In terms of our five-element story model the Dem primary
story is now entering its fourth element – Awareness. It got there step by
Both Hillary and Obama have Passionately motivated their
base voters – how passionately is clear from the record turnouts. They have
each presented a coherent point of view around which their constituency can
rally. Hillary’s and Obama’s policies are essentially the same, so things are
more about identity politics and style than usual, but given that they are both
“historic firsts” their position as Heroes was pretty much of a lock.
As Antagonists they have slugged
it out across 20 long – sometimes endless – debates. We have seen Hillary tear
up and Obama shake his head fetchingly with that dazzling, “oh shucks” smile he
has and most true Dems have opened their hearts to both of them. So much so
that the biggest applause line at the Texas debate was for the suggestion that
they join together in a “dream ticket.”
Yeah right, dream on. Emotions come from
struggle and to see the real, raw emotional price politics extracts it is hard
to beat this clip of Rep. John Lewis talking about how much harder it was to shift
his support from Hillary to Obama than to face the racist beating he took
leading the Selma march in the 60s. It should be required watching in any Civics class. Check
it out here.
But you can only stay emotional for so long. The rush of
adrenalin passes and if you are lucky it is followed by a strange and watchful
calm. That is where things stand right now for Dems. Hovered on the edge of a
dawning awareness. Awareness is a mental process but as viral marketing
campaigns prove it is not necessarily a rational one. Watch closely, we are now
entering the time of the tricksters
A while back I did an interview with Frances Stonor Saunders for the "Analysis" program on BBC Radio. The show just aired in England (2-21-08) and is now available for download.
The show deals with the place of story in politics. Also interviewed for it were Robert McKee (Story) and Drew Wesson (The Political Brain) either of whom are worth the price of admission, but the star of the show is the interviewer, Ms. Saunders, who is smart as a whip and cut-to-the-quick incisive.
The program is VERY British (BBC, no duh, right?) but if you are willing to break out of your parochial American political box and see the big political picture you do not want to miss this show. I’m checking with some Brit friends to understand some of her
references to the British parliamentary scene, but her references to the
Clintons are spot on.
Of course the fact that Frances warmed to our five-element model and uses it through out only proves my point about her being "smart as a whip".
To link to the shows website and download the podcast, CLICK HERE.
Or you can read a synopsis of it on the BBC print website here. Either way come back and leave me a comment to let me know what you think. BTW I’d also like to thank Innes Bowen, the shows producer, for making the experience so completely pleasant.
At the CNN Dem debate last night Hillary Clinton gave one of
the finest closing statements – hell, one of the most effective story moments
period – at any debate in memory. Better than anything in JFK-Nixon, (even
Nixon’s sweating lip) and better than Reagan’s exquisitely timed, “There you go
again,” against Carter.
The final question was “Describe
the moment in your life when you were tested the most.” You can see Hillary’s
response by clicking here. It is worth careful study.
Hillary responded with a broad smile,
reminded us of the crises she has faced without having to list them – they are
part of our collective memory – then deftly took the answer to another level.
She talked about her attendance at the dedication of a medical center for
rehabilitating wounded warriors back from Iraq. She and John McCain were the
only two elected officials invited, which allowed her to skillfully link
herself with the presumptive Repub candidate, but she kept the visual imagery
on the wounds and suffering of the troops and their heroic struggle to recover.
And she took her time doing it. She was making us SEE why this election
matters. It is about real people, real medical care, and the real consequences
of presidential decisions.
In story terms Hillary moved the
debate from her struggle with her Antagonist (Obama) to the next story element
– our Awareness. In The Elements of Persuasion we say that every successful
story needs a moment of Awareness that allows the hero – that’s us in an
election – to make the decision that will lead to real transformation. This
moment is often fleeting and easy to miss. Not this time. At the San Antonio
CNN debate the moment of Awareness was Texas Big.
In many ways Hillary’s
answer was a call back to her earlier spontaneous answer to a question at a
diner in New Hampshire that some felt turned the tide in that state’s primary.
You can see that one again here.
Will one moment in the San Antonio
Debate be enough to transform Hillary’s downhill slide? Hard to say. But the it
was definitely a story moment for the record books
Yesterday the WGA voted by over 92% to end the 14 week-long
writers strike. Writers still need to discuss and ratify the new contract – in
LA the meeting has been scheduled for February 25th – but it is all over
but the shouting.
