The Speech I Would’ve Given at CPAC
Facts, data, and complaints don’t persuade people, but the right stories will.


Lee Habeeb

What we cannot survive is our loss of memory: the memory of who we are, how we got here, and the people and principles that made this country great.

“The world is made up of stories, not atoms,” the poet Muriel Rukeyser once noted. She is right. Stories move us. They teach us, guide us, and uplift us. They stir our hearts. And stories soon become our collective memory.

Storytelling worked for Jesus Christ. And his apostles.

It worked well for Abraham Lincoln. And Winston Churchill. And Ronald Reagan.

For far too long, our side has relied on facts, data, and reason to prevail, on consultants, pollsters, pundits, and Ph.D.’s to advance the cause of freedom, free markets, and freedom of religion and conscience. For far too long, we’ve tried to convince our fellow Americans that we are right and the Left is wrong, and we have pummeled them with facts and figures, lectures and admonitions. We’ve become angry and even bitter that more Americans have not been convinced of our superior arguments.

A few years ago, Will Bowen came out with a book called A Complaint Free World, in which he talked about the deleterious impact that complaining had on businesses, churches, and families. He then came up with a challenge for his readers, urging them to go three weeks without complaining.

No small task. But big challenges have big upsides.

For the next three weeks, I urge you to do something very difficult: When talking to friends, loved ones, and neighbors about the country you care so much about, do not complain about anything. Not the Democrats, not the Federal Reserve, not sequestration, and not the mainstream media.

I know. I hear that collective gasp. Complaining about our lot in life has become oxygen to us. We act as if we are some beaten-down minority, oppressed victims of forces too big for us to combat. We forget that twice as many Americans identify with conservatives as identify with the liberals, and then we go out every day hell-bent on reversing that number. We drive moderates and independents away from us.

We are not fully to blame for this. The media and most of the cultural institutions in America make us feel that we are in the minority. It’s a form of psychological warfare, and we soon start to believe that we’re in the minority. Our media outlets, from Fox News to talk radio, help make us feel less alone, but they, too, are sometimes part of the problem; they are designed in part to stir our outrage. And truth be told, there is much to be angry about.

But when trying to bring people around to our point of view, anger isn’t a tool of persuasion.

Neither are facts and data. When you start explaining why you’re right and why the person you’re talking to is wrong, and that you have the facts and data to prove it, you will lose every time. Explaining is how we always get in trouble.

I propose here and now that we try something new. Let’s start telling stories — stories that carry in them everything we think and know about what has made our country great, and what will keep it great. Stories of our families and how we got here. Stories of our heroes, our innovators, and our immigrant heritage. Local stories, old ones and new ones. Stories about courage and honor and love.

Any maybe we can invite our friends to share their stories with us.

Here is what we’ll learn: Few if any of those stories will include the government as the protagonist. Most will be about the redeeming power of ordinary people to do extraordinary things, feats they never thought possible, even in their dreams.

As we share these stories, certain themes will emerge: Love conquers cynicism, hope beats despair, hard work is good and laziness bad, accountability and responsibility matter in life, risk-taking is a fundamental part of life, and so too is failure, and freedom is the antidote to bondage of every kind.

Those stories will reinforce a simple notion: that genius, beauty, and innovation spring from the most unlikely of places, places no central planner or government bureaucrat could ever create or control.

What the people we are trying to persuade will also learn through our storytelling is this: It is we, we on the right, who are the optimists about human beings, we who believe in the innate brilliance of the American people to solve our own problems, we who believe that human beings are not a pile of cells and membranes, but living spirits whose rights and talents come from God, not government. They will learn that it is we who are pessimists when it comes to power and its tendency to corrupt. It is we who are pessimists when it comes to the ability of large bureaucracies, whether public or private, to navigate the ever-changing needs and demands of the people they purport to serve.

If we stop complaining and explaining and start storytelling, we just might get back our confidence — and also our sense of joy and love.

Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll get our country back, too.

With that said: “Once upon a time . . . ”

— Lee Habeeb is vice president of content at Salem Radio Network.