically (I was maybe 6 years old) but I remember feeling like he thought we were all losers.  Fortunately I projected the “loser” belief correctly on Carter and didn’t internalize it…

... and the youngest in June 2004, right after the funeral.

When Ronald Reagan came along, I was 8 years old and mesmerized.  The story he told – that it was Morning in America – gave me hope that my unemployed father could find a job and that everything would be okay. He did, and everything was okay. During his time as President, Reagan came to be known as The Great Communicator because he could employ the power of story, or positive messaging and branding, so masterfully.

Although it’s hard to picture now, at one time Newt Gingrich wasn’t an evil person bent on destroying America.  In 1994, while the media was attempting to portray him as such, Gingrich and the GOP successfully pitched the Contract With America during an economic downturn and even delivered the goods in spite of the super popular Democratic president.

What happened after that? There are a few different theories and reasons, but one of them is that we forgot branding and marketing.  We let ourselves be branded by the opposition.

Telling the story OUR way is what we must do again to win the hearts and minds of the “undecided” and give self-proclaimed liberals a reason to reconsider their beliefs.  I believe that many of my generation who call themselves liberal have just listened to MSM talking points about mean, greedy Republicans and haven’t really thought about it.  Because who can be against freedom of choice?  Freedom to choose your course in life, what job you have, what you’re going to put in your child’s school lunch…

When we brand our story correctly misconceptions are dispelled, and a bond or shared experience is created with the audience. Because we’ve built upon shared beliefs or experiences, listeners are more likely to think, “Hey, look at that – she’s a conservative and she lives in a house just like me.  She doesn’t have horns and isn’t eating babies.  No way!”

Because as Americans, we’re really not all that different.  Believe it or not, liberals want a secure, stable life and a better one for their children.  They just believe in a different way of getting it.  Our job is to show them the merits of the conservative way.

So how do we do that?  Frame it positively. What will be the result of electing a conservative Congress and President?

It’s not just saying the negative won’t happen.  You see, the brain does a funny thing.  When you say “Don’t crash the car” to your child, what sticks is “crash the car.”  Does that mean they’re going to crash the car? No.  But that is the part that sticks.  Similarly, by saying, “If we elect conservatives, terrorists won’t strike on American soil,” what they’re thinking about is terrorists striking on American soil.  Scary.  What about rebranding the “peace through strength” motto?

It’s also not about citing numbers and statistics.  They’re not warm and fuzzy.  Unless you’re a math nerd (and that’s okay) they don’t make you feel good.

What are the positive messages conservatives can send about America?

We believe in protecting your right to pursue happiness, to bear arms, to worship God (or not) as you see fit.  We believe in your right to parent your child as you see fit.  We believe that you are smart enough to take care of your own body and not be told that you have to exercise.  We believe that what you do with your life is your choice.  (But the consequences aren’t.) We believe that if the government gets out of the way, American innovation and hard work will get us through this recession.  We believe that what you do in your own bedroom between consenting adults is your own business.  We believe you shouldn’t be forced to pay for the education and healthcare of illegal immigrants.  We believe you shouldn’t be forced to purchase healthcare.  We believe you shouldn’t subsidize farmers or student loans.  We believe you can be smart and take care of yourself.  Et cetera, et cetera.

Yes, some of the above is simplistic – but outside of the blogosphere people don’t spend time reading a bunch of political talk.  Most people haven’t read the Constitution.  So if we as conservatives think about how we’re approaching discussions with our friends and neighbors, we can get them to think.  Don’t be scared by the first mainstream media talking point that gets hurled back at you.  Take a deep breath and see how it can be reframed.  Think about the beliefs you have in common and build upon it – show how the conservative view will benefit them.

Ideally the leaders of the movement would be doing a better job standing up and articulating these beliefs.  Since they’re not, and even when they are their comments are taken out of context and twisted, we will have to start at the grassroots level – in person, on our blogs, on our Facebook posts, and on Twitter.  We can do this!


Sunday Thought: Finding Peace

In my former life as a court reporter, I had the opportunity to be a part of 15 murder trials – some very high profile capitally tried and some not.  Some of the victims were total losers, the dregs of humanity who kinda deserved it, and it was easy to be emotionally detached during those trials.

It was hardest to sit there and do my job in the cases where people were murdered by someone they loved and trusted – the ultimate betrayal.  The names of those victims and the tortured faces of the ones they left behind will stay with me forever.  By the end of my time as a court reporter I noticed a huge difference between the families who were able to forgive and those who weren’t.

This morning, for my Sunday devotional, I’m thinking of the family who introduced me to the Prayer of St. Francis.  Their 17-year-old son had been murdered by four of his “friends” who lured him to an abandoned home, kept him there for days, got him so drunk he passed out, and then put a plastic bag over his head and zip tied it shut as he vomited.  After the mastermind of this disgusting plot had been found guilty of first degree murder, the parents had a chance to speak, and they taught me a lesson on forgiveness.  The mother was able to look at the Defendant and, with tears in her eyes, tell him she forgave him and loved him and prayed for him.  After she spoke, she hugged the Defendant’s mother, who had lost a son too, after all.