With writers however, the shouting is usually the most
interesting part. This time around the tensions that often make WGA strike
meetings the most entertaining show in town never really surfaced. Why?
One reason is the Internet itself. Blogsites like United
Strike Life and The Late Show Writers on Strike kept frustrations from festering to the toxic levels needed to trigger
intramural paranoid fantasies (paranoid fantasies are after all a WGA
Even more important was the decision to mount continuous
pickets. In The Elements of Persuasion we talk about how working (and walking) closely together stimulates mirror neurons, increasing brand loyalty and
bonding. It works for Starbucks. It
worked for the WGA. Writers who spent months in close proximity carrying picket
signs and chanting now know how emotionally powerful and healing “walking the line”
can be. The LAT has a nice page on what it all felt like. Click here.
There are a few issues still on the table. Most important is jurisdiction over “Reality
TV”. In my book it is shameful that the WGA allows writers – any writers
– to work under contracts that offer no health care and no pension. But as I
was reminded on the picket line, the WGA is a Guild, not a Union.
That distinction is rapidly fading. The increased militancy
the picket line bred, particularly among the strike captains from whom future
WGA leadership will be drawn, means the days of sweetheart deals for the media
conglomerates is all but over. To all those who went on strike to secure the
future – JOB WELL DONE!
One of the functions of the Antagonist in a campaign story
is to clearly define the hero. Hillary’s long struggle against the insurance industry for universal
health care, and Obama’s principled stand against Bush on Iraq defines both
their campaigns and their characters. Drawing those distinctions is important.
But the ultimate Antagonist of both candidates isn’t each other, it is the
Repubs. What does the reaction of the Repub punditry tell Dems – particularly
the all-important 796 super delegates – about what to expect next?
Seaton has a great blog over on his site titled “Why do Peggy Noonan, George
Will and David Brooks favor Obama” that
definitely deserves a look. He isn’t
the only one to notice the tendency of Repub pundits to jump on the Obama
bandwagon, but the quotes he uses to bolster his case that he “smells a rat”
definitely give a strong whiff of what he means. It may just be knee-jerk
Hillary hatred but it could be more coordinated. Particularly when the effort
is bookended by Karl Rove’s opening shot in the Financial Times and William Kristol’s long piece in yesterday’s NYT which is basically a rallying cry for Obama forces on the convention floor. The more Republican Strategists who go on Tucker Carlson’s show on MSNBC to say how they would
really, really rather run against Hillary the more this feels like an obvious
Of course it isn’t Obama’s fault that he is attracting riff raff from across the
aisle. To the extent that it brings in new voters it is a good thing. But if
you are a Dem delegate and you think Rove and Kristol are offering their advice because they want to be the Dem’s new best friends you should immediately seek professional help.
On Tuesday February 19th
Bob and I will be giving A FREE WORKSHOP on how to use the five-element story
model we describe in The Elements of Persuasion
to polish the pitch for a film or television project. We are doing it with our friends at
FilmIndependent, the not-for-profit organization that promotes independent film
making here in LA with its Spirit Awards. To find out details about the
evening, click here.
Pitching a film project is verbal story telling at
its most refined, containing elements of writing, acting and direction.
Literally millions of dollars hang on having a tight and compelling song and
dance. Many filmmakers dread the experience, but it can actually be a lot of
fun. And you won’t stop pitching once you get the cash – you’ll have to pitch
the film to every member of the cast and crew all through actual filming and
post production, then go out on the road and pitch it to the news media as part
of the publicity campaign. So it just makes sense to get your pitch perfect.
We are billing the event as a fast, interactive evening for
“writers who get nervous, actors who leave out crucial details, and directors
who want to get the suits to see it their way.” If you have a film idea – and
who doesn’t? – come by and lets work on polishing it together.
