To convince voters, conservatives need to learn that it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it

I spend ridiculous amounts of my time trying to convince my children that, while “Give me that!” and “May I have that, please”, mean the same thing, their chances of success are much greater with the second phrase.  I repeat ad nauseum that it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.  People respond not only to a statement’s core message, but to the packaging around that message.

Advertisers have always understand that packaging is as important as, if not more important than, the underlying message.  Will a specific car, beer, or aftershave really turn an insecure, badly dressed young man into a sex God?  Of course not.  But if you’re a car manufacturer, and you have the choice of buying advertising hours that say to the young man “This car drives well” or spending those same dollars to say “You will be a suave chick magnet if you drive this car,” which ad would you choose?  Advertisers know that sex sells.  Or if sex is usable, “sell the sizzle, not the steak.”

1956 Monarch car advertisement

Politics is also a two-tiered structure.  There’s the product, or ideology, and there’s the sales pitch to sell that ideology to the greatest number of people in hopes of garnering their votes.  Democrats have fully mastered the sales pitch.  Republicans haven’t.  Democrats say “Look at this picture of dead children or pathetic (and perhaps dead too) minorities.”  Republicans say “Look!  We have a chart.”  Honestly! The last time charts made a difference was in the 1992 election, when Ross Perot whipped out his little pieces of cardboard — and back then, all those charts did was to tip the election in a Democrat’s favor.

There’s certainly a lot of data to drive Republican charts.  Indeed, back in 2011, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), put together a clever little video comparing Perot’s federal debt and spending charts to the numbers Perot would use if he were making the same pitch today:

I liked the video. You probably did too. The problem, though, is that you and I are high information voters who respond to facts and analysis. Though it pains me to say this, we are not the norm. The vast majority of people are probably never going to be high information voters in any society, but there’s also no doubt that a Leftist-controlled education system has rendered Americans almost incapable of either appreciating or understanding hard data.

As the 2012 election proved, facts on the ground (joblessness, flabby economy, disastrous foreign policies) are just too deep for most voters. Properly manipulated, they find it more emotionally satisfying to stick it to a mean rich man who puts dogs on car roofs and wants all women to carry their rapist’s fetus.

In this non-intellectual universe, it’s almost irrelevant what a political party’s message is. What matters is whether the party can position itself as the good guy party, regardless of its ideology, while simultaneously positioning the opposing party as the bad guy party. The Democrats do this masterfully.

As an example, think about the administration’s recent decision to put women on the front lines: Conservatives responded to this announcement with talk of military missions, battle readiness, logistical problems, changing standards, etc. — all of which are sensible and appropriate responses to an administrative fiat that will, more probably than not, have a negative effect upon military missions, battle readiness, logistics, and standards.

Women in combat

Democrats bypassed all that “tech talk” and, instead, went in for the kill: Republicans hate women. Never mind the unspoken part of that sentence, which is that “Republicans hate women, because they won’t allow women to go into situations where they are extremely likely to be killed and raped.” If you speak the unspoken, you get a very clear idea of Cloud Cuckoo Land that Leftist’s inhabit. But never mind about the reality behind the ideology — the Left sells sex and sizzle.

No doubt because I am the quintessential word person (although I have no knack for clever quips and pitches), I’ve been harping on this issue for years. When it comes to the Democrats and Progressives, there’s a message to their madness: We, the Democrats/Progressives are good; they, the Republicans/conservatives, are bad. Everything flows from that.

Fortunately, given that my voice has no resonance in world outside of my blog, better thinkers than I am are making the same point. David Horowitz, who understands Leftist thinking from the inside out, urges Republicans to stop the anguished, self-involved, navel gazing and to begin the hard work of communicating to voters in language they understand. He argues, correctly, that the Left is fighting an epic battle, complete with villains and heroes, and we’re still whipping out our gosh-darned charts.

Horowitz’s article, though long, is worth reading in its entirety. I’ll just leave you with a few of his conclusions:

A Winning Strategy for Republicans

1. Put the aggressors on the defensive.

2. Put their victims — women, minorities, the poor and working Americans -­-­ in front of every argument and every policy in the same way they do.

3. Start the campaign now (because the Democrats already have).

The Weapons of Politics Are Hope and Fear

The weapons of political campaigns are images and sound bites designed to inspire the emotions of fear and hope. Obama won the presidency in 2008 on a campaign of hope; he won re-election in 2012 on a campaign of fear.

Hope works, but fear is a much stronger and more compelling emotion. In a political campaign, it is directed at one’s political opponent. Democrats exploit this emotion to the hilt; Republicans often seem too polite to even use it.

Please read the rest here.

Lee Habeeb and Mike Leven are also engaged in the work of using a prominent forum (National Review Online) to publish a series of articles aimed at shaping a coherent, and salable, political narrative for conservatives.  This week’s installment is “The Moral Case for Conservativism.”

