Monday, September 27, 2010

The Rhetoric and Story of Politics

This will be a rare political post on this site, but I think that the information is pertinent.

I have talked recently on this blog about the connection between rhetoric and story.  Rhetoric, as it is recognized is usually found in the micro, in bits and pieces of language, while story creates the overarching narrative. 

It is no different in politics. Rhetoric is usually noticed in politics in sound bites. A clever turn of phrase, or a repetition in the message.  Unfortunately, I think that the overarching story is often missed, if it is there at all. 

I would argue that there are essentially two competing stories in American political culture: the story of the Left, and the story of the Right. When these stories are told in a compelling manner, the corresponding party will usually win.

Here are the stories:

First, the Left: This story has a problem, a villain, a hero, and a solution.  The problem, according to the Left's story, is that there is inequality in society, there is a big gap between the rich and the poor, a big gap in freedoms between minority groups and WASPs (White Anglo Saxon Protestant Males).  The villain in this story is Big Business. Big Business, comprised almost entirely of WASPs, keeps the rest of the people in society down through their greed.  They have a stranglehold on almost all of the wealth in society and are in no mood to give it up.  The hero in this story is the crusading compassionate politician who will help to level the playing field. The solution to the problem is for this crusading polititian, through taxation and strong regulation, to take on the forces of Big Business, make sure that the redistribute some of their wealth to the poor and underprivileged, and make sure that the barons of Big Business are cut down to size.

Second, the Right:  This story also has a problem, a villain, a hero, and a solution.  The problem, according to the Right's story, is that people are not free to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without unreasonable restrictions from the Government.  The villain in this story is Big Government. Big Government taxes and regulates all people too much which restricts their freedoms.  The hero in this story is the Big Business man or woman.  Not the villain from the Left's story, but someone who has pulled themselves up from the lower classes, and through hard work and ingenuity has become successful and wealthy. Far from being a greedy and nasty member of the elite, the hero in this story is compassionate and a philanthropist.  Not only does this hero provide jobs to masses of people, but he or she also donates heavily to charities, passing on their wealth to benefit society.  The solution in this story is to lower taxes and reduce business regulations to allow all people to become upwardly mobile, to contribute to society, and to grow the economy.

With the recent economic meltdown in America, both sides have been trying to tell their respective stories.  For the Left, they told their story best in 2008 and elected Barack Obama.  He was the perfect hero, one who would bring hope and change, one who would take on the greedy corporations and wall street fat cats who had, through their greed, caused this calamity.  He promised to take care of the poor, providing health care for all, end our energy crisis, bring racial reconciliation. The story worked and he won big.

The Right has not backed off of their story either during this economic crisis.  For the Right, the economic crisis was not caused by greedy corporations, but by government regulations. The Government's push to get the underprivileged into houses and to require lenders to grant loans to those who could not pay them back caused the collapse of the housing market, and in turn, the rest of the economy.  Now, in their story, the Left is doing things exactly backwards.  Instead of spending money that the Government does not have to get out of the crisis, the Government should reduce spending, cut taxes, and allow the ingenuity of the American people to create businesses (with their lower taxes), put more people to work, and to grow the economy.

Which story is more compelling?  You decide.  But, whichever side tells their story and makes it more compelling is in for a big win this November.  It will be interesting to see how the politicians handle their respective stories this Fall.

1 comment: