Plenty has been written about the mastery of language in use by conservative think tanks these days and I’m reminded of it every time I turn on the news or watch a discussion show featuring conservative guests. I used to discount the importance of language and framing of issues as overly simplistic, but this really is the death of liberals right now. It’s in the liberal nature to tell both sides of the story and/or go for a nuanced discussion of issues, but people don’t have time or energy to keep those kinds of things straight on hundreds of subjects in the news. I’m constantly impressed by conservatives that can gain traction with somewhat crazy ideas, but do it using such simple language that leaves little room for interpretation.
One instance that is driving it home for me is seeing signs for prop 36 in Oregon. Proposition 36 is the vote on a change to the State Constitution, to clear up the ambiguous language that says “anyone over 18 can marry…” so that is says “A man and a woman over 18 can marry…” I hear the issue is currently polling at around 50%-50%, which surprises me because I thought gay marriage had zero chance of survival in the wild, but looking at the signs it’s clear that the No side’s language isn’t helping them, while the Yes side is killing it.
The No on 36 folks have these complicated signs that say “no on constitutional amendment 36” and although the NO and 36 are the biggest things on it, it still requires them to push a negative with a screaming NO on it. The color is drab and you can’t read the words “constitutional ammendment” from a car. The Yes folks have a great distilled message, with multiple colors. It says “One Man. One Woman. Yes on 36.” It’s simple, concise, and gets the point across without the need for a five-syllable word.
So here’s the thing: why don’t liberals champion the power slogan? Why can’t liberals drop the “yeah, but…” from everything they want to say? Conservatives never feel the need to spell out the specifics, or the drawbacks, or the exceptions, while liberals are almost happy to do it. It obscures the message when you have to add “yeah, but…” to everything you say.
Here’s my suggestion for the No on prop 36 folks: Go simple. Your new slogan is “Support Marriages. Support Families. No on 36.” That’s it. You don’t have to explain these are new marriages or expanded definitions of family, just go with short, emotional slogans. People love marriage. People love family. A no vote on 36 means thousands of marriages don’t have to be dissolved.
Just as a conservative might repeat the phrase “Progress in Iraq” over and over, you could easily spin gay marriage as a way to encourage more marriages, help create more happy families, and help spread love instead of hate. And when your opponents try to point out “but! but! you’re going to ruin civilization!” you can ask they why they hate the institution of marriage, why they want to deny love, and why they want to break up families.
And you can’t argue with that on a 2 foot-by-3 foot sign at 60mph.