As with Horowitz, Habeeb and Leven urge a level of public discourse that avoids charts and data, and that frames an epic battle in the same way that Progressives claim politics as an epic battle — except that, in this version, we’re the good guys:

If there is a single reason why conservatives continue to lose the battle of ideas, it’s because we don’t make the moral case for freedom and free markets. Our political class instead makes the economic case for our philosophy. Our smart guys are so impressed with their own intelligence, they think we can win the debate using numbers and data, charts and graphs, and political tactics and strategy.

It’s the Left’s secret advantage. They create the feeling that they care more about the average American because they make the moral case for their philosophy.

One of the advantages this confers on the Left is this: They get to play large ball, while we play a dour brand of small ball.

As with Horowitz’s article, I urge you to read the whole thing.

Those of us who spend our time following politics understand that we are engaged in a battle for America’s heart and soul.  On one side is an ideology that dreams of subordinating the individual to an all-powerful state.  History proves that this has never turned out well.  On the other side is an ideology that dreams of allowing each individual maximum freedom in a state that exerts minimum coercion but that, instead, provides a stable infrastructure and a level playing field.  Our own history demonstrates how successful this approach is.

Put another way, life is imitating Star Wars, with an epic battle taking place over America’s future.  We’d better call our agents and make sure that they let the audience know that we’re the rebels, not the Empire.  Once we’ve established that we’re the good guys, we — the ordinary people who aren’t paid political operatives — need to put on our thinking caps and figure out how we can contribute to winning this battle.

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  • Texan99

    Re women in combat:  I don’t think the message is “Republicans hate women” so much as “Republicans don’t really, in their hearts, believe that women are autonomous agents with honor and bravery, just like men.”  I wasn’t bothered that Democrats wanted to make women face bullets.  I was bothered that too many Republicans took it on themselves to keep the poor little women from facing danger whether they wanted to or not.
    I can be persuaded, perhaps, that allowing women in combat will undermine our battle-readiness.  It still will leave me with a sour taste in my mouth — and I’m nearly as sympathetic an audience as Republicans can find on the distaff side of the human race.  Sometimes you just can’t stomach putting people in power who can’t quit thinking of you as a helpless little dependent as lacking in courage or mental toughness as she is in upper-body strength.  Only an almost overpowering interest in small government and free markets keeps me from washing my hands of that brand of conservatism.

  • JKB

    We need a bit of humor.  Such as this:
    Suicide Bomber Kills Guard At American Embassy In Turkey; But Then Again, What Difference Does It Make?
     grabs your attention then juxtaposes the absurdity.  

  • ritely

    I wouldn’t say that your voice has no resonance outside of this blog, just in large swaths of this country. Personally, I have made peace with the fact that the America I knew and love no longer exists. Rather, it is the bits of America remaining, the conservative and the Christian parts of it, that I identify with. It doesn’t even bother me so much anymore that America is getting outcompeted in almost everything by other countries. In a way this country deserves it.  Americans voted for Obama’s America, and we are seeing the results of it. 
    Even if we win the white house, even if we take over congress, we will be doing it by a 51-49 margin. This country essentially is red and blue. The distinction is not demarcated by state lines, but by individual: by those of us who remember what made this nation great, and by those who wish to run social experiments in order to create a new human-centric utopia. Even with better messaging, we only push the margin to 53-47. Neither side is going to truly budge (what argument could a liberal make to convince you to become one) and I honestly don’t know how long our nation can stand like this. As Lincoln said, quoting the bible, a house divided against itself cannot stand. I fear for this country, but all I can do now is to pray for it. 

  • Danny Lemieux

    Sadly, it will take a major shock to the system to turn this country around again, ritely. The 9/11 attacks opened up many Liberal eyes (Bookworm included). Plus, I believe that there are much bigger shocks on the way.
    History is full of examples of countries that became degenerate (17th Century Britain, for example) only to rediscover their moral fiber. If it helps, I’ve noticed that a lot of younger people are waking up to the prodigious mess that we baby boomers have made in society and I detect the beginnings of a backlash.

  • Charles Martel

    Danny, it will have to be a pretty dramatic shock, delivered by a clear enemy, because right now were are low-information frogs wallowing in warm Obama bathwater. Even though The One has ratcheted up the heat considerably since taking office, the promise of consequence-free sex and never-ending unemployment bennies has distracted many from the rising temperature.
    My fear is that instead of some Chinese or Muslim-delivered atrocity there will be a Reichstag moment where a terrible event provides our thug government with a pretext for governance by fiat. I don’t think anybody on this board, after seeing the total amorality of the current administration, doubts for a second that it has not already played out several scenarios that would allow it to suspend the Constitution entirely and all at once, rather than piecemeal as it has been doing. 
    So two questions occur: 1. What would be a plausible terrible event the left could use to seize total power, and 2.) what would be plausible responses by the country’s remaining free, high-information people? 

