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To many readers the sample Jim Crow narrative may feel hollow.[1] Where are the figures to show the increasing gap between the wealthiest Americans and the rest? Where are the studies to show the effect of job exports on rural voters? Where are the statistics to show how Wall Street benefitted more from the government bailout than ordinary families?

Everything in the Jim Crow narrative follows from my research and reading for the last thirty years. I’m well aware of the numbers. I am also well aware that numbers rarely penetrate the mind’s neural fortress. If you want to engage voters use the Reagan (and Bush and Trump) playbook. Flesh out the story with anecdotes of corporate criminal behavior.

Share the story of the Koch brothers’ 28 million dollar cottage industry to steal voters’ social security.[2] Remind voters the President hired immigrants to build his hotels, because Americans wouldn’t and shouldn’t work on skyscrapers 12-hours a day without gloves or hard hats for less than $4 an hour. Remind them he stiffed American workers of their hard-earned pay because “he didn’t think they worked hard enough.”

The anecdotes, not the numbers, drive home the metaphor. Share his defense when faced with the charges during a presidential debate: “…I take advantage of the laws of the nation…My obligation right now is to do well for myself, my family, my employees, for my companies.” [3] Not a mention of the nation’s well being.

Progressive politicians bemoan the GOP’s use of anecdotes to connect with voters. The fact remains, many voters will believe one exaggerated story about a welfare queen than the statement, “Studies show that fraud accounts for two percent of unemployment insurance payments. That’s nothing compared to the 2.4 million people yearly who can’t feed their families while looking for work between jobs.”

Our minds can picture one ruthless woman conning ignorant bureaucrats. We can’t create a picture to express the dimensions of two million families struggling to survive. Higher education levels that discrepancy. Each year of college requires higher levels of abstract thinking. College educated voters can weigh the merit of one anecdote against the numbers that contradict the anecdote.

The New Right doesn’t target college educated voters. Business grads already side with them. This leaves us to suggest the obvious to progressive candidates : If anecdotes work for the Right, they discovered how to communicate with voters.

I’d never suggest that we abandon facts. However, if progressive candidates marry every fact to an anecdote, the more likely they will reach voters we failed to reach before. For example: “Conservatives love to crucify one black woman [Reagan’s Welfare Queen] who defrauded the government of $8,000 in the seventies, and she went to prison.[4] They remain silent when the Defense Department alone paid more than five billion in a two-years period companies that had defrauded them within the previous five years.”[5]

Candidates might add, “The administration that promised to drain the swamp was defrauded by half the companies they contracted to build the wall.”[6]

Nor should candidates forget to identify Jim Crow victims as working families. They should invoke the term at least every other sentence. The working families metaphor paints a positive portrait of white voters. They identify with the label (including the chronically unemployed and underemployed). Most important, the label “working families” isn’t exclusive. It applies to minority and immigrant families without driving a wedge between them.

[1]: This sidebar was accompanies a members only story written to suggest new metaphors for progressive issues that more closely align with conservative voters’ values. The intent is not to move Democratic, Green (and even anti-corporate Libertarian) candidates closer to the center, but to help them highlight shared political and economic interests conservative voters may not recognize.

[2]: Robert Greenwald, ”The Koch brothers’ campaign to kill social security”, The Guardian, June 22, 2011.

[3]: Charles Bagil, “Trump Paid Over $1 Million in Labor Settlement, Documents Reveal,” New York Times, Nov. 27, 2017. Roger Parloff, “Why U.S. Law Makes It Easy for Donald Trump To Stiff Contractors,” Fortune, Sep. 30, 2016 .

[4]:Josh Levin, “The Welfare Queen,” Slate, Dec. 19, 2013.

[5]: Luke Rosiak, “Pentagon paid billions to defense firms that previously defrauded the government,” The Washington Examiner, June 16, 2018.

[6]: Jackson Rollings, “Half the companies contracted for border wall defrauded the government,” The Architects’ Newspaper , Sept. 19, 2017.

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Living metaphor. Follow me @stephens_pt.

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