Skip to comments.For a Better GOP, Start with Better Storytellers
Posted on 09/04/2013 2:55:39 AM PDT by Kaslin
It's no secret that the right is going through what some call a healthy debate and what others see as an identity crisis.
For some, the solution to what ails conservatism requires a sudden philosophical shift leftward to win back the last Rockefeller Republicans, presumably hanging on in nursing homes like stranded Japanese fighters who haven't gotten word World War II is over. Others argue that Republicans must shake off the heresies of moderation and compromise and accept the unalloyed true faith of 100 percent conservatism.
Those are hardly the only choices, of course. For instance, some make a very good case for fighting fire with better fire and offering a slew of superior policies and reforms than what the Democrats have tacked up on the wall in recent years.
While I have my sympathies and positions in all of these fights, I've long argued that regardless of what policies Republicans should offer or what philosophical North Star they might follow, one thing the GOP could definitely use is better politicians.
Ronald Reagan's cult of personality remains strong and deep on the right, and I count myself a member of it. But what often gets lost in all the talk of the Gipper's adamantine convictions and timeless principles is the simple fact that he was also a really good politician. Barry Goldwater was every bit as principled as Reagan, but Reagan was by far a better politician. That's at least partly why Goldwater lost in a stunning landslide in 1964 and why Reagan was a two-term political juggernaut. Reagan won votes from moderates, independents and lots of Democrats.
To listen to many conservative activists today, we need a candidate as principled as Reagan to save the country, but you rarely hear of the need for a politician as good as Reagan.
Unfortunately, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go into elections with the politicians you have, not the politicians you want. So the question isn't how to find better leaders but how to make the leaders we have better.
One answer is really remarkably simple: Tell better stories.
In July, Rod Dreher, the author of the memoir "The Little Way of Ruthie Leming," wrote a deeply insightful essay for the American Conservative on how the right has largely lost the ability to tell stories. Worse, many of the stories we continue to tell "are exhausted and have taken on the characteristics of brittle dogma."
This is a problem not just for Republican politicians but for conservatives generally. For roughly 99.9 percent of human history, nearly all of human wisdom was passed on in stories. We are a species that understands things -- i.e. morality, politics, even religion -- in terms of tales of heroism, sacrifice and adversity. And yet so much of what passes for conservative rhetoric these days isn't storytelling but exhortation. Whatever the optimal policy might be, if you can't talk to people in human terms they can relate to, you can't sell any policy. The war on poverty, for instance, has been an enormous failure in so many policy terms, but it stays alive because of the stories liberals tell.
Consider immigration. There are reasonable arguments on every side of the issue. But what is unquestionably and lamentably disastrous for Republicans is the way they've allowed themselves to get on the wrong side of this story. That is a tale most Americans love, even the ones who want to slow or stop any further immigration, legal or illegal.
Go back and watch the video of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) telling his family's story at the 2012 GOP convention, or Arnold Schwarzenegger's speech at the 2004 convention. The same rank-and-file activists who oppose "amnesty" swelled with pride and affection at what this country means for the immigrant and what immigrants mean for the country.
As Dreher noted, conservatives have largely abdicated their role in "tending the moral imagination," which Russell Kirk defined as "conservatism at its highest." Too many on the right don't even claim what victories there are in the popular culture, which is far richer and more rewarding than many older conservatives are comfortable acknowledging.
Many historians will tell you that the secret of Reagan's political success was his gift for storytelling. By all means, Republicans, be more like Reagan -- but don't tell his stories, tell your own.
To use an even more powerful example, Jesus Christ used parables, or stories, to do almost all his teaching. He didn’t stand around expounding dogma or citing statistics.
Excellent article, Jonah. And exactly right.
I agree. It’s important to have a sense of humor too. Voters like to vote with a person they can identify with, someone they can have a beer with. A snarling McCainer and a rich kid Romney had been disastrous for the GOP. It’s not the conservative message but how we tell it, which is our biggest problem.
Very, very true. We come across looking as if we ourselves regard conservatism as a bitter pill that must be forced on people for their own good.
Raegan was an actor and he did know how to tell stories - about an America where there was opportunity for all, prosperity, safety and basically the ability to lead a happy life. The left tells stories, too, but they are all stories about grievances, unfairness, injustice, and misery, which they angrily proclaim they have come to change. It’s not an attractive message, and it’s one that we should have no trouble defeating.
But the problem is that we have simply stopped proclaiming our message and instead accept the left’s premises and offer our own grim solutions to the alleged problems, whch they have invented.
The only person who was different in the last campaign was Newt Gingrich, and the naysayers shot him down. We need to get that positive vision back and take control of the story again.
And Jesus made it all about God in the end.
Treating any earthly artifact as though it could stand of itself, without God’s help, is a mistake. The whole point of this world, even in its current fallen, decaying, and flawed state, is to exalt God.
Having all Congress be Christians or at least firm on exalting the God of the bible (if that were possible) isn’t the “theocracy” boogieman that liberals scream about. History has firmly taught us that it is a mistake for any worship congregation, no matter how wonderful, to try to absorb a government. Pastors are given by God for sheep; not for goats. Taking on the goats (other than to evangelize to them), however well intentioned, will dilute a pastoral view and weaken a church.
I appreciate that Jonah is expanding on Rod Dreher's thoughts here. Few of us respond to being "preached at." I am reminded of a scene from "The Green Mile."
Paul Edgecomb: Men under strain can snap. Hurt themselves. Hurt others. That's why our job is talking, not yelling. You'll do better to think of this place like an intensive care ward in a hospital.
Percy Wetmore: I think of it as a bucket of piss to drown rats in. That's all. Anybody doesn't like it can kiss my ass.
In the end, Percy ends up killed by the evil that he hated so much; Because his obsession blinded him
Lots of people, including me, would contend Newt shot himself down. I like Newt, but he's too unstable to be in charge of anything.
We need to get that positive vision back and take control of the story again.
That's what I'm afraid of. He has established his conservative credentials now he needs to be able to attract the vast majority of Republicans who are still easily frightened by the media.
“self referential bump for later”
So I don’t bug anybody else with a ping.
Karl Rove told me the way to win elections is to offer the people more than the Democrats in the way of 'social programs.'
The GOP can deliver the cradle-to-grave goods better than the Democrats because we're more efficient and by golly, we're just nicer people with great family values who believe in Affirmative Action, Open Borders (¡Sí, se puede!), Gay Marriage, Sensible gun control, Free Health Care, and Safe Streets.
By golly, if we just do ... or just say .... that .... the Negroes and Mexicans and single moms, and the entire LGBTG community will just flock, flock I tell you, to our standard! Throw in the Soccer Moms from the suburbs and we have a win!
Works every time! As Mitt, G.H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, and Juan el Pocoloco can happily tell you.