The first post in my ongoing, periodical series about “social liberalism” generated a lively discussion (which was still continuing last time I checked). I had originally planned a second post about the implications of the socially-perpetuated nature of liberalism on both the arguments (or lack thereof) and pundits that seem to dominate on the left side of the political spectrum. I still think that’s a fascinating topic, and I plan to write more about that in the future.
For the time being, though, I’d rather call attention to this noteworthy post by Bookworm which I learned of as a result of this post by Neo-neocon. Bookworm’s post is about the need for conservatives to focus largely on messaging which captures something that Malcolm Gladwell refers to as “the stickiness factor.” Bookworm explains:
The Stickiness Factor? That’s what it sounds like: it’s a message that doesn’t just amuse or intrigue people for a mere minute. Instead, it sticks with them and, even more importantly, makes them act. During the Bush years, the Dems came up with a great one: No War for Oil. The fact that this slogan had little relationship to the facts, or that a ginormous number of people stuck it on the back of their gas-guzzling SUVs was irrelevant. Those four words convinced too many Americans that the Republicans were fighting wars on behalf of Standard Oil.
She goes on to reflect on examples similar to the kinds of things I was reflecting on as I imagined some of my future posts on the socially-coercive power of contemporary liberalism:
The Progressive penchant for ignoring facts undoubtedly makes it easier for them to come up with the pithy slogans and posters that sweep through Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and email chains before ending up on tens of thousands of bumper stickers that subliminally drill into every driver’s head. People could laugh when reading “Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot,” never mind that George Bush was a highly educated, accomplished man with an academic record better than or equal to his opponents’.
Conservatives used to have pithy sayings (“Live free or die,” “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country,” “That government is best that governs least”), but we don’t seem to have come up with any clever ones lately. As you may recall, during John McCain’s failed candidacy, his slogan — “Country First” — managed to leave supporters cold, while allowing opponents to mumble about racism. I doubt that we’ll ever get another “I like Ike,” but we can certainly do better than Romney’s “Believe in America,” which sounds more like the beginning of a fairy tale than it does a rousing call to the ballot box.
And finally, there’s the Power of Context, which at its simplest level means that a message has to capture the zeitgeist. People have to be primed and ready to receive the message. In 2012, Americans, fed on decades of anti-capitalist education and entertainment, were more than ready to believe that Romney was a dog-abusing, woman-hating, religious nut who wanted to enslave poor people and blacks. Thirty years ago, people would have laughed at this message. Last year, there were too many people who thought it made a good deal of sense.
Conservative thinkers may have some level of disdain for the demagogic nature of most political slogans, but one can’t deny their force or their effectiveness. People on the left, for instance, love to make assertions about “social justice,” “sustainability,” and lately “gun violence” which rarely stand up to close scrutiny, but the mere application and repetition of the terms is usually enough to persuade a certain sector of the population that these must be serious ideas deserving of merit.
Bookworm argues that conservatives need to focus more on generating catchy and timely messages and that doing so will help advance our ideas more effectively. I think it’s a great point. Conservatives are certainly capable of it: the early Tea Party rallies were filled with all kinds of clever signs and slogans, but the creative force of that movement seems to have dispersed lately. How can we reignite it?