The importance of message

I wrote this in an email discussion today, where people were debating why the conservatives are so much more effective than liberals at getting their message out. One guy said that the left doesn’t lack for ideas, but thought that the messages was less important than making sure the ideas got out there, meaning we needed better organization for distributing ideas. I disagreed. Nothing new here if you’ve been reading my rants, but I think I was more concise in delivering the point this time. Maybe. You decide:

I think a good, simple message takes care of the dispersion of the ideas. Part of the success of the conservative movement is that they take very complex issues and boil them down to two or three word phrases (to use Lakoff’s example, “tax relief”) that can be parroted by anybody. Then they put those phrases and those ideas on Rush Limbaugh’s show. Then everybody that listens to the show understands the message and repeats them at the local bar, or at work. By making the message simple, they let their footsoldiers do the work.

Meanwhile, the Democrats, with their emphasis on getting all the details right, make the message, if anything, more complex. They want to prove their mastery of the material. Gore was a wonk. Kerry had some of the same tendencies. The Democrats’ idea of a position is a 20 page white paper. The representative of the liberals tends to be a college academic, who couldn’t say 2+2=4 in less than 20 minutes. On election night, the local news in Cleveland interviewed an Oberlin professor about the turnout in Oberlin and he was just incoherent. They said “10 seconds to make your last point” and he rambled on for a minute.

The conservative pundits, meanwhile, have been trained in their institutes to keep it brief, keep it concise, and keep it on message. They are trained in going on camera and delivering sound bites. They understand the importance of putting ideas in a form that people can then pass on to their friends. Any wonder they’re better at it than us?

Arianna Huffington had an amusing story about an encounter with a friend’s kid (

“Arianna,” he said with the enchanting optimism of a Greek-American boy, “I’m going to convince you that you should support Bush in November. Here are two questions you have to answer. The first question is: Are you for more or less taxes? The second question is: Do you want to fight the war on terrorism?”

Simple message. So simple that an 11-year-old boy can articulate the message clearly.

Can you sum up what Kerry stood for in two sentences? Or even twenty?

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