Winning public arguments isn’t nearly as hard as you might think, though the Republicans don’t seem to get it. The Republicans make the mistake of treating politics like an intellectual discussion. It’s not. It’s a “yo mama so fat” contest on steroids. Statistics, detailed plans, subtle points of logic... all meaningless. The zinger, the soundbite and the “that sounds great” moment are the keys to victory.
A lot of people on our side don’t get this. They actually think the public will take the time to think through arguments, to consider each side carefully, to examine the long term effects, to do their own research to verify facts, and then to come to a reasoned conclusion. Good grief. Let’s be honest. The public are morons. They don’t know anything. They don’t process. They don’t stop and think. AND THEY DON’T CARE. They want an easy answer.
So what does this mean? It means that we need to learn to present our arguments in much simpler and punchier ways, ways the public can digest immediately and which will tell them how our plan will directly make their lives better.
It also means we don’t need to be as “truthful” as Republicans like to be. There is no reason to go into details on policies or even to explain what we really want. You just need to find the right promise to sell it. Obama never said how he was going to reform healthcare, he just said, “I’m going to fix it. . . I’m going to make sure you have it. . . I’m going to make sure it can’t be taken away.” That was his sales pitch and it worked. It blew away the Republican response of “we’ll remove barriers between the states to allow insurance carriers to compete.” Where in that laughable sales pitch does it ever tell a normal American how this will help them? Obama’s does: YOU will have healthcare. The Republican response doesn’t: INSURANCE COMPANIES will get more business. See the problem? Obama’s plan is easy to understand and has a direct benefit to anyone listening, the Republican plan requires the listener to work out all the missing steps and even then doesn’t actually promise them any guaranteed change. Obama wins.
In fact, the only thing which stopped Obama from winning this debate, believe it or not, was that Sarah Palin found a better zinger to take Obama’s sales pitch apart: “Death panels.” Notice how the argument is simple, memorable, meaningful, and personalized: Obama’s plan will let you die when you get really sick.
And the key word there are meaningful and personal. In other words, AVERAGE people (not bubble conservatives) could understand this, believe it and think it’s important TO THEM. This is why calling Obama a socialist is stupid. For one thing, no one outside the bubble believes it because he doesn’t talk like it and his policies aren’t obviously socialist. For another, it’s not meaningful because no average voter knows what his being a socialist will mean to them and they can’t see how that would change their lives in the least.
Anyway, this is the first lesson: drop the lectures and learn to speak in soundbites that are simple, easy to understand and which are meaningful to the average voter personally. And the big key is to come up with sales pitches that tell people how our policies will directly affect their lives. . . not some vague assurance that it will all work itself out if we do nothing.
Now, here’s the second lesson for the day. If you want to get voters to like you, you need to present an image that they associate with. Right now, the Republican Party likes to project an image from Norman Rockwell. . . a white, nuclear family from the 1950s with a stay at home mom, two smiling kids and a patriotic dad. That’s not how Americans like to see themselves, folks. Americans idolize the outsider. . . the underdog. . . the rebel. . . the free spirit. . . the risk taker. . . the rule breaker. So if you want voters to like you, you need to learn to frame your policies as supporting the underdog, the outsider, the rebel. Avoid sounding stuffy or rigid or status quo.
Now our final lesson. Americans love freedom. If you want to win, you ALWAYS need to frame your argument in terms of enhancing personal freedom. Now you and I know that in our world, you can’t give one person “freedom” without taking it from another. But that’s not the point. The point is that the public will side with the person who can best frame their argument as a matter of freedom. That’s why gay marriage and marijuana laws are inevitable, because they’ve been presented as a matter of personal freedom with no rebuttal about anyone losing their freedom. Americans will always opt for more freedom. . . that needs to be the focal point of any sales pitch.
To sum this up, the point is simple. Before we even get into policy, we need to change the way conservatives deliver their message. Stop trying to win the public with debating skills and instead learn the art of the soundbite and the quip. Sell policies to people as enhancing freedom and make sure they know how this will change their lives. And remember that to be seen as something people want to join, you need to present an image that makes them want to join.