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How to speak Republican: It’s about results, not rights

Richard Tafel says that failed social movements are the ones that ignore the conservative mindset that is based on results, whereas the liberal mindset is based on rights.

Photo credit: Erich Schlegel / Getty Images

“These darn Republicans! These darn conservatives!” is a common refrain Richard Tafel hears from people involved in social change movements that have failed. 

People in that position need to look inward, not outward, Tafel says. You lost your fight because you failed to appeal to the conservative mindset, which is based on results, whereas the liberal mindset is persuaded by appeals about rights.

Tafel says a perfect example of this was President Obama’s appeal for universal health care. “He kept saying ‘everybody in this country deserves the right of health care,’ and progressives applauded,” Tafel notes. “And I could just feel the conservatives just digging in deeper, deeper, deeper for fear of what was being taken away from them.”

Tafel, the founder of The Public Squared, a public policy training program for nonprofits and social entrepreneurs, says a conservative way of expressing the same goal would have been to say this:

Folks, we have universal healthcare in the United States.  It’s called the emergency room and we pay for it. And we cover people’s healthcare right now who don’t pay into any insurance scheme and you’re carrying them. If you’re paying taxes right now you’re covering them. Wouldn’t it make sense for us as a nation to just ask those folks to register and get into an insurance program so we can cut their cost, we can be more proactive with their healthcare, and we can avoid the vast growth of healthcare costs.  

Tafel points out that the language of conservatives is based on economics. You want results? We’re going to cut spending. More results? We’re not going to raise taxes. 

Watch the video here:

What’s the Significance?

To pick another example, Tafel points to the differences in the way an immigration bill would be presented by Republicans versus Democrats. Tafel says the Democratic argument rests on giving more rights to children who are born in the United States to illegal parents. Sound compelling? Well, “for the conservative mindset,” Tafel argues, “you’re breaking the rules. So you’re adding a new group in and you’re incentivizing a process for illegal immigration.”  

Tafel says Democrats ought to take a “practical, results-oriented approach.” What is the result that will come from new policy? He asks: “Do you really want people who are illegal driving around without driver’s licenses because they’re so afraid of being in the system or showing up in the emergency room?” Those are two examples that Tafel says are much more effective in persuading conservatives, because they are based on results, not rights. 

The underlying significance of persuading conservatives is that Tafel says that in his experience social change moves in one direction, from left to right. This is advice that President Obama could certainly use if he wins a second term but needs Republican votes in Congress to solve the big problems of our times. This is also advice anyone can use if you are in the business of changing minds. You have to get into someone’s mindset if you hope to convince them. Then you will need to speak the same language. 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan


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