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!