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Professional linguist, Dr. George Lakoff, says, "All politics is moral." As he explained to AlterNet's Joshua Holland in a recent interview about his new book with co-author Elisabeth Wehling, "The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic":

All politics is moral at the base. Any political leader who gives you some sort of prescription of what to do does it because he says it’s right, not because he says it’s wrong or doesn’t matter. Everybody thinks it’s right.
But all this talk of morals can be confusing and frustrating. We tend to think of morals as gauges of "goodness," as much as "correctness." If a person is "moral" they are "good"; if they are immoral, they are "bad." And if someone has more morals than another, they're thought to be a "better person" than one with fewer morals.

So when scientists such as Dr. Lakoff, Dr. Jonathan Haidt, or Dr. Drew Westen try to teach us about the morality of politics, and describe Conservative morality as broader, more complex, or containing more elements than Progressive morality, we bristle. "Conservatives are not more moral than Progressives!" we shout. And we have a tendency to shut out what we don't believe (or don't want to believe), and instead of learning from it, we start arguing against it. Oops!

We at the Winning Words Project agree completely with the experts on this issue, but we'd like to put it in a new frame for you:

All politics is emotional.

Think about it for a moment; why are you interested in politics? Because you care. You care about the world around you; you care about your neighborhood, your city, your state, your country; you care about the environment, our natural resources, clean air and water; you care about the economy and the effects of policy on our fiscal health as families and as a nation. And you feel that certain solutions are more feasible than others, that some approaches are better than others.

Progressives and Democrats believe we have "the facts on our side," and so we spend a lot of time arguing those facts. Alot.In detail.

But Conservatives and Republicans also believe they have the facts on their side, too (even though we might disagree). The difference is, they don't talk about those facts—they wax poetic in sweeping prose about things like freedom and tyranny. And when they do, they draw people into the emotions of what they're selling. And let's be honest, that's exactly what then-candidate Obama did in 2008, too!

We talk a lot about how we can "combat" the Right Wing "messaging machine," and debunk their rhetoric. We wonder why facts don't seem to matter and become angry that we can't get through to people they way the Right Wing can. But it's really simple: We need to do a better job of getting people (primarily those persuadable voters in the middle) to care about the same things we care about, in the same way we care about them.

And that's an easier task than it might seem, because most people do care about the same things we do!

So how do we get them to care in the same way we care? By talking about the issues that are facing us in a completely different way: Speak to the heart and not the brain. We don't fall in love with someone because they look good on paper, even though they do look good on paper. Facts don't matter to our hearts, only to our heads; and most of us lead with our hearts in nearly all aspects of our lives, only contemplating the "details" after we've opened our hearts to considering them!

Here's how I can prove this to you: Think of the popular reality television shows, "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette." The producers find a group of single people who all meet the criteria of the contestant who will be choosing among them ... on paper. They're pretty much all perfect fits, factually speaking. But the bachelor or bachelorette doesn't just pick one at random and say, "That's him! or "That's her!" They let their hearts guide them to the one who makes them feel the best when they're with them.

Does that mean we shouldn't look for substance in our politicians? Perish the thought! That's paramount. But the candidate with the most substance in the Republican primaries—the one who actually was the perfect candidate for that party with the political background and knowhow along with deeply Conservative bona fides—was Jon Huntsman ... and Republicans (and I contend, the media) didn't fall in love with him. He didn't make them feel excited about his candidacy, so he didn't come anywhere near becoming the nominee. Jon Huntsman is the perfect Republican presidential candidate ... on paper.

Well the policies with the most substance on the Progressive side of the political argument aren't making America fall in love with them right now, either. And the only way we can ever hope to have persuadable voters consider the details of our policies is if we get them to fall in love with the ideas behind them.

How do we do that?  Dr Drew Westen has addressed this in his book The Political Brain — The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation:

“…The most powerful campaign advertisements, the most effective speeches, and the most effective moments in debates all combine emotion and cognition. But they do so in a very particular way, and in a very particular sequence. Usually they lead with something emotionally compelling — a moral issue facing the country, the personal history of the candidate, a story about a person the candidate has met on the campaign trail, an injustice that cries out to be rectified.”