The victim’s father then spoke.  He told stories of his son’s gift for peacefulness and his love for everyone.  He closed with the words of his son’s favorite prayer, the Prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.


The words spoke to me so powerfully that I could barely take them down.   For the first time, I felt the Spirit in a courtroom… not the place where you would ordinarily find it.  None of us will ever forget that moment in time, when the peaceful spirit of this young man and the Spirit of the Lord entered and granted healing.

Full Disclosure in “Women’s Health”

One of the biggest stories of the week was the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to defund their grants to Planned Parenthood.  It was a polarizing decision and some people on both sides of the abortion debate took a little liberty with facts.  Though Komen’s decision centered on the fact that Planned Parenthood is under Congressional investigation, their funding of Planned Parenthood is ludicrous for an entirely different reason – why would you fund an organization whose practices likely cause the very thing you’re trying to prevent?

Abortion and birth control are legal, and Planned Parenthood has every right to offer both.  If they and their supporters really care about women’s health and reproductive rights, though, they are obligated to fully disclose all the ramifications of the procedures and medications they offer.

A dark side of the sexual revolution and women’s rights movement is the belief that we can engage in a free sexual lifestyle and “reproductive choice” as a fundamental human right.  That’s debatable, but what isn’t debatable is that there are consequences for every action.  Every time you have sex, you risk pregnancy.  If you use hormonal birth control to prevent this, or have an abortion to terminate a pregnancy, you increase your risk of breast cancer.  In the “It’s your body, do what you want” meme, consequences are not mentioned, and discovered only when it’s too late.


In 1986, government scientists wrote a letter to the British journal Lancet and acknowledged that abortion is a cause of breast cancer.  They wrote, “Induced abortion before first term pregnancy increases the risk of breast cancer.”  (Lancet, 2/22/86, p. 436)

As of 2006, eight medical organizations recognize that abortion raises a woman’s risk for breast cancer, independently of the risk of delaying the birth of a first child (a secondary effect that all experts already acknowledge).  An additional medical organization, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, issued a statement in 2003 calling on doctors to inform patients about a “highly plausible” relationship between abortion and breast cancer.  General counsel for that medical group wrote an article for its journal warning doctors that three women (two Americans, one Australian) successfully sued their abortion providers for neglecting to disclose the risks of breast cancer and emotional harm, although none of the women had developed the disease. (

Another after-effect left out when speaking about abortion is the emotional effect on the father.  Men are also emotionally affected by the loss of their child.  John Cooper, lead singer of the band Skillet, authored the song “Lucy,” detailing one man’s turmoil after his girlfriend had an abortion.  He says of the meaning behind the song:

“..this week is the very first time that I’ve ever told what this song is about, because, uh, it’s very special to me, but I feel like it’s time to talk about it a little bit, so.. listen up while I tell you a story about a young girl and a young guy who found themselves in a hard situation. They didn’t know what to do when they found out that she was pregnant; they were young, they didn’t have any money, they were scared, they didn’t want to tell anybody, they didn’t know what to do, and the only option that they could see was to terminate the pregnancy. So that’s what they decided to do… they went to a clinic, they had the procedure done, and at first they felt relieved that all their problems had gone away. But then something happened that they did not expect… and that’s over the next few weeks, which turned into a few months, they began to feel an intense sadness… and a pain and an agony and a guilt that wouldn’t go away. They didn’t know what to do, so they finally went to see a counselor; they said look — tell us what to do, we just don’t know, and the counselor made a suggestion. The counselor said here’s what you need to do — stop acting like you had a procedure, and act like you had a death in the family. So the couple went home and they made three decisions; number one, they decided to have a funeral service for the baby; number two, they bought a tiny little headstone; and they last decision to make was what to name the baby. After a couple weeks they finally decided they would call her… Lucy.”


Other family members can be affected as well.  A friend of mine confided in me the loss that she felt upon learning that her sister had been aborted.  Julie* was 17 when her mother had an abortion after being told that the medications she was taking could harm the baby.   Julie’s mother thought she would be okay because, after all, it was just a fetus, right?  By the time the baby’s due date rolled around, both Julie and her mother were distraught.  Every February Julie thinks about the sister – the sister she always wanted – who would be only a few years older than her oldest child, and all the fun times they would have had together.  It’s like there’s an empty chair at the table, a hole in the heart that can’t be filled.

I fully support funding a true women’s health organization that will counsel women about ALL of the risks and side effects of an abortion or hormonal birth control.  But for a breast cancer research and prevention charity to fund an organization that is the largest provider of abortions defies logic.

*Name changed