On Monday, I suggested that the establishment Right often debate certain political tactics without considering whether they serve a larger vision. On Tuesday, I suggested that “conservatarians may have to consider the usefulness of more provocative activism, not only to defend and conserve those aspects of institutions and systems we revere, but also to expose where the budding totalitarians of the New New Left have already crashed Chesterton’s gates and (in some cases) burned them to the ground.”
On Wednesday, Commentary’s Noah C. Rothman took up a closely related topic, arguing “The Right Needs Better Storytellers.” His springboard was late-night host Jimmy Kimmel’s emotional monologue concerning his newborn son’s congenital cardiac condition, which Kimmel used to laud Obamacare’s requirement that health insurers cover pre-existing conditions.
“[Republicans] clearly do not know how to respond. The right’s most unapologetically caustic communicators were devoid of compassion for Kimmel’s circumstances. More empathetic conservatives shared the ABC host’s pain but criticized his judgment. Point, Democrats.
Republicans will always find it difficult to counter poignant and affecting storytelling with reasoned logic. That’s not to say logic is entirely ineffective. If stories move the needle of public opinion, and they often do, Republicans need to tell a better story. It’s not as though they lack for material.”
Rothman then recounted the stories of people who suffered under Obamacare, before noting that the law’s architects tended to mislead people about the scope of the pre-existing conditions problem and that GOP reformers have better ideas for addressing it.
But Rothman concluded in part that “[a]ll that wonkish claptrap is difficult to relate to when the interlocutor is a new father like Kimmel, scared to death for the life of his newborn son.”
He is correct, in large part because the real political argument isn’t about pre-existing conditions per se, or whether the House passes a healthcare bill today. Rather, it is the zillionth iteration of the “debate” that goes like this: “Republicans/Conservatives are heartless — The End.”
It’s not just those on the right attacking Kimmel personally that are walking into the trap. When the real question under discussion is “Are Conservatives Heartless?,” coldly retreating to the data like Mr. Spock answers the question in the affirmative.
Fuming about this, as Rich Lowry does, won’t change a thing, as I’d bet he knows. I don’t know whether Lowry was responsible for his headline, “The Phrase ‘Pre-Existing Conditions’ Leads to the Suspension of All Thought,” but I’ll note that politics is about making friends and influencing people. Insults generally do not accomplish either goal, especially if the insult is accurate.
One conservative doing it right (as usual) is Mary Katharine Ham, who has not only written about her awful Obamacare experiences, but also discussed them frequently on CNN. From that chair, she is not preaching to the choir, if the howling progressives that fill her Twitter mentions following such appearances are any indication.
I would also note that when I listened to a recent episode of The Federalist Radio Hour, it was sponsored by Think Freely Media, which seems to be based on the idea of advancing individual freedom and free enterprise through storytelling. Since I write for The Federalist, I should add that’s not a plug of any kind. I have no idea whether they execute the idea effectively. But at least they have a good idea.
As I previously wrote in a slightly different context:
“I would urge people to abandon their reliance on narratives, but this would be as silly as people urging the abandonment of religion, or nationalism, or any number of things that are part of the human experience. It would be profoundly unconservative to ignore human nature in that way.
“People love telling and hearing stories. We love it in politics as an agent of influence. We love it in media because we understand our attraction to drama. We love it in life because stories help us understand and organize a complex and often chaotic world.” (Emphasis added.)
Conservatives generally pride themselves on their realism and their understanding of the fallen nature of mankind. So perhaps when considering how to promote the right agenda and attack the wrong one, our tactics should account for people as we find them outside the insular world of political junkies — not always cool and rational, and not particularly fond of wonkery.
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