We can be more successful in our messaging by recognizing that political decisions come out of values and emotions more than facts and policies; by recognizing, as Dr Westen stresses, “that elections are won in the marketplace of emotions.” And by “…recognizing the difference between conscious and unconscious sentiment, appealing to voter’s better angels…”

Often this can best happen with stories—compelling narratives which speak to both our thoughts and our emotions, which are in Dr Westen’s words “emotionally intelligent.”

For instance, we stop talking about man-made global warming and start talking about family farmers losing their crops, families losing their homes to intense wildfires, and severe tornadoes. Most people don't know enough about the ozone layer to "care" one way or another about it; but they care deeply about the tragedies their fellow Americans suffer in these horrific acts of nature. Though it would be better if nonbelievers understood the science so that we could bring them to that “Aha!” moment, in reality, we don’t actually need to insist they accept that our planet is warming because of man-made conditions in order to convince them something needs to be done about it. Cancer is not man-made, yet no one would argue against coming up with ways to treat it or cure it.

We stop talking about the politics and economics of the Patient Protection Act, and begin relating stories about those who need its protections, as Wendell Potter is doing in his new Twitter series on Why Health Care Reform Is Necessary:

And we stop talking about taxes and start talking about patriotism and country and working together as one nation, reminding people that just because you and I might have made our way through the morass relatively unscathed, most of our fellow Americans have not. And we need to step up and fight for them. They matter. We all matter, not just those at the top. Invite our tea party friends and family to join us in standing together and fighting for each other and not against each other, because when we do that we all win as a people. All of us, shoulder to shoulder, holding inanimate entities—corporations—to standards that don’t do damage to one segment of us for the sole benefit of another.

From our suggestion onhow President Obama can win back the hearts of businesses:

When we look at a map and see the familiar outline of our country, we recognize ourselves as one nation and feel proud. In a few months we'll see newspapers slicing and dicing that map of our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them. We want businesses to succeed in blue states, and we protect workers in the red states.

There's not a workers' America and a business America. We are the United States of America, where workers and business owners alike can reap the rewards of their investments in the prosperity of our great nation.

We celebrate together the achievements of great American heroes: gold medal winners and brave explorers; those who fight fires and those who fight to protect our freedoms.

So let us also celebrate together those who make our country great every day. Innovators who bring us new technology, entrepreneurs who build businesses from the ground up, and workers whose resolve and energy keep our economy moving 24/7, 365 days a year.

America is at its greatest when all of us are at our strongest. United we stand, divided we fall.

Politics is emotional. Let’s make people feel that swell of excitement they felt in 2008. Here’s a reminder:

One Voice Can Change a Room


Be that voice.

Now learn the Five Words And Phrases Democrats Should Never Use Again »

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (15+ / 0-)

    Stop the party of Gut & Spend policies that gut our Earned Benefits programs like Social Security and Medicare and spends on tax breaks for the wealthy elite.

    by jillwklausen on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 07:00:09 AM PDT

  •  jill - I love your project (0+ / 0-)

    I think this is an area where the Dems need a lot of improvement and I am pleased to see the effort by you and others.

    Focusing on two phrases near the end of your suggestion:  

    "Innovators who bring us new technology, entrepreneurs who build businesses from the ground up"

    At the moment the Dems seem to be focused on the "you didn't do it alone" theme which for the life of me I can't understand why anyone thinks that is a positive message. It certainly isn't playing well with innovators and entrepreneurs.

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 07:48:53 AM PDT

    •  Sometimes you have to re-frame though, and it (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Tonedevil

      can take awhile. Our infrastructure is crumbling thanks to the smaller government frame. People need to remember the contributions that big government has made.

      That said, Elizabeth Warren is doing a better job of talking about this than President Obama, IMO.

