Friday, October 19, 2007


This week I've been discussing taxes -- what people believe is the case versus what's really true. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (May 19-May 21) I'll talk about how to present issues in such a way that candidates and activists can win votes.

As some of you know, I do summaries (7500 words) of books on business marketing (most of which are about 90,000 words, or 250 pages). The one I'm working on now is outstanding. It's called Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, and the authors are brother Chip and Dan Heath. "Sticky" ideas are ones that get and retain people's attention.

How should candidates and other frame their ideas in order to make them stick? They should emphasize:

  • Simplicity -- stripping ideas to their core without making them silly;
  • Unexpectedness -- avoiding cliches and predictable statements;
  • Concreteness -- helping people understand and remember ideas;
  • Credibility -- doing what's necessary to get people to believe your ideas;
  • Emotion -- ensuring that people care about your ideas; and,
  • Stories -- getting people to act on ideas.

Political leaders need to avoid the usual abstractions and cliches. Instead they need to offer their ideas in ways that are concise, clear, and credible.

Recently, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention was responding to criticism of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His rationale was a model of simplicity and power. He said, "When people are conducting a war against you, you'd better be conducting war against them."

In politics, the fewer words the better. It's a situation where less is more, where addition paradoxically leads to subtraction. A few good sentences -- think back to Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy -- generally are preferable to a 30-minute speech.

As for Republicans, if we present our ideas cogently and memorably, we'll win. If we don't, we'll lose.

For an example, let's look to a Democrat, who was one of the great communicators of the past century: John F. Kennedy. He knew how to capture people's attention -- and nearly 44 years after his death, many of his words refrain fresh and memorable.

JFK valued statements that were simple and concrete.

Consider his comments about the goal of a trip to the moon. He might have told the nation: “Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry through maximum team-centered innovation and strategically targeted aerospace initiatives.”

JFK realized that kind of language puts people to sleep. He knew that trying to capture people’s attention with abstract, pompous verbiage is like trying to land a fish with string lacking a hook.

What he actually delivered was a national challenge to do the following: “[P]ut a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade.”

The idea of a "man on the moon" brings an element of drama -- and danger -- to the statement. A man going to the moon and returning humanizes what is otherwise an engineering and aeronautical enterprise.

That message was one of such simplicity and specificity ("by the end of the decade") that it captured the nation’s attention. Kennedy expressed the goal in language – all of it one- or two-syllables -- that everyone could understand AND REMEMBER.

Right now, the Democrats do a slightly better job than the Republicans in delivering messages that stick. We need to regain the lead with statements that are simple and compelling.

For instance, we've recently been debating the issue of SCHIPS, the state program for children's health. We've called it (correctly) an effort at "socialized medicine."

Frankly, abstract terms like "socialized medicine" don't register with most voters. We need to emphasize who -- specifically -- is going to be hurt by a massive increase in SCHIP funding and who is going to be helped. We need to be very clear on which children need state or federal assistance and which don't.

Stephen R. Maloney


Here's my response to comments from John, "avgayjoe," thanking me for writing about how SOME evangelicals drive away gay and lesbian (GL) voters (who total about 7 million in presidential elections, not to mention their families and friends). My comments are followed by yet another comment by John (in italics).

John, thanks for your comments. I have a column called "National Mind Your Own Business Day" (scroll down) that deals with similar subjects.

There's a battle going on in the "evangelical community" about what constitutes a decent (i.e., Christian) response to alternative ways of life. I regard myself as a (relatively mild-mannered evangelical -- Roman Catholic -- who has known many GL people and regard them as very much like everyone else. Some gays and some straights engage in very risky behavior, but it's very hard to generalize about either group.

The evangelicals who get quoted most (people like Dr. Dobson, Laurence White, and the now-disgraced Ted Haggard of Colorado) are of course the extremists. They do great harm to the Republican Party and to the country. The affirm their Christianity but seem not to be good at practicing it.

There is poll data that more evangelicals favor Giuliani, relatively liberal on GL issues, than do the candidates inclined (key word) toward homophobic statements. I believe Mike Huckabee, who is a decent man, would like to make more moderate statements, but he fears losing his political base. The "bad" evangelicals are about 10-15% of the category. They are very loud but not extremely numerous.

One reason I support Giuliani is that I believe he will treat GLs in a Christian way -- and will seek out their votes, which could be crucial in states like NJ, FL, and PA.

Following is Joe's comment:

My biggest fear is that they will enable Hillary to enter the White House next year because they've taken their marbles and gone home in a huff after only getting most -- but not all -- of what they want. I'm willing to compromise even though they are not, but only so far. If Hillary does get in they have no idea what she is going to do that the GOP will not be able to undo if they regain power. For one thing, if Hillary wins I seriously doubt she lose in 2012 like they think. Her husband lasted 8 yrs and I bet she will too.

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