During the battle over healthcare legislation, the Left frequently invoked touching personal stories and anecdotes to illustrate their points and bolster their positions. This is an effective tactic often overlooked by the Right.
Aside from the obvious benefits to messaging, utilizing these personal examples provides compelling motivation for action. This tactic can help move you from sound bites to rallies, from articles to donations, and awareness to votes.
By personifying a policy, you can provide an emotional hook and human connection that will motivate people to be more deeply connected to your issue.
Every cause needs a symbol. They provide a rallying point and unified theme that everyone can relate to. Everyone likes to feel like they are part of something larger than themselves. Symbols make that experience more tangible.
This is a useful tactic to explain particularly intricate policies. First hand accounts can show the importance and real-world impact of otherwise esoteric ideas.
In the never-ending fight for people’s time and attention, memorable personal stories keep particular issues and topics top of mind. When these stories are illustrated in emails and videos (and distributed properly) they have the potential to go viral.
Organizers on the Left often rely on personal stories, and then immediately invoke them as part of a call to action. Again, this creates an emotional stir, and then immediately provides an outlet to express that compassion, anger, or excitement.
When exposed to an overtly political message, most people literally or figuratively switch off. These stories capture and hold an audience’s attention because they are inherently about people, not politics.
As we set out under new leadership in the House and look ahead to the 2012 election, the Right must continue to assess the effectiveness of our message and how it connects with the everyday concerns of Americans. In order to continue the current momentum the Right must draw clear distinctions between their policies and those of the Left. More importantly, these stories help to keep focus on the real world, grassroots level where success or failure is ultimately judged.
After the election, I saw several Republicans discussing who should deliver the SOTU response speech.
No one should.
First, any speech is bound to suffer by comparison to a speech before a joint session of Congress, with the Supreme Court in attendance. Republicans tried to capture some of the same spirit by having Bob McDonnell speak before a small crowd of supporters in the Virginia House of Delegates chamber, but if you can’t match the pomp and grandeur of the president, try to avoid a direct comparison.
Not only is the venue working against you, but the president is a nationally-elected official; no member of the opposition can have the same stature. Appearing to try to match the president’s status just plays to his strengths.
And finally, a speech, to be delivered immediately after the president’s carefully-planned opening move, puts the responder at a disadvantage. Since the response speech is written without knowing exactly what the president is going to say, what is supposed to be a criticism of the president’s speech or agenda is relayed in vague terms, not pointed responses. A prepared speech can only talk past the president, appearing deaf to what the president just said in the marquee event.
This precious free airtime could be spent dismantling the president’s argument, then pivoting to counterattack and providing alternatives.
How can the opposition do this?
Take advantage of the fact that they have fewer restraints.
First, make it a table discussion with more than one responder. As a suggestion, include at least one governor to remind the audience that there are independent sources of authority, laboratories of policy that should retain their power to handle local problems (a big-city mayor could also do), and also include a legislator representing the opposition in Congress to directly address the president’s agenda on the federal level.
This also takes the pressure off of any one person to speak for the party, and signals that the opposition is having a frank conversation, not speaking press-release style through the great filter of lawyers and focus-group-tested language. Make good use of stars like Paul Ryan and Chris Christie who have shown they’re champs at off-the-cuff communication and aren’t afraid to take on big issues. Bobby Jindal would have been far better suited to this than talking into a camera solo.
Second, use resources the president doesn’t have. The president is limited by the tradition of giving his speech in the chamber of the House of Representatives, which only affords him a microphone, a teleprompter and an audience. Instead of trying to beat the president at his own game, use a modern-looking studio, where the responders can make use of supporting staff and visual aids like charts and video.
And this extra content should come from a well-coordinated rapid-response team who provide ammunition for the response.
- The model for responding to a speech in progress is liveblogging. Certain people, by some mix of expertise, encyclopedic memory and quick wit, have proven they can tear apart a carefully-crafted speech in real time. Identify these people—bloggers, political operatives, think-tankers—and (with their advance permission) borrow their best arguments and lines.
- A media team would be responsible for matching the president’s remarks to earlier video and quotes from the president, his advisers and top congressional allies that contradicted the president’s SOTU message. Anyone with a good memory and a well-ordered catalogue of video and/or transcripts can do this. What could be more damaging than showing that the speech just delivered contained flip-flops?
- To respond to specific policy proposals and claims, have a team of stat junkies, economists and others who can call up relevant charts and other visuals to help the responders on-screen.
This kind of rapid counter-offensive would be much more entertaining than the president’s exhausting, conventional address, giving viewers a good reason to stick around afterward. And it would be much more effective than current efforts like sending out fact-check emails and post-speech press releases, the contents of which are read by only a tiny minority of people who saw the speech.
Don’t play to the president’s strengths. Use your own, leveraging all the media available to you that the president doesn’t have.
Dan Benishek ran for U.S. Congress in Michigan’s 1st District.
Facing several career politicians, Dr. Wargotz set out to creatively distinguish himself from the field and increase his name identification. Our firm set out to create a unique concept that would distinguish the doctor from the crowded field. In conjunction with the filming and production of a television ad, our firm produced an infographic micro-site that would creatively display the tv ad, facilitate social sharing, and collect user contact information.
On September 14, this innovative and creative concept propelled Dr. Wargotz to victory by 8 points.