The left needs more passion

A grimace is the holding back of emotion. Let it out!

A grimace is the holding back of emotion. Let it out!

I’m now looking ahead, not back, and hoping to be part of the worldwide left’s refusal to go down without a fight in the face of a Trump-Republican White-House-wash. My first point of order in the war ahead is to encourage the left to do what any winning team has to do in order to win; be passionate.

It’s not just me who is talking about the importance of emotion in politics. Scott Goodstein, a Democrat who worked for Bernie, says Trump’s message was revolting, but his authentic use of social media was a winning campaign strategy because ‘the true power of social media for politicians is unleashed only if they use it to make emotional connections’. Jonathan Freedland makes the point that the centre-left in the UK and the US (and Australia!), too often ‘play nice, sticking to the Queensberry rules – while the right takes the gloves off’.

I agree with Goodstein that the left have to be more authentic. And with Freedland that the left have to take our gloves off. This doesn’t mean we have to be lying, cheating bastards like the right, as we, by our nature, have morals and values which would make it impossible for us to win this way whilst still being authentic versions of ourselves, which by the way, is a key part of glove removal. What we need is to get our emotional, refuse-to-back-down, do-whatever-it-takes, scream-from-the-top-of-our-lungs, never-say-die, passionate mojo back. Frankly, we all know the left cares, a lot, but too often, we’re too polite to show it. This must end.

Here’s a personal anecdote which might help to convince you. I have always been a loud mouth, always told to tone it down, always getting myself into heated exchanges, partaking in twitter wars with anyone and everyone I disagree with. I’m the same when watching football; a friend described me as never taking a backward step. That’s just how I am. I bring this personality to my blogging. It has always bemused me that the posts I write in anger, bashing the keyboard and getting my political frustrations out in less time than it takes to read it, are the most successful. When I say successful, I’m talking quantitatively. I get the most shares, likes, retweets, hits, comments and occasional trending posts, on the posts that I write with the most passion. Often they’re open letters, usually they’re directed at someone who has done something to make me angry. It doesn’t surprise me that people are more likely to share posts they react passionately to. When they are angry, and I’ve described why they’re angry, they share the post to show how angry they are and on and on it goes around and around the angry, outrage-viral-machine. On the other hand, my more eloquent, carefully-researched, analytical, policy-detailed posts most often sink without a trace.

For a long time I thought the rants were a bit of fun, and that the serious stuff was far interesting and beneficial to the audience. But what’s the point of the serious policy analysis if five people read it? What’s the point of being pithy, smart and toning myself down, if no one reacts to it? What’s the point of carefully constructing a fact-laden explanation of why the left are ‘right’ and the right are ‘wrong’ if it’s just yet another piece-of-argument on a wall of arguments that never get seen and ends up getting us nowhere?

More recently, I’ve learned to embrace my ranty self. The rough edges, the anger, the obvious passion, the emotion, the reaction, is what politics is all about. Politics touches lives, it changes lives, it hurts people, it helps people, it saves people, it kills people. The left need to learn this and need to bottle it and need to use it as a political weapon. Authentic, raw, reaction. No more toning it down. No more careful statements, written by committee, with the emotional-pull of a limp-leaf-salad. If you’re angry, show it. If you’re upset, show it. If something the right has done makes you want to scream, then scream. You can do all these things without denigrating others, without calling people names, without swearing (I have trouble with this one), and without losing your dignity. When you show people why you’re angry, they might find, low and behold, they’re angry too. They might take more notice of you than if you’re just politely inserting a list of factual-dot-points into a slush-pile of facts that don’t fit their pre-conceived opinions.

When watching Clinton debate Trump, when he was being a total arsehole the entire time, Clinton stood passively watching, with a strained smile on her face. The biggest reaction we almost saw was a raised eye-brow every now and then. But imagine if every time Trump said something outrageous, every ridiculous statement he made, she reacted. Imagine if she slapped her forehead when he lied, or she put her hands on her hips and glared at him, or she actually laughed in shock and interrupted him as many times as he interrupted her. (Sure, as a woman, she would have been criticised for doing this, just as she is criticised for not doing this, but either way it would have been great to see her reacting, human to human, to show us she cares!).

The left are too careful, too polished, too reliant on facts, too sure they’re right and often, too scared to get into a screaming argument. The left feel morally superior when they take Michelle Obama’s position that ‘we go high when they go low’. There is no reason you can’t go high and scream it from the mountain tops. You care about something happening in politics? Don’t be afraid to show it.

(This post was originally published on – follow me there too!)

What I learned through blogging

Open Letter to Frances Abbott

I’ve been writing a political blog for long enough to accumulate useful insights into the style and topics which get a reaction and those that are posted and sink without a trace.

Out of the 200 posts on my blog, the biggest reaction came from my Open Letter to Frances Abbott, which was read by over 400,000 Australians. This post didn’t take me long to write – it just flowed out of the outrage I felt about the situation; when it was revealed by a whistle-blower that then Prime Minister Abbott’s daughter Frances had been awarded a secret scholarship to attend the Whitehouse Institute – a scholarship apparently not available to her less-well-connected peers. Other posts I have spent hours researching and writing have been far less popular, such as this one, which only got a couple of thousand views.

So what have I learned about effective political communication from the stats page on my political blog?

  • An emotional, passionate response to a topic is much more likely to be shared, commented on, ‘Liked’ on Facebook and Tweeted, and for that reason, is going to be read by many more people. My ‘Open Letter to Frances Abbott’ went viral because the public shared the outrage I felt about the situation, and wanted to share this outrage with others. My emotional reaction therefore moved people to realise they were having the same emotional reaction. Bluntly, if people feel nothing for what you are saying, they will give you the ‘meh’ reaction of doing nothing about it. Emotion is everything. If people don’t feel anything about what you say or write, they won’t listen and they certainly won’t act.
  • Timing is important. Politics is happening and happening and happening all the time. Scandals erupt and die down continuously. The 24 hour news cycle eats stories up and spits them out as soon as there’s something new to chew. I got lucky with my letter to Frances Abbott. My post went up within 24 hours of the scandal breaking, so it caught the wave of outrage right at the moment people felt like sharing their outrage. And share they did.
  • New Matilda broke the story and no doubt this ‘news’ story went viral. But so too did my emotional reaction to this ‘news’. People don’t just want news. They appreciate sign posts of how to feel about it.
  • My painstakingly researched facts and figures might make me feel justified that I know all there is to know about a topic, and might satisfactorily portray why I came to feel the way I do about a person, policy, situation or political decision. But facts and figures, and all the research in the world, doesn’t make people ‘feel’ anything. That’s not to say that facts and figures can’t be useful. It’s always important to have your facts right and they can help to provide context. Partisan audiences particularly like them when they back up their preconceived ideas; in other words, when they allow them to feel the warm glow of ‘I was right, you were wrong’. But facts and figures should never be used in isolation because laundry lists of rational, expert derived, peer-reviewed, evidence based statements don’t grab and hold attention like an appeal to emotion.

Chat to me about how to incorporate these insights into your next communication opportunity.