DENVER — Some people don’t want to hear it, others don’t know they want to. To address mainstream-media messaging problems, the 2013 Western Conservative Summit hosted here this weekend wrapped with a trust-building and communication “boot camp” on political persuasion.
“Don’t talk so much. Ask questions. Find out what their values are, what they believe. There will be some common ground,” advised James Golden, a.k.a Bo Snerdley, a producer for the Rush Limbaugh Show.
“You need to do political triage. Don’t waste your time on big liberal nut jobs,” added Bill Whittle, the Afterburner host and conservative blogger who shared the stage with Golden as another of the event’s “Persuasion Paragons.”
“If you can’t defend liberty on your feet, you should be in a different line of work,” Whittle said, as attendees lined up to ask the Paragons examples of the kind of tough liberal questions they often face.
“Why do conservatives hate women?” was one.
“Well, I think [women] are swell and I’ve had the opportunity to prove that to more than a few,” replied Bill Whittle, drawing chuckles from the crowd. “Don’t buy into this thing about tribes,” he said. The point he said to make is that people are not women, blacks, hispanics; they are just people with individual needs and issues.
“It’s all good to say we don’t believe in tribes but, really, we’re uncomfortable with difference,” said Paul Dueck, a conference attendee and recent graduate of the University of Chicago who came home to Colorado in search of work. “We need to be empathetic enough to understand differences of belief, differences of history and circumstance, and especially pressing issues of exclusion and poverty. Until we agree they’re problems, we can’t address them in a principled way.”
Inside the workshop, principles were often at the root of the messaging advice, particularly when it came to abortion. Playing devil’s advocate, attendees suggested a commonly perceived hypocrisy in conservative principles: If we’re about personal liberty, shouldn’t we want women to have liberty over their own bodies?
Whittle suggested an analogy between an early-term fetus and a black American slave. Slavery, he explained, was such a violation of the treatment of human beings that it necessitated the intervention of the state. Same is true of fetuses. He said that, because fetal DNA is different than the mother’s DNA, a fetus isn’t really her body.
The mock debate moved on to the Constitution. How do you make it exciting? Remind your interviewer that if Washington were here today, he’d be wearing a $12,000 suit!
On voter suppression? Democrats wrote Jim Crow laws! And Voter fraud is voter suppression.
Gay marriage? An overreach! Get the government out of marriage altogether.
Byron Gray, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Colorado – Denver, agreed with the recommended pitch on marriage, which he found refreshing.
“No one should get federal benefits for marriage,” he said. “I personally don’t believe in gay marriage. I believe it’s a sin. But the government shouldn’t regulate that at all. It should get out of marriage, full stop. Marriage should be up to religions. It is a contract between two people, not three, with the state.”
After drilling the “paragons” with tough questions, attendees broke into small groups, joined by training coordinators, to work through a discussion packet on winning arguments on Obamacare, entitlement spending, and taxes and economics.
“It was great,” said Franceen Thompson after the session. “We’re changing the way we present our message instead of changing the content. I’m much more comfortable with that than moving left.”
Thompson emphasized that the bootcamp had taught her the importance of being empathetic, listening, and introducing facts with stories. She said she hopes the training will help her be more effective as she campaigns for conservatives in upcoming Douglas County school board elections.
Not all the bootcamp attendees felt the same way.
“This reinforces all our bad habits,” said Dueck. “This convention was supposed to be intellectual. Instead, it makes people feel better about their ignorance… A good indicator of being in a bad place as a movement is to think all you need is more and better messaging.”
Despite his disappointment in the proceedings, Dueck maintains he’s a staunch conservative.
“These are my people, I believe our policies are good and valuable,” he said. “Unfortunately, the truth is that simple conservatives and simple liberals inherit the earth.”