It’s been weeks since our “surprise” loss on November 6. The conservative crack-up began in real time, as we watched Karl Rove, à la Captain Queeg, insist that his employer, Fox News, was calling Ohio, and the election, for President Obama prematurely.
Then came the fingerpointing, and the conjecture. Our pundits covered every scenario. We were too conservative. We weren’t conservative enough. The social issues killed us. We didn’t hit the social issues hard enough. We had a candidate problem. A woman problem. A Hispanic problem. It will continue for months, this self-abuse masquerading as self-examination. And liberals will eat it up, watching us wallow in self-doubt.
But if there is one thing conservatives can agree on post-election, it’s this: The dominance of the Left in the storytelling arena is making a difference at the polls. It’s impossible to measure, but anyone who doesn’t think it skews outcomes is living in an alternative universe.
The fact is, it’s easier to sell a political narrative to America when it comports with the cultural narrative we see and hear every day.
“The universe is made up of stories, not atoms,” the poet Muriel Rukeyser once said. Stories, not facts, are the way people process information. Screenplays, plays, scripts, and stories are packed not with hard data but with something more powerful and human: emotional data. That’s why we remember stories long after we’ve forgotten facts. Stories stir our souls.
And we’re not talking about the anecdotal stories politicians deploy to inject humanity into their stump speeches. We’re talking about the narrative of our nation. The story of America. The story of who we are, how we got here, and what we’re to become.
It is extremely serious business, that kind of storytelling.
Plato understood the power of storytellers. It’s why he wanted to ban them in his dream society. Wisely, the Left understands the importance of storytelling and dominates almost every aspect of it in the culture, from content creation to distribution. Regrettably, too few conservatives think storytelling matters.
We’ve invested billions in our great think tanks but little in the task of translating that work into stories the average American will care about. Yes, we have Fox News and political talk radio — important outlets, but outlets that narrowcast to the conservative base and are driven by politics and opinion, not storytelling.
What we don’t have is an alternative to NPR. Or The Daily Show. Or 60 Minutes. Or The Charlie Rose Show. Or Frontline. Or Ken Burns. Content that doesn’t scream its politics at the audience but that lures America in with great storylines, not lectures.
Conservatives have a profound storytelling deficit, yet all we do is whine and complain about it. It’s part of our DNA, our whining about the culture, as if we’re incapable of reverse-engineering the Left’s success.
In 1980, Ted Turner launched CNN. It struggled for years to find an audience and became a player thanks to the first Gulf War — and to the spread of cable TV. In 1996, Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes launched a news network that leaned right, offering the public a counterpoint to the left-leaning CNN. It didn’t take Fox News long to beat CNN.
So much for that 16-year head start!
You’d think our wealthiest conservatives would want to mimic that accomplishment in other areas of our culture. Why not create an alternative to NPR? It reaches 33 million people with its feigned neutrality. Or The Daily Show? Ridicule is a powerful weapon, and the Left offers Americans much to laugh about.
In the past two presidential cycles, we spent billions of dollars on political TV ads that many Americans skipped or ignored. And those billions ended up filling the coffers of entertainment conglomerates whose news and programming relentlessly attack and caricature our side all year round.
We aren’t just throwing money down the drain on commercials. We’re funding the Left’s storytelling and programming machine. And we’re the smart guys?
Why do we keep ignoring the importance of story? And why are we surprised when, even when we win elections, our national debt piles up, and the administrative state expands?
Why haven’t we developed studios or messaging tanks that support our worldview?