Jonah Goldberg

This is a problem not just for Republican politicians but for conservatives generally. For roughly 99.9 percent of human history, nearly all of human wisdom was passed on in stories. We are a species that understands things -- i.e. morality, politics, even religion -- in terms of tales of heroism, sacrifice and adversity. And yet so much of what passes for conservative rhetoric these days isn't storytelling but exhortation. Whatever the optimal policy might be, if you can't talk to people in human terms they can relate to, you can't sell any policy. The war on poverty, for instance, has been an enormous failure in so many policy terms, but it stays alive because of the stories liberals tell.

Consider immigration. There are reasonable arguments on every side of the issue. But what is unquestionably and lamentably disastrous for Republicans is the way they've allowed themselves to get on the wrong side of this story. That is a tale most Americans love, even the ones who want to slow or stop any further immigration, legal or illegal.

Go back and watch the video of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) telling his family's story at the 2012 GOP convention, or Arnold Schwarzenegger's speech at the 2004 convention. The same rank-and-file activists who oppose "amnesty" swelled with pride and affection at what this country means for the immigrant and what immigrants mean for the country.

As Dreher noted, conservatives have largely abdicated their role in "tending the moral imagination," which Russell Kirk defined as "conservatism at its highest." Too many on the right don't even claim what victories there are in the popular culture, which is far richer and more rewarding than many older conservatives are comfortable acknowledging.

Many historians will tell you that the secret of Reagan's political success was his gift for storytelling. By all means, Republicans, be more like Reagan -- but don't tell his stories, tell your own.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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