You do have to be a member of FilmIndependent. But if you
live in LA and you love film you probably are already. If not, you can join
If you hurry there may still be l time to vote on this years Spirit Awards. It is money very
Super Tuesday shows that voters are clearly thinking
outside the box. Both McCain and Obama lost ground among their party’s core
constituents, but made it up with new voters and cross over independents. In
story terms these independent minded voters should favor the Dems. As Will
Rodgers once said “I don’t belong to any organized political party – I’m a
But not necessarily. The problem is that the Obama’s
campaign, which is doing a great job of bringing in new voters, might not be
able to transfer his fans personal loyalty to him into loyalty for the party as
a whole. Fans are much more fickle than constituents. Even Obama’s own wife
Michele has said that she can’t guarantee that she would vote for Hillary if it
came to that. “It’s Obama’s way, or I hit the highway” is
not a message likely to produce a united front come November.
And this egocentricity is seeping into Obama’s rhetoric.
Listen to the candidates’ “victory” speeches and you’ll notice an interesting
Obama’s is here
Obama’s speech is still stuck in the first person plural. It
is all about “we”. “We” is just “Me” with its arms open wide. Hillary starts
her speech in the second person with “You” – her focus has shifted from herself
to the voters she intends to represent. It is more mature stage of a candidate’s
Running for President is very
heady stuff. If Obama begins to think it is all about him, if his head
gets spun by fawning pundits so that he forgets who is really running against
(and there are signs he is getting ready to run against Bill Clinton’s record
rather than that of George W. Bush – check out this over at TPM)
things could go bad for the Dems very fast.
Yesterday I took a decidedly ‘glass half empty” lose/lose
look at the Dems. But there is a way to see their storyline as win/win. It just
takes a large leap of faith.
Bill Clinton famously said that Repubs are looking to be
led, Dems are looking to fall in love. The way the two parties assign delegates
The Repubs favor winner-take-all tabulation and should have
their candidate locked and loaded by the end of the week. Then it is just a
matter of getting the flow of marching orders straight so that the Fox News
Megaphone can kick into high gear. TheIr only problem? Who to shoot at.
The Dems favor proportional delegate tabulation, which makes
their choice longer in coming. Many Dems are still struggling with “Do I really love
him, can I trust him (or her)?” and “I can’t believe what she (or he) said
about my new best friend!” Very high school, but very, very real There is a lot of emotion in play for the
If their romantic dithering continues on into a wide open
convention – and that hasn’t’ happened since 1952 – it will be a tremendous
boost for eventual Dem voter turn out, and provide a nice goose for network
coverage. With the nomination hanging on the decisions of the 20% of “super delegates”
not legally committed to either candidate – the Dems might actually draft a new
candidate. Now that would be exciting. Sort of a last minute touchdown
Al Gore, anyone?
OK. I’m dreaming. I said that. But for those who say this is
impossible – that Dems can’t have the candidate they really want – I refer you
to Mr. Obama’s musical mantram, "Yes We Can". Just click here.
Super Tuesday is just around the corner, and the basic
story lines for Clinton and Obama have pretty much solidified. Both contain a
fair amount of fiction.
Hillary pushes herself as the experienced candidate in her
new ad mentioning her endorsement by the NYT. See it here. It is good
thoughtful stuff and if you vote with your head you might pull her lever. But Hillary has
clearly learned from Drew Westen’s The Political Brain (which Bill is said to have read in one
sitting) and knows she has to make things viscerally relevant to be emotionally
memorable – so she has also come out with “Freefall”. This ad attempts to reposition her “I’m the candidate strongest on security
issues” line as an economic rather than a foreign policy pitch. The way the
economy is going, this approach is at least forward looking.
Obama’s ad is unabashedly
backwards looking as he continues to run on his “new politics” platform. Hey,
if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Obama’s Superbowl ad
basically says to new voters, “Come on in, join the Democratic Party, the
waters fine.” If good intentions were all we needed from a President, this
thing would already be over. Clearly Obama’s heart is in the right place.
One problem for the future is that both story lines depend on
large doses of the willing suspension of disbelief. Hillary actually has no
executive branch experience (though she clearly was a major adviser to Bill),
and Obama’s political pitch – “elect me, because I’m not part of the same old
thing” – is actually pretty standard political fodder. He certainly isn’t the first candidate to
run as a “uniter not a divider”.
Meanwhile McCain looks like he is on rock solid ground as
“the last Grand Pa standing” with enough time to mend any political fences
before things get nasty come next November. The Dems may have actually figured
out how to lose this thing.
The right story at the right time can change your life.