Prima Donna Politics

There’s this kid in one of my drama classes.  He interrupts rehearsals.  He talks out of turn all the time.  He says whatever is on his mind, whenever he wants, regardless of the appropriateness at the time.  He talks about how he doesn’t want to be in the class at all.  He doesn’t show respect to the other kids in the class when it’s their turn in the spotlight.  And for all his desire to be the center of attention, he can’t remember his lines; when I drill him on them, he complains about not having more, and ad-libs more whenever he wants.

I’m concerned about the show this class will put on because of this kid.  His antics in class prevent us from preparing properly for the production in a few weeks.  And his lack of preparation will reflect on the entire class when we do perform it.

From where I sit, this kid has a serious case of self-indulgence.  His ‘me-centrism’ is not only hurting himself and his ability to perform, but it’s costing his friends valuable time and energy, and may very well cost them during the show as well.  There’s no way to know how this production is going to turn out.

I see the same sort of thing when I look at the liberty/tea party movement these days.  I’m sorry to have to say some of these things, but there’s too much at stake for us to engage in self-indulgence anymore.

Okay, I’m totally not sorry; I’m pissed.

In 2010 the tea party and liberty activists focused like lasers and literally cleaned House at the Capitol.  But since that election, victories have been few and far between, and much more reprehensible legislation has been passed at all levels.  Liberty candidates find an uphill battle ahead of them, and tea party cachet isn’t what it was.  Gallup just released a new poll showing some pretty drastic changes in public opinion about tea party, for example, and each week there seems to be a new article about the GOP/Tea Party schisms.

There are a lot of systemic problems tea party has run into in its five year history, and those I may cover in another piece later.  But there are a few immediate and internal hurdles that I think we must address as a movement if we’re going to be able to achieve any of our goals.  The first one I want to discuss is messaging.

Messaging is the most important thing to get right.  The self-indulgence of the movement is REALLY a problem here.  One of the first things you’re taught in a communications or speech class is that it matters more what your audience hears than what you say.  If you aren’t getting your message across, one of two things is typically happening: there’s interference, or you suck at messaging.

I know there’s a lot of interference from the left getting in our way.  They’ve spent decades demonizing conservative causes, values, ideas, and candidates.  It’s no wonder we have trouble getting messages through; we’re saddled with a liberal media bent on telling any story in a way that casts conservatives as the bad guys.

But too frequently, our reaction is to simply yell louder, not attempt to find a way around that demonization.  The words we use do matter.  The tones we use do matter.  And people who are really good at messaging to ALL kinds of voters, like our good friends at The Party of Choice with their fantastic video series on messaging against abortion, are drowned out by people like Red State’s Erick Erickson tossing out “Abortion Barbie’ barbs at Wendy Davis.

If your first reaction to being criticized as unwise for using particular words or phrases is to say “I’M NOT WATERING DOWN MY MESSAGE FOR ANYBODY” then I’m calling you out as self-indulgent.  And a bit foolish as well.  What you’re doing is putting up fences, when we ought to be attempting to open doors.  And you’re making the work of all of us who are trying to get more people to realize that they agree with us that much harder.  People still identify with conservative ideas and values.  What they don’t identify with are our messengers.  And at the same time, fewer and fewer people vote based on ideology or values.  They vote on candidates and sound bites and personalities instead.

Erickson slapped a clever label on one candidate to help demonize her.  Big deal.  The left has been experts at that for a long time.  But they have also mischaracterized our values and ideals, trashed the reputation of the Republican Party (with much internal help, to be sure), and rendered toxic as many of our champions as possible.

So Wendy Davis got insulted.  So what?  Her campaign wasn’t as much about getting her elected, as it was about giving the left a rally point for groups like Battleground Texas to make inroads on the ground in this state.   And they’ve been working hard.  Wendy Davis may be toast, but San Antonio mayor Julian Castro will find his way paved quite nicely out of the structure built during Davis’s run.

And meanwhile, Erickson gave the left another rallying cry, another talking point in the stupid ‘War on Women’ argument.  Using such terms about Davis may make our side snicker, and may help solidify Erickson’s position as an outspoken Crusader for the Right; but for those of us trying to find new allies against big government, it didn’t accomplish much else.

I’m certainly not a perfect messenger; far from it.  But I think about it constantly.  I weigh what I want to say, and try to find the best way to phrase it so I’m more likely to be heard.  I try to avoid saying things that will hurt the reputation of the movement, or cause distraction and scandal that other people will have to come behind me and clean up.  I try to focus as much on my audience as possible, translating my principles into stories and themes that resonate with them.  Whether I’m talking to people on an urban talk radio show, or to members of the Occupy movement, or to a Republican Women’s group; I want each of them to understand what I’m fighting for.

In the end, it’s like the play our class is trying to put on.  It’s a team effort.  The divas, the self-indulgent people who don’t respect the rest of the team or the goal we’re trying to achieve, are the ones who may cost us the whole production.  It’s time we all looked hard in the mirror and decided whether we truly want to play our part.