Truth gets thrown around a lot in politics. What's true? What's not true? I read an interesting book recently "Storybranding," that has something important to say about how we ought to think about truth.
In the book, the author talks a little about truth, but he divides truth into big "T" Truth and little "t" truth. Put more succinctly by Robert McKee, "What happens is fact, not truth. Truth is what we think about what happens." The author then says, "Stories don't create our beliefs. Rather, their themes are like magnets that find and attach themselves to beliefs that already exist." (Story Branding, p. 215)
That leads to this ad by President Obama.
The execution of the ad is solid enough, nothing earth shaking. I do like the juxtaposition (in college, I tried to use that word in every paper I wrote, might be the greatest word... ever) of Romney's quotes, how he cares about workers and the like, and the worker's bitting comments comparing Bain and Romney to vampires. That part was pretty effective.
But I think more important than the elements of the ad itself are the theme it presents. The Obama campaign is working on creating a meme regarding Romney. Here's the brilliant thing, and it gets to the the reason for my quotes, Obama is only reinforcing the narrative people already have in their minds about Romney.
The idea that Romney is an elite rich guy, who can't understand working people. I don't know if that account is factual or not, but given our definitions above, I think it's pretty true. Take a look at this previous ad:
Again pretty standard stuff except for the last snarky line "That's what you'd expect from a guy with a swiss bank account."
I was talking with someone about Romney, and they said, well it's not like we've never elected a rich guy before. That's right, but it's one thing to be rich, it's another thing for people to think that being rich somehow make you out of touch or elitist.
What's the point of all this? Why am I reviewing two pretty generic Obama ads?
I remember when Slate Magazine doing their truth watch on the 2000 Presidential campaign with GW Bush and the liar Al Gore. The piece stopped after five articles because the author much to her surprise couldn't find enough Gore lies to justify a continuing run. The author
The thing is, the stories we carry with us are powerful -- like stereotypes, they help us navigate the world (like stereotypes those truths can often led us in the wrong direction too). When we can reinforce those truths with our ads, like Obama does here, and the effect resonates with viewers.
What happens when the "Truth" is against us? I alway thought the best weapon on Gore's side was Spike Jonze's unseen documentary -- which was the only time I've seen him portrayed as a real person.
Romney now has a decision to make does he fight against this meme, this narrative? If he chooses to fight, then he has to proceed very carefully because just protesting will only reinforce the frame people already have. He has to do more than tell people he's not an elitist, he has to show them he's not. If he can't do that in an authentic way, then he'll never convince people otherwise. Cause that's the thing about truth, it's sticky till it's not.