Story and Intuition

Carvill-MatalinJames Carville, the Ragin’ Cajun, is an American political consultant and author who has strategized for candidates for public office. Carville gained national attention for his work as the lead strategist of the Bill Clinton presidential campaign. Also interesting is that he is married to Mary Matalin, an American political consultant well known for her work with the Republican Party. They don’t talk politics at home.

I once heard Carville on a talk show offering campaign advice in his homespun way for which he is noted. He opined that there are only two kinds of political campaigns: the ones that offer a narrative/story to which people intuitively connect – not logically, rationally, but at their core, intuitive connect. The other kind of campaign is a litany of complaints. No doubt, that is a bit simplistic, but I have to tell you, I intuitively think he is onto something. When I talk about this with people I most often encounter the furrowed brow and squinting eyes of “….really?…” So, I asked them if they remember Donald Trump’s campaign slogan from the 2016 election. Everyone remembers: make America great again. Then I ask if they remember Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan. Almost no one ever remembers.

There has been lots of ink spilled about the results of the 2016 election. Say what you will, the MAGA campaign intuitively reached lots of people who connected to the “story” as spun on the campaign trail. It intuitively reached enough of the people in the strategic and tactical “right” places to win the electoral college.

Say what you will about the 2020 elections, here more than 8 months after the election, the Carville proposition seems (to me anyway) in play. There is the narrative that the election was stolen that people are connecting with. And there is the litany of complaints. Back in 2016, post election results, those on the losing side bemoaned how anyone could have voted for Trump. They were quick to develop the strawman description of the uninformed, unintelligent, uneducated, etc. which only served as the counterpart to the liberal college-educated, elitist, socialists, etc. on the other side. The next four years were point/counterpoint, charge/counter charge, etc.

Joe Biden is President even as an incredible amount of energy is spent on the lost cause of a stolen election. One side has a litany of complaints about the endless conspiracy theories (Italian satellites, bamboo ballots, Iranian hackers, etc.) and logically counters the theories. But despite all argumentative approaches, the pointer does not move on the polls.

When chatting about this with a friend the other day, they quickly moved to the “Fox” disinformation campaign and social media as the root cause. It made me think back to a December 2020 op-ed piece by Ross Douthat, an American conservative political analyst, blogger, author and New York Times columnist. The article is titled: Why Do So Many Americans Think the Election Was Stolen? Douthat, not a Trump fan, but a staunch conservative, offers some great insight ala James Carville, into the junction of intuition and political belief. Why is the stolen election narrative so powerful?

Douthat makes his points which I find in tune with the research of Johanthan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind. You can also read the “short edition” Why Do They Vote That Way – a key chapter from the larger work (available on Kindle for $0.99). Haidt’s research findings include several principles. #1 Intuition comes first, strategic reasoning second.  He writes: “People typically make moral judgements quickly – often immediately….We then make up reasons slowly and laboriously in order to justify our initial intuitive judgment.”

Douthat analysis of the post-election is worth the read and worth reflecting on it. And keep in mind it was written in December, 2020 – yet still rings even more true today – at least to my intuition.  I would suggest that the Haidt chapter will also add insight to Douthat’s view.

If you read this far, you might be thinking, “ok…. This is a little different than the ordinary fare offered here…”  Not really. I wonder if we treat our faith and organized religion the same way. At least in these two initial ways: (1) how do you think about Christianity – does it offer a narrative/story to which you passionately, personally connect and invest; or is it a catchall of moral complaints. (2) Do we point our moral compass and then back fill in the reasoning to support what was really a quickly made moral judgment – evading what the Church calls for as regards the “informed conscience” (Catechism paragraph 1776 and following).

I have been musing about these ideas (compelling story, moral compass and intuition) for sometime now. And will continue musing. I hope you will too.

Still can’t remember Ms. Clinton’s campaign slogan? They actually tested 84 of them, momentarily using “I’m with Her” before settling on “Stronger Together.” Story or complaint?

Photo credit: MPRNews online