By Charlie Johnston
When I was prepping candidates for early public appearances, I would almost always ask them if they thought most people make primarily rational or emotional decisions on who to support. Almost all told me they thought most people made primarily rational decisions. “Not quite,” I always said. Though most people are rational, they make an emotional decision on who to support – particularly in a primary – then shop around for rational reasons to justify the emotional decision they have already made. I would give this little “prep” talk to underscore that, before a new crowd, you need to have impact very early in your speech – the first few minutes – to connect with the crowd, and only then fill it out with substance. For example, when former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to ban fountain sodas over 16 ounces, I was speaking at a dinner in downstate Illinois one night. When I went up to the podium I brought a 64-ounce soda with me, took a slurp, set it to the side, paused and said, “I could get arrested for this in New York City.” Then with a big grin I added, “I’m glad this isn’t New York.” The crowd was mine before I said anything of substance – and as long as I didn’t say anything stupid or offensive, I wasn’t going to lose them. I didn’t.
I was emphatic that the candidate needed to offer plenty of substance to bolster that initial connection, but equally emphatic that the sequence had to be connect first, then deliver the goods. Unfortunately, a new poll cited by Jim Geraghty at National Review supports what I was saying – only it has gotten a lot worse. In those days, I insisted that you had to let folks hear a little sizzle before you set the steak in front of them. This poll reveals that, in these hyper-partisan times, it has become all sizzle and no steak. Here are the opening paragraphs of Geraghty’s piece:
You’ve always suspected that partisanship makes people blind to obvious facts sitting right there in front of them.
An experiment we conducted with our colleagues at North Star Research in a poll for USA Today and the Bipartisan Policy Center illustrates the point (though I alone am responsible for any errors in interpretation here).
We presented respondents with two different education plans, the details of which are unimportant in this context. What is important is that half the sample was told A was the Democratic plan and B was the Republican plan, while the other half of our national sample was told A was the Republican plan and B was the Democrats’ approach.
The questions dealt with substantive policy on a subject quite important to most Americans — education — and issues that people are familiar with — class size, teacher pay and the like.
Nonetheless, when the specifics in Plan A were presented as the Democratic plan and B as the Republican plan, Democrats preferred A by 75 percent to 17 percent, and Republicans favored B by 13 percent to 78 percent. When the exact same elements of A were presented in the exact same words, but as the Republicans’ plan, and with B as the Democrats’ plan, Democrats preferred B by 80 percent to 12 percent, while Republicans preferred “their party’s plan” by 70 percent to 10 percent. Independents split fairly evenly both times. In short, support for an identical education plan shifted by more than 60 points among partisans, depending on which party was said to back it.
Really, respondents? Really? Wehner continues:
The Ayres and Mellman survey is ingenious because it empirically revealed an uncomfortable reality: the views many of us hold are largely dictated by partisanship and ideological affiliations rather than intellectual rigor. Everything needs to fit into well-worn grooves, into familiar categories, into pre-existing patterns. This in turn leads to an almost chronic unwillingness to revisit and refine long-held positions. Our thinking on matters of politics and philosophy and faith not only can become lazy; it can easily ossify. It may be worth asking yourself (and me asking myself): In the last 15-20 years, on what issues of importance have you changed your mind, re-calibrated your thinking, or even attempted to take a fresh look at? Or has every event, serious study, and new set of facts merely confirmed what you already knew? To put it another way: do you think you’ve ever been wrong?
And then all of Twitter said as one, “NO, WE NEVER HAVE BEEN WRONG!”
It is why we must emphasize facts, evidence and logic in what we do. Otherwise, we are merely partisans in a mud-wrestling contest.
Several readers alerted me to a piece from the National Catholic Register entitled, “Is It Time for the Benedict Option?” I glossed over it a few times, thinking from the title it was some screed calling for the removal of Pope Francis and the restoration of Pope Emeritus Benedict. Finally, I noticed it was written by Fr. Dwight Longenecker, a very serious and thoughtful priest, so I read it. It was not what I thought at all. In fact, it sounds very much like the sort of thing people here are doing and preparing for – forming small communities and helping each other through troubled times. It is a good read.
I love this little piece from the Catholic News Agency on Pope Francis devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower. It reads like one of the “Ordinary Miracles” I regularly publish from readers.
I also love that Therese is such a lively, minx of a saint. Once I was doing a Novena to her honor asking for a specific intention and promised that, if the intention was granted, I would plant two rosebushes in her honor on either side of my front door. Midway through, I felt bad, like a cheap hood for bargaining with such a generous saint. I apologized to her and asked her to send and clarify for me whatever God wanted for me, but I was going to plant the rose bushes anyway – and do it that day. I did. When I had dug about 10 inches down for the first bush, my trowel snagged on something buried there. I gently pulled it out and found a beautiful brown scapular. Of course, the brown scapular references Our Lady of Mt. Carmel…And St, Therese was a Carmelite Nun. I have worn the brown scapular ever since.