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The Articulation Gap

February 14, 2011

Are the politicians who purport to be on our side too civil (“OK, OK, birthers are crazy people”), not civil enough (“You lie!), or are they guilty of not adequately articulating their message? There may be a mixture of all three involved, but whatever the case it certainly can be frustrating to watch.

A thoughtful recent article by conservative radio talker Kevin McCullough asserts that conservatives are losing the battle when we can least afford it. Although he casts most of the blame at fellow talk show hosts (and it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out who he means), his advice on educating the other side as to what we’re really about has value for all of us. To illustrate, he noted an example where he worked with a decidedly liberal colleague on the radio who initially viewed him with the typical stereotypes that liberals have of us—narrow-minded, prejudiced if not racist, lacking compassion, and so on. By presenting his views in a low-key, non-confrontational manner, McCullough says he eventually won her respect if not her total conversion to conservatism. To the extent that we can all do more of this with people who are on the other side or are sitting on the fence, perhaps he has a point.

Let’s look at it this way—what’s going to generate a more thoughtful or respectful response? (1) “Obama is a power-mad socialist,” (2) “Obama is destroying the country with his policies,” or (3) “Obama’s health care law sets a dangerous precedent for freedom by requiring people to buy something that they may or may not want.” Seems like we will get further in convincing someone with number 3 than number 2, and with number 2 than with number 1. Specifics may be boring, but they also nail down the facts of the situation as well as opinion, making it more difficult to dismiss or even argue with effectively. Granted, many liberals will simply use ad hominem attacks as, for example, they have done to Joseph Farah of World Net Daily because of his well-documented stand on the Obama birth certificate issue. But all the name-calling in the world does not diminish Farah’s central argument one whit, since the facts are on his side.

Congressional leaders could learn something from this approach. Instead of letting the hostile media push them around, they need to find their voice and then stick to it, especially when it comes to spending cuts and the debt ceiling. If the figures that the media get their hands on don’t seem to add up, then the Republican leaders need to make clear why they do—whether it’s because we’re only dealing with the remaining fiscal year and not a full year, or whatever the case may be. Voters who put these folks in office to make these cuts happen need to hear the unfiltered version of what’s really going on, and with the Internet, blogs, Twitter and so forth, there’s no excuse for the Republicans not to get their message out to the masses.

That message should include in loud and clear terms the repudiation of Obamacare by a federal judge in Virginia and what this should mean for the future of the law and funding for it. If the Constitution still means anything in this country, the Republicans need to prove their fidelity to it by standing firm on not allowing Obamacare to continue on any fronts. And to have any chance at success, they must shoot down the emotional arguments that will be thrown like so many hand grenades at them and state their case forcefully. It won’t be easy, but this class of Congress has more members that have the intestinal fortitude to do it—if only they put their minds to it.

Of course, there’s a reason that Kevin McCullough does not have as large a following as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin. He’s simply not as controversial. To the extent that the other three make incendiary statements that may be twisted by an eager media to impugn their credibility, perhaps he has a point that his way might just work more effectively in the long run. Maybe as we pine for another Reagan, we should also wish for another Henry Hyde, the consummate gentleman who never compromised his principles.

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