Liberals whine about the fact that the Right always controls the message so well, leaving the Left to defend their position and play catch-up.
Of course, a conservative message is generally easier to convey because it calls up memes and metaphors that are already in the citizens mind. For example, if I tell you that you can spend tax money better than the government can, I naturally accept this as truth. Unless someone tells you that big beneficial projects (like Hoover Dam) are only possible when we pool our money, then the appeal to individual responsibility and personal economic freedom is the impression that remains.
But simplicity of message doesn’t explain it all. I believe the problem is more troubling than that.
John Haight is a social scientist, professor and author (The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion) who has done some good work deciphering the motivations of the Left and the Right. He wrote an article in The Guardian, which is a fascinating look at the “why” that so baffles liberals.
I don’t know if Haight has all the answers but his findings sure make sense as a starting point for discussion.
Haight basically says that, while local elections are about issues (i.e., transportation bond), the national elections are more about patriotism and our collective values (i.e., illegal immigrants who didn’t wait their turn).
Conservatives make a lot of noise about individual responsibility while Liberals talk about community.
Here’s an example. For the working class, tax cuts are an easy sell but may be counterproductive to any short-term savings. Just because you reduce the individual tax burden of a working person by a few dollars doesn’t necessarily bolster the overall economy, despite a simple pocketbook analogy. But if we divert a portion of public funds (tax dollars) into a jobs training program for our town or efforts to bring a new factory to the town, the entire community benefits, through the creation of jobs and enhanced spending power of workers.
But the promise of a complicated infrastructure that helps improve a community, and produces jobs, is a lot more difficult to comprehend (and, more importantly, believe in) than offering a simple tax cut.
How can a liberal politician grab enough of a voter’s time to explain something complicated when the opposition is happy to issue one platitude after the other.
Haight likens the political conversation to an anatomy of our taste buds. The tongue is divided into regions that can distinguish between sweet, salty, bitter, etc. Of course, we all like sweet but a steady of sugar is not be good for us. We need to cultivate a palate for the things that will fortify us over the long term.
He pitches the taste buds analogy into these taste regions that appeal to different parts of the moral tongue. They contrast like this: care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation.
In learning to communicate with conservatives, this breakdown alone can be helpful in improving the conversation.
A recent transcript, which goes into detail is located here.