How Wimpy Communications Kills Good Policy
With Obamacare, Donald Trump succeeded where everyone else failed.
He made this law popular.
His attempts to dismantle the program, and deprive millions of Americans of their health care, finally woke people up to the real benefits they would lose if their coverage went away.
So, this may be a good thing. But why was this beneficial program not already recognized for the good it was doing? You’d think giving health care to millions, savings lives, relieving the economic burden on struggling families, would already be as popular as Motherhood and apple pie. There are two reasons why it was not:
- The benefits were never “sold” to the American people. Its true value was lost in wonky communications and political rhetoric.
- The opposition, on the other hand, had a field day with sound bites designed to scare the public (remember the death panels?) and raise their ire of big government taking over this intimate area of their lives.
One side was successful in swaying public opinion, one was not.
As the prison warden famously said in “Cool Hand Luke,” “What we have heah . . . is a failyuh to communicate.”
So, why do good programs and ideas slide off our brains like Teflon, while fantasy dangers, scurrilous slanders, and fallacious statements stick to people’s minds with superglue tenacity?
Why does logical communication, even about subjects that are in our best interest and should get us excited, fail to move or persuade that way sensational rhetoric makes lifelong converts to opinions that bear no relationship to the truth?
First, truth is not obvious. It may be so to those who have facts and background to be believers, but to those without that background, it’s just someone’s opinion.
Second, we’re not rational beings. Opinions are formed as much by emotion, as logic. Visual images are much more powerful than words on a page. Words that conjure up images, are more persuasive. And those that hit us emotional, even make us fearful, are the most powerful of all.
So what’s the solution? It isn’t arguing politely with more facts. Sometimes you have to take a lesson from an unscrupulous adversary in their techniques – not their veracity – to win the debate.
What do we do?
- First, speak the truth, loudly and often. Don’t be met and politic in the face of attack. Find your own powerful phrases, images, and examples. Identify what the audience will lose if this program fails or does not exist. Appeal to self-interest based on what people will not have or will lose. Don’t be afraid to be dramatic. Don’t hold back from telling the truth about whatever untruths are being bruited about. Do avoid denying accusations but frame your position in positive truth statements.
- When challenging falsehoods, demand evidence that the statement is true. There isn’t any. Present your own facts, examples and stories to show that your position is real and valid. Do not be afraid to call out liars.
- Get in front of a false narrative. Otherwise, you’ll get steamrollered into Flat Stanley. As soon as the lies are told, jump on your rebuttal – which is not just an attack, but a re-telling and re-enactment of why your program is really needed by people, and what they will lose if it fails.
- Go into the opposition’s camp and speak to them. Maybe you won’t convert them, but some sitting on the fence will listen. You’ll be the voice of reason and altruism, and may succeed in driving a wedge between a wall of what looks like solid opposition.
- Lead with vision and values, not policy and details. Get people to agree with the vision, and they will be much more open to hearing your solution of how to make that vision real.
- Be the protector of the people – saving them from those who want to use citizens for their own interests – power, money, and celebrity.
- Policy isn’t just politics, it’s about people. Sell the idea first, then the program. Build “brand equity” for your ideas, even years before a piece of legislation must be considered.
- Be warriors, not wimps. The gloves were taken off decades ago. Actually, the gloves never were really on for many. You won’t win by being sedate and polite, or by being more civil or more moral.
- Find the right authorities that people will listen to proselytize for you. If possible, these authority figures should not be politicians.
- When accused, fight back. Don’t sound defensive. Instead, focus the attention of those who attack you and what they are really trying to achieve – deceiving the American people for their own ends.
- When rumors are created, don’t be afraid of giving them more credence by denying them. “No comment,” or silence, means today, “I’m guilty.” If you don’t speak up, or have someone speak up on your behalf, the lies will spread even faster.
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