      Poverty = politics.

      by Renee on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 09:52:39 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Indeed she is! Obama has lost his mojo. :( ~ Jill (0+ / 0-)

        Stop the party of Gut & Spend policies that gut our Earned Benefits programs like Social Security and Medicare and spends on tax breaks for the wealthy elite.

        by jillwklausen on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 09:59:07 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Renee - about Elizabeth Warren (0+ / 0-)

        Who I think is a great candidate. However, I have found her comments on the "you didn't do it alone" to be troubling, particularly for hi-tech Massachusetts. I live, and work, in Silicon Valley and the "you didn't to it alone" theme has the innovators and entrepreneurs here steaming but it doesn't matter because the President and our Dem Senator are very safe. I am still wondering what the upside is in this entire approach?  How does that motivate innovators and entrepreneurs? I saw the head of the US Census on CSPAN last week. All the job growth is coming from new small companies, those started by innovators and entrepreneurs. Big mature companies are still shedding jobs and small mature companies are standing pat. It's only small, new companies that are driving job growth. Dems should be encouraging startups.

        "let's talk about that"

        by VClib on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 12:27:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  They're attempting (badly) to capitalize on the (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Renee

          "populist" uprising of Occupy without directly aligning themselves with them because the group itself has become toxic.

          They're attempting to combat the absurd right wing notion that the wealthy need to keep even more of the corporate profits all to themselves and not share it more respectfully with the workers whose labor helped generate it, by reminding the wealthy that they haven't "earned" that money by themselves.

          And they're right.

          But they're saying it all wrong.

          We wrote a speech for the president that would clear all this up.

          Obama Has A Chance To Win Over American Businesses With A Speech Like This

          If only we could get him to actually use it. ;)

          Stop the party of Gut & Spend policies that gut our Earned Benefits programs like Social Security and Medicare and spends on tax breaks for the wealthy elite.

          by jillwklausen on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 01:31:36 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Do you have a path for his people to (0+ / 0-)

            see it?

             

            Poverty = politics.

            by Renee on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 02:01:33 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Jill - thanks for the comment and link (0+ / 0-)

            I like the speech.

            There are three distinct business groups:

            1. Fortune 2000 corporate executives.

            2. Owners of mature, successful small businesses

            3. Innovators and entrepreneurs who are forming and growing startups.

            The Dems currently don't do well with any of the three. The "you didn't do it alone" comes across like a slap at group #3, which isn't the audience that Elizabeth and the President are trying to reach with their message. Their message is focused primarily on group #2 and maybe partially #1, but I am not sure it makes any sense for any of the three.    

            "let's talk about that"

            by VClib on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 02:06:17 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Huh. I'm wondering how old you are. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Tonedevil

          I'm 48 and I do not hear what you and your co-workers hear. I hear a needed reminder that entrepreneurs need an infrastructure within which they can build a successful business.

          I don't hear dems discouraging start-ups either.

          Poverty = politics.

          by Renee on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 02:05:42 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Renee - I am over 65 (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Renee

            But still very active as an entrepreneur land mentor and investor helping innovators. It's all I have done for more than twenty five years. In the heart of Silicon Valley there is a recognition of just how much startups drive the growth of our local economy. When your startups rapidly grow into a Facebook, or Google, who now employ tens of thousands of people you see what an impact they can have. No one needs to remind entrepreneurs the value of what is around them by slapping their face. How is that a positive message?

            "let's talk about that"

            by VClib on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 02:12:33 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  This is an interesting discussion to me. So you (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Tonedevil

              say entrepreneurs themselves are getting emotionally involved in this?

              I mean… yes, of course start-ups have a huge effect on local economy. But I really don't see what is being said as against start ups. I really don't. So I'm kind of mystified here. I don't see why people wouldn't just go- yeah duh- and figure he's talking to low information voters.

              My dad is an entrepreneur, and I am interested in that world (especially social entrepreneurship) , so it isn't that I'm hostile to it.

              I mean, as I say, I think Elizabeth Edwards does this message better. But I don't see her as slapping the entrepreneur's faces. I see it as walking low information "conservative" voters back from the assumption that you can be a self made man without any societal support.

