One word: propaganda.
This is why we can’t have nice policies. We don’t know how to sell them.
The good news is that the fix is pretty simple. All anyone has to to do to regiment the attitudes of the public is THREE THINGS, CONSISTENTLY. This has been borne out through history, from Ptolemy to John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush. And I’ve identified them, just for you!
1. Make your message resonate emotionally
2. Make it relevant to the individual
3. Make the opposition look tyrannical
That’s pretty easy, right? You’d think so. But the Left has tremendous difficulty applying all three of these principles in concert, and consistently. By contrast, the Right does it 24/7.
One caveat: different countries and global regions have different value sets, almost like cultural DNA. For example, Canada can and does respond to “greater good” arguments, so long as they are participatory. That’s a social democracy! Many in the East are less susceptible to self-interest motivators unless there is implied collective benefit. In America, INDIVIDUALISM IS IT. That’s the operating paradigm in which all effective messaging must occur. If you make your message fit with America’s Ur-folk narrative, then you can even sell collectivist policy. (Sorry libertarians; it’s true.)
Keep in mind that propaganda is outcome-neutral. Like other technologies, it can be used to cure or to kill. So before you start calling me Goebbels, check out this quote from the godfather of American PR, Edward Bernays:
Propaganda becomes vicious and reprehensive only when its authors consciously and deliberately disseminate that which they know to be lies, or when they aim at effects they know to be prejudicial to the common good.
FOX News is prejudicial to the common good. But ultimately, the technique for shaping public opinion is not partisan. It’s just that one side has figured out how to wield this technology, and the other side… not so much. Speaking of technology, consider the digital space. Each time a new tool emerges that can be used for political organization, the Left thinks they’ve just discovered Penicillin. Twitter is a perfect example. Progressives reveled in its ability to deliver 140-character bullets of outrage, never considering that the opposition was figuring out how to use it even more effectively. What do progressives do next? Complain loudly that conservatives have taken it over.
Let’s go back those three principles. I work in media reform (well, partly, anyway), a movement that has been notoriously difficult to message. I think it could be made easier by checking our advocacy against these three principles.
To set an appropriate frame for messaging on media reform, I’d start with FREEDOM (an uniquely American political synonym for individualism):
Freedom is meaningless where its expression is controlled by powerful groups like major media conglomerates. Freedom must be insured. Your God-given rights depend on it.
In the first sentence, I showed you the tyranny of the opposition. In the second — without using the word government or policy — I told you how the goal is accomplished (government and policy!). In the last, I made an emotional appeal to the individual within the context of American cultural tradition.
The next step would be to identify “key persons” and persuade them that it is in THEIR self-interest to broadly disseminate your core message. Church is an excellent place to start. Hell, you might even snag a few powerful figures from those “media conglomerates” if you use proper persuasion. (Here’s where it helps to have authentic and charismatic communicators on hand. They’re basically product pitchmen, but instead of vacuum cleaners or soap, they sell “values.”)
I could go on and on and on about the how’s and where’s of effectively applied propaganda. But the bottom line is that if there is to be a successful and sustainable progressive movement in the United States, it must employ consistently these three principles of communication.
I’m here to help.