Plain-Speaking Politicians: Win or Lose?

This article on Montana’s Governor reminded me of something Ben’s Aunt Kathy shared with us when she came to visit last year. Kathy is a judge. Somehow the three of us ended up discussing politics – imagine that! – and the topic turned to Jesse Ventura.

Kathy described that governor’s race as having three candidates: a moderate-right guy who was afraid to alienate the right wing or the middle, so he didn’t say much; a moderate-left guy who was afraid to alienate the left wing or the middle, so he didn’t say much; and Jesse Ventura, who would pretty much say exactly what he thought. Kathy felt like he won because people felt like at least he was an honest person who spoke English, as opposed to politicalese.

I’ve often wondered why the plain-speaking tactic isn’t used more often. Many political speeches sound so constructed, rather than reflecting the feelings or even thoughts of the individual making the speech. I always figured that there must be a reason – polling shows this particular hot button word plays well with such-and-such group, etc. At least, that’s what I was saying to myself for comfort when I watched Kerry debate Bush. But unless you have a truly gifted public speaker, do you lose more in connecting power than you gain in buzzword compliance when you focus so much on exact phrasing?

The best part of this article for me, though, was near the end:

Q: And how do you persuade the most conservative voters — the ones for whom abortion and gay marriage are be-all, end-all issues — that they should think about education and healthcare as important “moral values” too?

A: The most conservative voters? The beauty is that I only need about 50 percent to win. The most conservative voters will not even give me a shot. I don’t need 100 percent of the vote.

Translation for my life: Don’t waste any time on your die-hard conservative relatives. Talk to the ones who already share some of the same opinions you do.