              Poverty = politics.

              by Renee on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 02:34:54 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  As I noted it doesn't matter here in Calif. (0+ / 0-)

                but I wonder how people are reacting in tech oriented Mass? Based on my conversations with people here, which is a small sample, entrepreneurs feel that the same infrastructure (in the broadest terms) is available to everyone but that it takes someone special to actually start and successfully grow a startup. In their view the roads and bridges and the rest of the infrastructure would be exactly the same regardless of whether they were earning a good salary working 50 hours a week for Intel or Cisco or 100 hours a week, for no current salary, working on their technology and hunting for investors. In their view the risks they are taking should be praised, not demeaned.  Even for the small fraction who find investors and start to build a business it can be  three to five years before they see any significant financial return on their investment of time and their own capital. Personally I found the original Elizabeth Warren speech about "you didn't build that alone" troubling. When the President added to it things like it wasn't the hard work, or being smart, I felt attacked.

                Some have said that the "you didn't build it alone" is a theme created by wordsmith George Lakoff, I don't know. Should Fortune 2000 executives being paying higher taxes, sure, they certainly aren't creating new jobs. Should the successful, mature, shall business owners pay higher taxes, sure. According to the US Census Bureau they aren't creating new jobs. The attack seems misguided, focusing on the only real job creators according to the Census Bureau, most all of whom aren't receiving high salaries and haven't cashed in any equity yet.

                "let's talk about that"

                by VClib on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 04:20:27 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  I think the reason they take the infrastructure (0+ / 0-)

                  for granted (which is what it sounds to me they are doing) is because of overarching republican talking points which have minimized the value of working collectively.

                  I am sad that people (including you) are feeling attacked by this message. As I said, I think it is important push back on anti-government rhetoric we have all been immersed in for the past 30 years.

                  I am at heart a populist. I think the laws should benefit the greatest number of citizens possible, and that certainly isn't what is happening now. But I don't begrudge people their money. I just think we need realistic tax laws and we need to understand that we all benefit from the services our taxes provide. Honestly I think people who are taking that message personally might want to consider what they really believe about government's role in the lives of it's citizens.

                  Poverty = politics.

                  by Renee on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 10:03:11 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  You're right, of course, about people's view of (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    VClib, Renee

                    government's role in society being the problem.

                    But we aren't getting them to step back and reconsider it with the way the president is currently expressing the message. He's blowing it, and that makes me really sad and extremely frustrated because I know his heart is in the right place. But the people we're trying to reach aren't convinced of that, and we need them to be in order to inspire them to get out and vote for him.

                    Stop the party of Gut & Spend policies that gut our Earned Benefits programs like Social Security and Medicare and spends on tax breaks for the wealthy elite.

                    by jillwklausen on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 11:11:23 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  It is true that we aren't getting them to step (0+ / 0-)

                      back and reconsider.

                      And I agree with you that framing is vital to that effort. And I get it that we (the people who want this conversation to happen) are the ones who must find a way to get through to people.

                      But there is something else that needs to happen. They need to own that they are not taking responsibility for themselves. In my conversation with VClib I'm hearing this whiney "everyone has access to the roads and why am I being picked on" sort of undertone. On some level if people don't look at the situation and figure out what they can contribute to the discussion instead of waiting for someone to figure out how to approach them in a way that their ego can handle… do you see what I'm saying here?

                      I do not see what our President has done for the last three years as being anti-start up.

                      Sometimes it isn't working to find a delicate and palatable way to say something that finally gets through. Occasionally a resounding there is work to be done stop pouting is necessary.

                      Poverty = politics.

                      by Renee on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 12:26:00 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

    •  I and we couldn't agree more, VClib! Now we just (0+ / 0-)

      need to get Obama's ear so he hears us!

      Thanks so much for your support!

      Stop the party of Gut & Spend policies that gut our Earned Benefits programs like Social Security and Medicare and spends on tax breaks for the wealthy elite.

      by jillwklausen on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 09:58:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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