I was watching a re-run of Stephen Colbert last night, the one where he consults with Republican strategist Frank Luntz regarding the message that Colbert Super-Pac wants to sell to the American people: Corporations are people, too.
Luntz is a master of the summing up complex concepts into soundbites.
Let me rephrase that: he’s the master of summing up noxious concepts into palatable soundbites and vice versa (for example, he came up with “death taxes” for estate taxes.)
His phrasing evokes emotional responses. He’s very good at that.
We have to get better. And here’s where this ties in to the current situation in this country.
Occupy Wall Street terrifies the people in charge. After all, there are tens of thousands of people nationwide who are camping, day in and day out, to protest the inherent inequality of income and the inherent unfairness of the US tax code.
I’ve been straining to recall when a Teabagger rally on similar topics lasted for more than a few hours, and that was in clement weather in the spring and summer. These kids have made it through a freak snowstorm and are still hanging in there.
How could the powers that be not be afraid?
Think about that imagery: the right, via their useful idiots and tools, has tried to cast OWS as a bunch of spoiled white lefty brats who’s mommies and daddies cut them out of the will because they were dope-addled and sexually promiscuous (itself, a pretty powerful trope: the scary hippy.)
That imagery, which had some legs at first because of the way the news reported the story (up until the pepper-spray incident,) as a bunch of disgruntled interns and low-level clerical workers with English degrees getting fired and thrown out of their apartments, sort of falls apart after the first week of camp-outs, much less the subsequent brute force by the police, the cooling temperatures, the world-wide solidarity, and the general genial mien taken by the protestors.
The right couldn’t just mash this into the dirt and cover it over, is what I’m saying.
The imagery the OWS folks have out there is now too powerful, and although the colder weather will likely lessen in its impact, it can always be picked up again in the spring. It’s an emotional, gut protest, and people have responded to it.
This is the kind of imagery and argument we need to raise elsewhere. Right now, the craftsmen of the right, like Luntz, have co-opted the dialogue. We need to get it back. But how?
We need to look to marry language to logic, but also to emotions. We need arguments that are so simple and so powerful that they defy rebuttal.
Let’s take the abortion argument for a moment. The single biggest protest in America is the annual March For Life. March for Life attracts upwards of a quarter-million people consistently.
Abortion is an emotional matter for them. We can cite statistics until we’re blue in the face, like how the US birth rate has not declined one bit despite all these “millions of dead babies” (their term,) or we can talk about the improvement in the quality of living the babies which are eventually born not to teenage mothers but to women with jobs and careers and long-term partners will have. Not one second of these arguments will sway a single mind on the right.
And those are perfectly logical arguments. But why not tie those to the alternative: women who spend twenty years in servitude (slavery even) because they’ve made a mistake.
Why not provide imagery, in the form of a counter-protest: get five thousand women to march in torn dirty muslin smocks, chained at the neck and feet with dolls dangling from the other end of those chains?
After all, if the scare tactic of showing photos of an aborted fetus is within bounds for the religious right, then equally alarming and disturbing imagery ought to be utilized in response.
We need to make an emotional case to the American people about the progressive agenda. We don’t have much time and there is much to be done. The nation is heading down a bleak path, even if we can all pull together and we must all pull together or things will get dire, indeed.