November 14, 2004

Politics and storytelling.

Rational Explications had a post (via Instapundit) a few days ago that sorted occupations into two columns. Column A listed several occupation -- Actor, Lawyer, Teacher, Writer -- and tied them, first, to "the ability to tell a story well" and, second, to the Democratic Party. The Republican Party by contrast was tied to other occupations -- Business Owner, Physician, Engineer, Soldier -- and to "the ability to perceive the facts of a given situation clearly." The election results were explained as "a clash between the realm of talk and the realm of action."

With that in mind I was struck by this passage from the today's Boston Globe article, "On the Trail of Kerry's Failed Dream," describing Paul Begala's advice to Kerry:
Begala, knowing the senator was a former prosecutor, asked the candidate to present his case to voters to hire Kerry and fire Bush. Kerry responded by naming six issues, according to Begala's notes of the conversation: Jobs, taxes, fiscal policy, healthcare, energy, and education.

This was a list, not a "case," Begala fretted.
That is, Kerry was failing to put his issues into a story form to persuade the voters (like a good lawyer).

Today, on "Meet the Press," James Carville had this analysis of why Democrats keep losing presidential elections:
By and large, our message has been, we can manage problems, while the Republicans -- although they say we can solve problems, they produce a narrative, we produce a litany. They 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.
So is Rational Explications wrong about the Democrats being the "storytelling" party, or are Begala and Carville just coming up with a story -- the story of the lack of a story -- to explain Kerry's defeat? I know what Carville means. Kerry was going around listing things everyone cares about, as if people would vote for him simply for naming the problem. Yet, what is the main thing Carville says Bush did differently? Is it that he specified that he was going "protect you" from various problems, or that Bush had a different list of problems? I don't see how saying "I will protect you" from the problems is much more than the implicit promise of a solution when a candidate cites a problem. Neither is enough. The candidate must inspire trust in his competence and willingness to solve those problems. And in the end, saying things is not enough. But, of course, the belief that the solution lies in telling a better story -- as opposed to doing things that inspire trust -- is what "Column A" types do.

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