Tuesday, March 27, 2012

About This Blog

I thought it might be worthwhile to explain to readers a little of what we're up to with this blog. Simply put, this blog is hoping to jumpstart a discussion on how progressives can make better use of language to win over moderates and conservatives and shift the nation's politics to the Left. 

The defining feature of contemporary American politics, at least for the past three decades, has been the vitality of conservative positions and politicians. Despite all evidence that they are wrong, conservative ideas retain a prominent place in our politics. Even after the disaster that was George W. Bush, Republicans keep moving to the Right, and they keep getting elected. Major newspapers continue to swallow right wing talking points, and millions of Americans still hang on to Rush Limbaugh’s every word.

Why do conservative positions, despite being thoroughly discredited in theory and practice, dominate our political discourse? Why do so many low and middle class Americans vote for Republicans (and against their interests)? Why does the media frame issues in a way that corresponds with right wing rhetoric? And why are even the most progressive Democrats frequently forced to cater to conservative world-views?

Political scientists and historians have accounted for conservatism’s strength in a few different ways, including demographic and structural changes in the electorate (the growth of the Sunbelt and the Civil Rights backlash in the South), the growing influence of business in politics, the role of talk radio and Fox News, and the renewed engagement of Christian evangelicals with politics.

These are all good explanations. Yet none of them fully accounts for conservatism’s enduring strength. One of the main reasons that conservatives have been able to shirt the nation's politics to the Right over the past few decades has been their ability to use language effectively. Indeed, as people like George Lakoff have noted, conservatives have identified, honed, and deployed a rhetorical strategy that exploits key cognitive dynamics. What conservatives say—and how they say it—resonates with many people because it taps into the very wiring of our brains.

We're going to explain this strategy further as we go on in this blog. But most of our attention will go towards the more important task of documenting how progressives can can crack this rhetorical code and turn it to their advantage. The primary goal of this blog will be to lay out concrete steps that progressive organizers, Democratic Party activists, and others can use to win moderates and conservatives to our side. Rather than simply deconstructing conservative communications and marketing strategies, we’ll provide examples of how progressives can start fighting—and winning—the political war of words.

Of course, we can't do this alone, and with this blog we hope to start a more robust discussion about how progressives can improve their communications strategy. This goal stems from a deep frustration at the manner in which progressives market themselves and athe realization that too few people have advanced solutions to this problem. As far as we can tell, few writers have put forward proposals for how progressives can utilize the rhetorical strategies that conservatives have used to such devastating effect. Hopefully you can come along and join us in this important task.

Why us? As a marketing strategist (Nils) and social scientist (Patrick), we are well suited to this work. We have extensive experience analyzing problems, devising solutions, and selling products. We’ve also spent our lives talking with—and winning over—moderates and conservatives. In this blog we'll combine these personal insights with findings from history, linguistics, and cognitive science to provide a guidebook for how to recapture political language from the right wing.

A preview of what's to come: 

  • Explanations of how moral psychology explains how people make political choices, and how progressives can turn these insights to their advantage;

  • Scripts and talking points that you can use when talking with your conservative friends and family about issues of the day;

  • History lessons that debunk right wing claims that the Founding Fathers were conservatives and instead show them for what they were: the progressives their time;

  • Rewrites of President Obama and other Democratic leaders' speeches that attempt to make them more convincing to moderates and conservatives; 

And much more. We're very interested in hearing any suggestions you might have. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments.

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