One of the things I find very interesting is the idea that Democrats have been too afraid to take a stand on issues. Part of this is inherent in our nature — liberals like looking at every side of an issue, and considering the relative merits of each. It’s part of what makes us liberal.
But while that’s a good thing to do when considering what to believe, it can be far from an asset when campaigning.
The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article today about a brain researcher who suggests that when it comes to campaigning, Democrats need to appeal to hearts instead of minds:
In his new book, “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation,” [Drew] Westen, who is not affiliated with a particular candidate, lays out his argument that Democrats must connect emotionally with the American electorate — and that he can teach them how.
He writes that when Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts let a Swift-boat veterans group drag his reputation through the mud (2004), when Al Gore put a nation to sleep with his talk of lockboxes and Medicare actuaries (2000), and when Michael S. Dukakis said he didn’t believe in the death penalty even in the event of his wife’s rape and murder (1988), Democrats were exhibiting their single worst tendency: intellectual dispassion.
That style is ballot-box poison, said Westen. “The political brain is an emotional brain,” he said. “It prefers conclusions that are emotionally satisfying rather than conclusions that match the data.”
When Westen and his Emory colleagues conducted brain scans during the 2004 presidential campaign, they found that partisans of either side, when presented with contradictory statements by their preferred candidates, would struggle for some seconds with feelings of discomfort, then resolve the matter in their candidates’ favor.
The scans showed that to do this, they used the part of their brain that controls emotion and conflict. The area that controls reasoning was inactive — “the dead zone,” Westen said.
Westen writes that it doesn’t make sense to argue an issue using facts and figures and to count on voters — particularly the swing voters who decide national elections — to make choices based on sophisticated understandings of policy differences or procedures. He says Democratic candidates must learn to do what Republicans have understood for many years — they must appeal to emotions. And (talking to you, Mr. Gore) stay away from numbing statistics.
Note what Western does not say: he doesn’t say Democrats shoudn’t consider things at a deeper level — just that we needn’t lay all of the considerations out on the table on every issue.
Moreover, this is an argument against the sort of fine-grained triangulation that the DLC preaches. Taking a strong, emotional stand is going to pay more dividends than trying to find the exact point that swing voters say they want to hear. Because truth be told, the swing voters would rather hear a direct and emotional appeal they don’t quite agree with than a dull formulation that they do.