Thursday, October 25, 2012
Of That Persuasion
Persuasion, when done well is evanescent. Somebody in the process of making a decision will best be persuaded when they feel like the smartest person in the room. Walter Williams had a great piece yesterday, where he cited an example of how you can be totally right, but not persuasive. The thematic line in that piece was, “Explaining a phenomenon is the same as giving it moral sanction or justification.” In his example, you could prove all day to an educational elitist that Americans that are descendants of slavery enjoy a better standard of living that those who escaped capture but remained in Africa, but it won’t get you anywhere.
Conservatives tend to think out their predispositions far more than others. So they debate using facts, logical conclusions and sound reasoning. This style of persuasion is often ineffective because the conservative tries to become the smartest person in the room. This leaves the conservative open to being dismissed with claims of arrogance, intolerance, being closed minded and other ad hominem tactics.
The battle for persuasion is won or lost in how the discussion unfolds. The first step is to set the table by defining what you want and the result you don’t want. Then, persuasion takes place best through an awareness of the facts, which you present dramatically as the debate unfolds. The key is to engage the decision maker. You let the debate unfold, stir it up when it falters, and throw in facts that cannot be disputed. Then, if you see someone arrive at the conclusion you want, reinforce it by following them. Leaders are the smartest person in the room.
I have said for a while that Obama can’t win if he loses Pennsylvania. Tom Smith is giving Bob Casey a run for his money, having closed a 20 point gap over the past 45 days. Smith won the first battle by defining himself and his opponent in one stroke. His ads, as described by the press, denounce, in a “pleasant, straightforward demeanor, … what Bob Casey and the political class have done to America.” He dismisses “career politicians” and describes himself as “just a farm boy that got misplaced in the coal mines and started my own business.” Now Smith is running an ad with a man stating as fact, "I was recently laid off at a coal mine like this, because (President) Barack Obama's new regulations forced our mine to close. Sen. Bob Casey supported these regulations, going right along with Obama's war on coal."
Casey’s riposte talks about harm to babies from mercury, but that misses the point. The decision is not about coal mining. It is about whether Casey and Obama are good for the economy. This quite nicely leaves the Pennsylvania voter to feel like the smartest person in the room.
So it is at this moment in the decision that sentiment about Romney becomes so important. This is why Romney is running the campaign that he has run. Maybe the undecided remembers that Romney ad, "Less regulations to keep the lights on at old jobs." Conservatives may not be happy, but that means that Romney appears more palatable to those who may be persuaded.