Close your eyes for a minute. Think back.
Remember September 2012? The conservatives expected a slam dunk.
Obama’s popularity was in the tank. Jobs and financials were beyond ugly. Foreign policy (the ashes in Benghazi weren’t even cold yet) was a joke.
The election was theirs to lose. Just survive the debate. The facts were on their side. They had proven skills for balancing budgets. Hindsight even tells us they correctly recognized Russia as a looming global threat.
But, for all the dry facts, and case studies they might bolster their arguments with, what were we left with when the dust had finally settled?
Big Bird. Binders full of women. And wheelchair Granny falling from a cliff. Defeat had been snatched from the jaws of victory.
What lesson have we learned from that event? Nothing. Nothing at all.
Conservatives are completely ignorant of the power of story. Or, to use the jargon, “Narrative”. What approach do conservatives take, generally?
Whip out a stack of facts, figures, arguments and rebuttals. Make it as logically tight as you can manage. Avoid any forays into emotion, except the politically safe emotions like love of country, or fear of consequences of the other guy leading.
Where does that inevitably leave us? Playing catch-up. Defense.
We wind up talking about dogs on cars, rather than embassies on fire. We grant them the upper hand, and wonder how it happened.
It’s the Power of Story.
You’d think the power-brokers in the Beltway would have clued into this by now, this power of story.
Yes, we want facts. Of course we do.
We SHOULD be suspicious of obviously pandering plays to emotion. That’s the other team’s bread and butter. We can be better than that.
If our message is as true as we say, of course we should be ready to use facts and evidence to back it up.
But we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that HOW we present those facts matters.
Story has a way of taking abstract ideas, and making them meaningful.
Nobody really knows what a trillion dollars looks like. It’s an abstraction.
But suppose you made a million dollars an hour, 24 hours a day, every day. It would take almost eleven and a half years to get one trillion dollars. (And the US national debt is already 18 times that amount.) How ya gonna pay for that? Simple: walk away from the debt and let our kids pay the tab.
Isn’t that precious? By demanding our “Obama-dollars”, we’re actually forging chains of slavery for our children.
The thing to worry about is not Granny’s going over a cliff — of course she won’t. But poor Tiny Tim IS going into indentured servitude.
(See how story works?)
All of these things are rooted in the facts that conservatives desperately wanted — needed — the public to grasp. A towering debt threatens the security of today, and freedom of tomorrow. The “benevolent” wealth-transferring government became a bigger Ponzi Scheme than anything Madoff ever cooked up.
We can whine and moan about the unfair odds. The Press and Hollywood are stacked with lackeys carrying water for the political left. You might quip that Theatre killed the first Republican President, and that relationship has only gotten worse over time.
But that would be forgetting the Great Communicator. (No, I don’t mean Obama.)
Ronald Reagan is held up as a hero, in part because he really “got” it. Not only did he thoroughly live and breathe most conservative American ideals. Not only did he articulate and defend them well. But he was able to weave those ideas into stories that conveyed complex ideas in a way that captured the imagination of the people.
Rush Limbaugh, for all the opposition he has faced, also understands this. Sure, his shows are filled with lots of punditry and ideas. But they are also filled with anecdotes and stories. They’re delivered with laughter and warmth that audiences — even hostile ones — can find disarming. People in his audience aren’t browbeaten with facts to force them into agreement. They’re won over.
Stories have been used for a long time to persuade even our ideas of virtue and vice.
Philosophers from Plato to Kierkegaard and Nietzsche to Sartre have used stories as vehicles, reducing complex concepts into narrative that is more easily understood — or more importantly — easily remembered.
In fact, no less a man than Jesus of Nazareth used Parables to completely turn the culture of his day on its head. A Prodigal son? A camel through a needle? Calling a Samaritan “good”? Really? A Samaritan?
Stories grip the imagination. They draw on emotion. They don’t deny fact, they just give it fresh focus and context.
The Good Samaritan was still “about” a factual point that Jesus wanted to make… about understanding that “neighbour” means something more than what his contemporaries thought. But it used color, emotion, action.
We can all understand the idea of a Prodigal son squandering his inheritance, and having to face the father he had wronged and slighted. But a real point about forgiveness was being made, with emotion driving it home.
One of the rules we’re taught from the get-go is that advertising will effectively persuade only if it will fully engage both the intellect and the emotion.
So, then conservative… We’re waiting.
Tell Us A Story.