Conservative Storytelling

As we like to say, storytelling moves audiences. They connect emotionally to stories, and they remember stories. Jonah Goldberg, a LA Times op-ed writer and a conservative, in his column today, writes about the importance of storytelling to political ideology. He says conservatives don’t do a great job of storytelling – but liberals can’t sell their stories in the popular media because they’re not stories that are widely shared.

Whether you agree with his point of view, he has a point. Audiences want compelling stories. They want to feel good. They want to feel proud, or they want to feel moved.

As Jonah notes, a movie that jokes about abortion (“Obvious Child”) isn’t going to gain a big audience, while one about an unintended pregnancy that is carried to term will (“Juno,” “Knocked Up” and many television series). This, of course, illustrates Americans’ overall view about abortion. A majority of Americans may be pro-choice, but that doesn’t mean they are pro-abortion. Most view abortion as a choice they’d rather not have to make.

While there are many points with which we disagree, we do agree with Jonah’s assessment regarding the importance of storytelling. As he notes in a 2013 column:

For roughly 99.9% of human history, nearly all of human wisdom was passed on in stories. We are a species that understands things — i.e. morality, politics, even religion — in terms of stories. And yet so much of what passes for conservative rhetoric these days isn’t storytelling but exhortation. Whatever the optimal policy might be, if you can’t talk to people in human terms they can relate to, you can’t sell any policy. The war on poverty, for instance, has been an enormous failure in many policy terms, but it stays alive because of the stories liberals tell.

Many liberals will, of course, disagree with his description of the war on poverty. Putting aside his clearly partisan slant here, the underlying message is the same no matter the ideology: Politicians need to master the art of storytelling to convince their audiences to support them and their points of view.

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