  • JKB

    I am reading ‘The Revenge of Geography’ by Robert D. Kaplan.  Last night I was just reading about the rise of the mega cities in Eurasia and the movement of the world’s population away from the rural into the cities.  The changes brought on loss of connection and loneliness.  People in such conditions are wiling to give away a good bit of their freedom to belong.  The sentiment is not unlike this observation from the late 19th century:
    Freedom of speech and freedom of thought are catchpenny phrases. There is much of the former, but very little of the latter. Speech is generally the result of automatic thought rather than of ratiocination. Independent thought is of all mental processes the most difficult and the most rare; habit, tradition, and reverence for antiquity unite to forbid it, and these combined influences are strengthened by the law of heredity. The tendency to automatic action of the mind is still further promoted by the environment of modern life. The crowding of populations into cities, and the division and subdivision of labor in the factory and the shop, and even in the so-called learned professions, have a tendency to increase the dependence of the individual upon the mass of society. And this interdependence of the units of society renders them more and more imitative, and hence more and more automatic both mentally and physically.
    Now, that was just the relatively small cities of the 19th century.  Kaplan asserts that the new multi-million cities are actually essentially ungovernable and give rise to the many subgroups we see such as fundamental Islam.  Also, denizens feel very alone but find belonging through online, such as Twitter and Facebook.  We see this in those on the Left.  They cannot find solace in peaceful religions without thinking for themselves, which puts them outside the group.  So they embrace the sell without thought.
    This might also be informative.
    It is from a contemporary informal history of the 1920s.  The author unknowingly lays out the start of what we’ve been living with, well, since the 1920s.  The revolt of the highbrows.  Check out the elements they believe in between [3] and [4].

  • Ron19

    In trying to understand my wife, I’ve worked out two of her internal, automatic low information paradigms:

    Because I like him, he is right.
    Because I don’t like him, he is wrong.

    She doesn’t have to, and doesn’t, think any further about a situation.  She also, especially with me, can quickly switch whether she likes him (me) or not.

    I’ve managed to get my fingernails into a few openings in her wall-like barrier to discussion, but mostly I have no effect on her thinking.  Showing her that she is wrong about someone is usually impossible.  And therefore pointing out that she is mistaken about an issue is usually impossible.  She is not open to information or a different opinion on just about anything.

    Still, I love her anyway.

  • Charles Martel

    What Ron said. Nice to know I’m not alone.

    • Ron19

      Thank you, Hammer.
      Nice to know I’m not alone!

  • lee

    A long time ago, when I was an undergraduate, I learned some of the propaganda techniques of the anti-Israel crowd. It took a while, and as someone who has a strong sense of right and wrong, it was difficult to counter. (The General Union of Palestinian Students was EXTREMELY strong on our campus. And had a LOT of money.*) Anyhow, here were the basics I learned:

    They lied. Just made up stuff out of whole cloth. We were hobbled by a moral sense: We felt that it was the RIGHT thing to tell the truth. And besides, the truth would convince those who had not made up their minds about the mess in the Middle East.
    If they didn’t out-and-out lie, they would at least lie about any supporting statistics. No statistics at hand? Make up something that sounds good. We, on the other hand, felt the need to have the correct, right and TRUE statistics. And this was in the days when the internet was still just a DARPA thing. So, we’d stand there, stuttering, trying to remember the CORRECT and TRUE statistics.
    They took advantage of their own. Show any injured or dead people–who cares about their families or the personal privacy? It’s all about propaganda value! Israelis would never allow the release of really stomach-turning gory photos of victims. So the only victims seen in the propaganda war were the arabs, ergo, there were no Jewish victims.

    The Democrats are little better.
    * The general perception on campus was that the Jewish groups were better funded than GUPS, because, well, you know that ol’ anti-Semitic canard about Rich Jews?

  • Danny Lemieux

    Hammer writes, ” My fear is that instead of some Chinese or Muslim-delivered atrocity there will be a Reichstag moment where a terrible event provides our thug government with a pretext for governance by fiat.”
    First, it was the news that Obama maintained a Kill List, whereby he would approve who lived and who died on the drone schedules. People should have been creeped out then but the Leftwing, Democrat-mouthpiece media just covered up the story.
    The fact that we were now vaporizing our enemies (with a lot of collateral civilian damage, apparently) instead of making them uncomfortable at Club Guantanamo was no big deal either. Yawn twice and blame Bush.
    Now we are seeing evidence of the (new?) drone policy, whereby a single official can pronounce a life or death sentence on an American citizen and their family overseas without any judicial review whatsoever. It is a very short step from this to applying the same policy to any American citizen domestically. As far as the assault on the First Amendment, we now have Secretary of States condemning Americans to prison for making politically incorrect movies and using the force of law to sue and shut down international debt accreditation agencies (Standard & Poor, Fitch) for not doing the regime’s bidding in publishing false information.
    People should be scared out of their wits about these developments.
    Instead the media is guaranteed to throw up  a hand here or there in perfunctory protest and things should soon settle back under the surface of a society that continues its slouch into the Fascist State.

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