Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ron Paul's Communications Problem

Since I missed his talk last night, "Defending the Constitution, Restoring the Republic" (at the District Chop House, courtesy of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute), I was pleasantly surprised that Ron Paul showed up this morning at Grover Norquist's Wednesday meeting.

Unfortunately, the congressman's remarks were no better than his recent, lousy appearances on TV (twice now on Lou Dobbs, most recently two nights ago; once on Fox’s Red Eye; on MSNBC; and once on Bill Maher.)

He faces two big problems, neither of which impinges upon his platform per se but upon the way he communicates it.

1. His policies are so radical that they require heaps of explanation, to say nothing of patience for persuasion. Paul is all-too happy to oblige, but he needs to discipline himself to speak in sound bites, not like a professor. He doesn't need to sandpaper his ideas or poll-test his words, but he needs to compress them into simple syllogisms.

Grover, for instance, has done this well: "The government's power to control one's life derives from its power to tax. We believe that power should be minimized." TV Watch is even succincter: "Parents, not government."

2. Because his radicalism encompasses every aspect of politics, i.e., he has so much to say, he rambles. The solution: a stump speech, something to keep him on message, so he can constantly hammer home the idea (with which many Americans already agree) that Big Government does more harm than good.

Nobody cares, as Paul is sometimes baited to argue, that the U.S. could have ended slavery without a civil war. That's ancient history and an academic debate, and any time he discusses it, he rightly loses his audience (their attention and interest) and he rightly looks like a kook.


The good news is that Paul is a good fund-raiser and has a strong online presence. His hard line on immigration also helps him with the Republican base.

Moreover, as a libertarian, Paul offers something for all audiences. Are you an environmentalist? He wants to stop subsidizing Big Oil. Disturbed by the war on terror and its accompanying civil liberties clampdown? Paul opposed the Iraq war before it began and is the only presidential candidate to sign the American Freedom Agenda.

If you're a gun guy or gal, Paul has never voted for a federal restriction on the Second Amendment. Plus, he's from Texas. For the abortion crowd, while he is personally pro-life, he is politically pro-choice, even as he votes against taxpayer-funded abortions and would nominate judges who would repeal Roe v. Wade.

To be sure, Ron Paul isn't even a serious contender for the vice presidency, let alone the presidency. But his greatest hope is considerable: the chance to influence the national debate. To do that, he must communicate better.

On a related note, among the myriad fliers at this morning's meeting was a scorecard from Americans for Tax Reform on all the presidential candidates. Since Paul has never voted for a tax increase or for an unbalanced budget, I'm curious why his lifetime rating from the antitax group is a middling 71.9?

4 Comments:

Ray H. said:

I think a legitimate candidate isn't going to sound like polished sound bites are being piped from his mouth. It's obvious that Ron Paul stays on point, but I don't get the feeling he's reading a script.

And, things are complex if you want to understand how they came to be "messed up". Sometimes, people don't even understand what is "messed up" they thing "messed up" is normal. So, some explanations are necessary. Often the solutions may be relatively simple but the situation may need some explanation.

We Americans could work to improve on our attention spans anyway.

Dominic said:

good point and well written, thank you.

Anonymous said:

Sound bytes and short attention spans are what got us into this mess. I think Ron does us a service by laying these snakes out straight and lecturing like a professor instead of tossing empty slogans and phrases at us. By the way most of what he wants to do already lines up with what the people want, therefore he doesn't need to sell it like a used car salesman.

Jonathan Rick said:

The challenge is how to make the most effective use of very limited time. "Lecturing like a professor" is worse than ineffective; it's counterproductive.