Rob Kall OpEdNews.com When George Bush's extremist right took control of the senate and the house of representatives last fall, it wasn't his perky attitude, his intelligence, his panache, his articulate delivery of any particular message. He led the charge and won the battle because of the stories he offered to the voters-- stories and a heroic protagonist the supporters he rallied could relate to. His stories conquered the spineless, visionless, empty, weak parries of the jellyfish Centrist democrats. The Democrats, the left, didn't offer a story to embrace, no vision, no heroic path to enable voters to feel they were sharing in, embarking upon a heroic journey. .
There were powerful stories for Joe six pack to embrace, heroes to empathize and relate with. Bush and his well oiled, organized team, polished and drilled into shape with the help of the far right policy promotion think tanks-- AEI, Heritage Foundation, PNAC, CATO, and dozens more-- put theses stories to the pliant media and the voters. The lines went like these: "We will be tough." "We will valiantly fight the terrorists." "We're gonna kick anyone's butt who isn't with us. We've already kicked some Afghan butt. Now we're gonna assume our role as the good guys, the superpower of the world-- green-goggle-seeing-in-the-dark, robot drone plane flying super video gamers-- the whole Spidey, X-Men, Hulk thing. We're going to Show the world how tough the US is, and
The voters were and still are desperate for stories. We live in a new, frightening world since 911. There is the reality of terrorist threats and the enormity of the new intensification of the fear-business, fear propaganda, fear-based news-- all tools the BushCo team is all so effective at working, like the deep rumble of threat in a Spielberg movie.
The left, to be effective in waging battle with the right, must develop stories and heroes, visions and missions that evoke the glow of hope, the excitement and passion of heartful belief in the rightness, the goodness of the vision and goals. Complaining about Bush won't work. Democratic candidates spending half their "face time" on TV or in front of large groups firing barbs at Bush won't inspire voters.
We need a candidate who is a storyteller, who recruits voters who want to share the journey. That's what Bush has done. That's the way to win the hearts of the people. And any campaign that does not aim to and succeed at winning the people's hearts will fail.
Whether Dean or Kerry, Kucinich, Mosely Braun, Edwards, Sharpton, Lieberman, Gephart or Graham win, they will need such a vision, and real, genuine stories they will be able to wield to harvest supporters. The power of story cannot be underestimated. The challenge is the intellectual nature of so many on the left. It's not enough to recite facts, or Bush offenses. It's not enough to say that you want health care for everyone or to reign in drug prices or make the US a safe place. Those are important, but unless you wrap the ideas in stories that deliver an emotional connection, they will be like seeds lying on dry dirt. They won't take root, won't grow in the voters' hearts.
Among the people of the left there are literally thousands, probably tens of thousands of story experts-- writers, screenwriters, storytellers, marketers, publicists, playwrights.. defense lawyers who tell stories to juries, ministers who tell their flocks stories every Sunday to aid them in coping with life, psychologists helping patients identify the stories they live by, and helping them develop new stories.
The experts are there. The old Pols who have been beating the same sagging, empty drums, repeating the same tired plaints, ragging against the republicans are not story experts. The democrats need to build a collection of story strategies.
The StoryCon Meeting is a summit meeting that brings together experts from all the different realms of story. This year, full time staffers from non-profit progressive organizations, including campaigns, are being offered free registration for the plenary and pre-conference Introduction To Story Course. At the meeting, panel discussion on using the power of story to make change will explore the issues attendees bring to the meeting. It's an excellent opportunity to build story skills and for activists to meet to strategize.
What are the stories that will captivate voters, so they leave Bush and his far right radicals behind? We'll need stories that cast Americans as tough and strong without taking over more Vietnam/Lebanon quagmires, like Bush inflicted on us in the Iraq situation.
We'll need heroes who are honest, who figth the bad guys, like corporations, rogue leaders, environmental spoilers, constitutional corrupters... We need a Jefferson to kick out our modern day Adams. But that's way too intellectual.
When looking at candidates we need one who can take on heroic dimensions, who voters can empathize with and experience feeling heroic just thinking about voting for him. We need a person who can express healthy emotions (Kerry needs to work on this. He never smiles during his speeches. And Dean is pretty stiff too.) because people need to watch the emotions and relate to them.
Mission, Vision, Story, Hero, Hero's journey and path. We're about to get to know our characters in the big presidential campaign story. That's usually what happens in the first act. Next, lots of action, complications and intrigue unwind through the second act. That will lead to the third act. Top Hollywood Script consultant Linda Seeger describes the idea of non-linear stories. Memento is one example. Groundhog's Day is another. We do not want to see a repeating Bush Story. Bad guys usually don't win in the end.
One technique a lot of screenwriters use to maximize the audience's sympathy for the hero is to make him or her an orphan. Check out a batch of movies and it's amazing how often this is the case. I wonder which of the candidates fit the orphan profile... So far, Edwards and Kucinich have been touting their simple roots. This may be the closest we get to orphan heart string pulling. At least that's one hero's advantage that Bush lacks.
A final word. When you sell a vision, mission, idea, platform, there are concepts and policies. You don't sell them. You sell the stories you create that lift their message, that allow the messages to pass the target person's critical thinking. The heart will listen when the eyes are closed. The heart will hear when the mind is shut. The heart will move you when you feel you have nothing left. Stories talk to the heart. Our stories will rescue the heart of America.
Rob Kall firstname.lastname@example.org is the editor/publisher of OpEdNews.com, a progessive news and opinion website, and organizer of cutting edge meetings that bring together world leaders, such as the Winter Brain Meeting and the StoryCon Summit Meeting on the Art, Science and Application of Story. This article is copyright by Rob Kall, but permission is granted for reprint in print, email, blog, or web media so long as this credit is attached. If your publication pays for op-eds, the standard payment is acceptable.