Politics is Storytelling

I (and probably you, if you’re reading this) have had too many conversations lately about how liberals (that’s ‘little l’ for the Canadians) are generally crappy at messaging. The narrative of “government is complicated so you need to trust us, we’re the good guys” is so flawed, unconvincing, and boring that it would get laughed out of a brand planning meeting at the least experienced agency in the world. Even investment banks are trying to sell you on the idea that they’re a team of individuals who care about the future of your family, but liberal politicians haven’t had a narrative in recent times beyond “we’re going to be on the right side of history”.

The problem with a “good guy” narrative is that it’s alienating (by saying “if you disagree with me you are a bad person”) and that it’s only provable in retrospect (everyone thinks they are the good guys, at all times).

The current conservative (again, “small c”) narrative is simple and effective: things were better before, and our shift to a more global, culturally mixed society is the biggest change we’ve made. (There used to be a fiscal conservative message, but that only seems to come up as a justification for people who want to avoid being tied to the dominant conservative story, these days.) This works because nostalgia is incredibly powerful, because people are remembering a rosy past that didn’t really exist, because people don’t understand the global trends that drove an era of unprecedented prosperity, and because there’s a long standing global undercurrent of racial bias that no one wants to address.

If the liberal world wanted a narrative, they have a few options, none of which are as simple. There’s a story to be told about creating a better society by giving people the tools to truly achieve. About social and class mobility enabled by a healthy, educated society. About the direct economic benefits of public goods and services attracting educated and talented immigration, innovative companies, and international alliances.

The important thing is that none of these are stories about being morally superior, which is what liberals STILL don’t seem to have grasped. It’s about the nice stuff you get to have, when you do logical things.

(The above was originally published in the attention industry newsletter, on Feb 7, 2017. A new one comes out every 2 weeks, on Tuesday.)

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