Tuesday, November 9, 2010

More on the Liberal Obsession with Messaging

I’ve commented before about how conservatives and liberals use different vocabularies to talk about elections. For conservatives, winning elections is a matter of persuading voters that Republican candidates share their values and are worthy of their trust. For liberals, it’s a matter of pushing the right psychological buttons. Ask a conservative why the Republicans took the House and you’re likely to get an answer about how Republican candidates regained the trust of a predominantly center-right electorate by convincing enough of it that they're genuinely committed to promoting the right values. Ask a liberal the same question and you’re likely to get an earful about inept Democratic, and unscrupulous Republican, messaging.

No one exemplifies the liberal standpoint on electioneering better than messaging guru George Lakoff. Here’s his diagnosis of what went wrong for Democrats in last week’s election:
“[D]emographers report that the big swing in this election was among ‘independents.’ What are called "independents" are actually bi-conceptuals -- people who have both conservative and progressive conceptual systems in their brains, each inhibiting the other and usually applying to different issues. When such voters hear messages from one side but not the other, that side's moral system becomes active and is made stronger. That happened all over the country in this election. . . .

"[V]oters vote on the basis of their morality and their sense of self, which is a reflection of their moral values. In this election, conservatives reached the bi-conceptuals over the past year and a half preaching their morality (e.g. freedom -- government takeover; life -- death panels). The Obama administration only countered with policy, which goes in one ear and out the other. No moral leadership via messaging.

"What is being missed is the enormous effect of this massive communications failure by the Democrats.”
Let me see if I got this straight. Independents are “bi-conceptuals” with enough brain circuitry to process conservative and liberal moral messages. But while the Republicans activated conservative-friendly circuits with campaign pitches that engaged the voter’s “morality and sense of self,” Democrats didn’t supply the moral juice to activate liberal-friendly circuits. If Democratic candidates had only listened to him, Lakoff implies, the results would have been different.

I’ll leave to you to figure out whether this "scientific" vocabulary adds anything to the trite observation that Democrats didn’t make much of a case for what they’ve done over the last two years. I’m more interested in the self-reflexive application of Lakoff's words: what message is he sending to his fellow citizens when he reduces their considered political preferences to reflexive responses to the stimuli transmitted by political messengers?

I think “contempt” pretty well covers it.

2 comments:

Mean Voter said...

What a condescending thing Lakoff had to say. Regardless of your stripes, you have to read this as saying that values really mean nothing. It's all messaging. Ad agencies must worship this guy.

Osama Von McIntyre said...

Liberals are obsessed with messaging because they regularly get "out-messaged" by conservatives.

And I don't merely mean that conservative messages are more appealing than liberal ones: voters misunderstand the policies of both the Democrats and the Republicans, but in a way that advantages Republicans, and damages Democratic prospects.

Conservatives have grasped the rubric of "freedom." Well, what is freedom, in the Republican lexicon? Succinctly stated, subordination of individual civil and political rights to economic interests. That liberals, those that, over the past forty years, done more to expand civil rights (including virtual elimination of government-sanctioned racial and religious preferences) cannot (or do not) grasp the mantle of "freedom," is--without doubt--a giant problem of messaging.

That American political discourse lumps liberalism, socialism, communism and Stalinism into one big binary category is a messaging problem. That is a messaging problem.

That a health insurance regulation bill becomes conflated with a socialist takeover of a sixth of the economy is a messaging problem.

In point of fact, liberal ideology is widely misrepresented, and liberal policies are misconstrued, both as to intention and effect.

Poll after poll over the last twenty years has affirmed the notion that Americans--to the degree to which they are ideological--identify themselves as conservatives, but believe in policy positions that are largely liberal.

I believe that liberals are as much to blame for this as conservatives: these are the results at least as much of liberal haplessness as conservative perfidy. But, nevertheless, liberals are not communicating well with the American public.