February 23, 2010
Better to give than attack
One of the things I learned during my brief experience in sales years ago was never to attack a competing product. Not, that is, if you want to sell your product. I was skeptical, so at one point I actually tried what I was warned not to do, and sure enough, the guy started defending the competitor's product -- quite vehemently. Not because he owned the company or was involved with it that way, but simply because it was on his shelves.
I often worry that there's an aspect of politics that is like sales, and that it is something ideologues tend to forget. I don't think of myself as terribly ideological, but the other day when I attacked the word "sodomy," I realized that to some people, sodomy is a little bit like a product that's been sitting on the shelf for a long time. You don't just come along and say it sucks and not expect to have people come to its defense.
Which is why I think that attacking people's politics is not likely to change their mind. Obviously if the people attacked are true-believing ideologues, nothing will change their mind either way, so I am not talking about them. But let's assume the idea is to somehow persuade people who are followers, people who really don't have serious convictions, but who go along with the louder voices for whatever reason. Perhaps to be cool and "fit in," perhaps to get a job, and perhaps to keep a job. Or perhaps because it was drilled into their uncritical minds (which are nonetheless reassured that they're engaged in "critical-thinking") that they should think what members of their identity group are supposed to think. Attacking such people -- or their perceived "class" is quite likely to backfire (especially when their politics are not well thought out), and will tend to confirm what they have been told all along -- that the other side is mean and nasty and hateful.
The left excels at offering people something -- typically via the time-tested principle of giveaway. The thing given might be money in the form of government benefits, it might be employment, and it might take the form of convincing a targeted audience that no one loves their identity group more than the left (and of course in the case of gays and other "counterculture" types, the social conservatives make the task easier by pre-attacking them).
It is only now that the left is in power and is preparing to take things away from people that the right is finally in the position to offer people something in a manner approaching the way the left traditionally has.
Because this sounds counterintuitive, I'll say it again.
At long last, the right has an opportunity to offer what amounts to a great giveaway.
Actually, they're not really offering to "give" anything tangible; all they're really doing is trying to stop the left from taking it away. But to ordinary people, simply not having to be saddled with government health care, onerous debt, and massive environmental regulation -- that means being able to keep what freedom they have still enjoyed up to now instead of losing it. The bottom line is that right now, the left wants to take, and the right wants to give.
To my mind, that's an easy sell. Giving is always easier to sell than taking.
But the hard core "traditional values," "culture war" stuff -- that's a hard sell. Culture war conservatives who scream about homos and porn and gambling come across not as people who want to give, but as people who want to take away ordinary people's privacy. Screaming that abortion is murder (never mind that it never was considered that under the pre-Roe statutes) makes people whose daughter once took RU486 think the right wing wants her in prison. Insulting people's tastes is equally unappealing, and again, it's like going into a guy's store and telling him his product sucks.
The problem is that by criticizing the attackers in this way, I am also saying their product sucks, and thus falling into the same trap I am warning against. They could (at least if they read this blog) be expected to adhere all the more strongly to their positions. And what could I possibly offer them? Advocacy of small government federalism? I'm not sure that's attractive enough, as there are too many built in limitations, and in the long run, we are not all going to get our way.
Right now, though, congressional gridlock is looking more and more attractive -- to the point where it's almost a no-brainer. To the extent no one gets their way, at least money and valuable freedoms are not being taken, and if preventing a taking is a form of giving, then the right is in a position to give.
As to how long they'll be able to keep on giving, who knows?
Probably until they appear to be taking!
posted by Eric on 02.23.10 at 05:19 PM
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