Daily Dose: Attacking Scott Walker still won't motivate people to believe in progressive ideas

October 20, 2017

 Yesterday, I challenged people to watch the first Walker campaign video and comment on the political messaging. To many people's credit, they were able to set aside their emotional dislike for Walker, and look at the message and framing of the video. Everyone understood that the ad is positive, shows a vision of Wisconsin based on conservative values that people understand (and that many believe in), and makes it easy to repeat the messages it contains.

To be specific, the ad has a very positive tone, and shows a very positive vision of what Walker has accomplished, acting through conservative values. In case you need a reminder, the conservative frame is based on the strict authoritarian father, which Walker embodies. Everything he talks about in the one minute ad can be boiled down to three primary, conservative values-based points:


1. Less government (i.e., lower taxes, less regulation) = more freedom and prosperity (i.e., "job creation")

2. Successful (and wealthy) people are disciplined and are therefore morally superior, deserving of their success.

3. Poor people are undisciplined and deserve their poverty as punishment, which will help make them disciplined so they can then succeed.


This ad also makes it very easy to repeat the ideas evoked. Remember, even if you try to negate them by disputing facts, the ideas will be repeated and then reinforced unconsciously. Take for example, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin's response (how each point evokes conservative values in parentheses):


“If Scott Walker released an honest video on his track record in Wisconsin, it would show his refusal to expand health care to all Wisconsinites..."  (To do so would have been to expand the immoral "big government" monster. Walker did the disciplined, thus moral thing by keeping government small.)


"...his rejecting federal money to improve broadband in rural Wisconsin..." (See above - and also point #3 above. If people can't afford it, they don't deserve it.)


"...his wounding cuts to our public schools..." (Remember, Act 10 and the subsequent budget actions were about being fiscally disciplined. Issues 1 - 3 above cover this statement, especially in the absence of the progressive frame being evoked.)


"...his singular pursuit of serving the ultra-wealthy around the country over the majority of middle-class Wisconsin residents." (Remember - #2 above - the conservative frame says the wealthy are morally superior, and should be admired and aspired to - we should want to be just like them, so they deserve special treatment. After all, they are the "job creators".)


"...his complete failure on his very own job-creation promises that were the centerpiece of his first campaign." (And there is is - the "job creation" metaphor. The entire ad is evoking the "job creation" metaphor and frame, so this statement is simply a failed attempt at negation.)


You get the point. Virtually every line reinforces the very message (based on conservative values) Walker is communicating. Truly an effective campaign ad.


So how do progressives change the frame? 


First, avoid repeating ANY of the ideas evoked in the ad, even in trying to present counter-factuals. Conservatives love it when progressive try to counter with facts. 


Next, come up with a way to send a positive message about progressive values, and how Wisconsin would be a better place for everyone if our people and government acted on their empathy, to care for each other. This can be accomplished by relating personal stories or experiences about how it's deep in our nature to care for, and look out for each other. Then relating those same values to how our government and elected officials ought to reflect those same values on every issue. To be truly authentic, everyone's experiences should be personal and local!


Finally, to undermine someone like a Scott Walker, you point out how his actions betray our values (based on empathy, of course). You point out that in Wisconsin, we value caring for others, not harming them. We value caring for others, not acting through our own greed and self-interest. You can point out specifics where people's freedom has been harmed, and how caring for others means that we act differently on issues because of our values. Importantly, we need to start calling this what it is - a moral responsibility that most people agree with - like the Golden Rule, or being a Good Samaritan. Show how Walker's actions betray those values and moral models.


The most important aspect of this, however, is that it must be authentic. For me (or someone else) to put words in your mouth, no matter how well framed, won't work. People will see right through it. They won't know why, they will just have a feeling that it's inauthentic BS. Which is why you can use the blueprint above, and the values based on empathy, but the stories and metaphors need to come from your experiences and authentic beliefs.


Authenticity is a tremendous challenge. Perhaps that's why many Democratic leaders have such a difficult time with framing!