Tuesday, August 16, 2005

More than a Message

Thanks to Randy, over at Progressive Conservative ReView & ReKnew: The Fusion of Conservative Futures... who pointed the following essay out to me, Framing: More Than A Message, over at the Longview Institute.

What's funny is, the Conservative Party up here is having the same problem as the Democratic Party down in the United States is having, in that we produce a narrative, but the Liberal Party produces a litany. The difference as the article points out is that in the US, narrative gets you elected, litany gets you defeated.

Up in Canada, litany gets you elected, narrative does not.

James Carville is quoted in the essay as saying, in regards to the 2004 U.S. presidential election:
"They produce a narrative, we produce a litany."

"[The Republicans] say, 'I'm going to protect you from the terrorists in Tehran and the homos in Hollywood.' We say, 'We're for clean air, better schools, more health care.' And so there's a Republican narrative, a story, and there's a Democratic litany."
The paragraph that follows is particularly telling:
It seems to be increasingly difficult to talk about the issues we care about most in a way that resonates with a critical mass of the population. We don’t really have a coherent story or a set of frames that link to that story. The ... promise of abundant opportunity, living wage jobs, access to health care, quality education, affordable housing, upward mobility, a clean environment, and a secure retirement seems to be drifting further from fulfillment. People committed to fulfilling this promise struggle with crafting a story rooted in resonant values, a story that captures the ethic that hard work should be fairly rewarded so that families can be self sufficient and provide for themselves. [emphasis mine]
Doesn't that sound like us, a little bit?

In Canada, the Liberal Party has always won on a platform of "clean air, better schools, more health care" without actually delivering anything - we still have dirty air, public schools in disrepair, and health care problems. For what ever reason, Canadians are naturally tying this formless litany to their identity - which in turn keeps the Liberals elected.

Whereas, when the Conservative Party comes out and says "we're going to clean up the environment with a transit tax rebate" or "we're going to create a child care program that involves maximum parental choice" or "we're going to stamp out Liberal Party corruption", we're getting perhaps too involved in actual narrative that are failing to resonate with Canadians, who just want to hear "clean air, better schools, and more health care."

Which is sad, because it means we get hammered in the polls, despite having good ideas.

The conclusion is also apropos.
The message is the final step, not the first step. It is the product that should be a natural extension of stories and frames, not the basis. The road to meaningful framing may be a longer journey than most of us like, but it’s the milestone we need to pass in order to reach our final destination.
Have a read through the article.

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