Richard Tafel: How to Speak Like a Republican

Political Consultant and Executive Coach
Does President Obama need to learn to speak Republican? He probably will if he wants to be successful in a second term (if elected). Furthermore, you can become a better communicator if you follow Richard Tafel's advice on how to get into the mindset of someone with a different viewpoint.
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

In a ‘Huffington Post’ piece I wrote, oh, over a year ago, I suggested the President needed to learn how to speak Republican because he’s—the Democrats, I think, are unsuccessful so many times,and the truth was it was an attempt to help the Democrats—they’re unsuccessful because they use the language of rights, whereas the Republicans more speak the language of results.  It comes back to this whole split between those who embrace the status quo and those who seek to change it.  I’ve learned to change things.  Almost all my successful change has been from right to left.  If I can win over the conservatives, I can win over the left, so I move that way.  Most social change movements, because their friends are from the left, they move left to right and they never get there.  They always bump up and they say, "These darn Republicans! These darn conservatives!"

When you’re changing a system and people have rights, if you as a progressive come into that debate and say, "I want rights," the impression for the listener is you’re taking something from me.  You want something that I have.  You want more rights.  And that’s not usually true.  We’re not taking something from you.  A very concrete example, the President was pushing for a universal healthcare mandate for the country, and he kept saying, "Everybody in this country deserves the right of healthcare," and progressives applauded.  And I could just feel the conservatives just digging in deeper, deeper, deeper for fear of what was being taken away from them.

And I used as a linguistic way of expressing it, a conservative way of expressing the same goal, would have been to say, "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?"  Now there’s two ways of saying the same thing.  One is an appeal to the status quo, the person who’s the more conservative.  The other is about rights, and I feel like rights language just by its nature scares people, and I think it’s not usually successful in bringing about change.

I think the issue that divides these two mindsets as status quo versus evolving, I think very often it comes down to a personality.  And if you are part of a group that the status quo is not working for you, you’re probably on the -- let’s evolve; I want to change the way gay people are treated; I want to change the way women are treated; I want minorities, people of other faiths, minority faiths.  If you’re part of the establishment, it’s a pretty good deal.  If you’re part of the status quo, it’s kind of working for you and you don’t understand why anybody would want to change it, and it’s very frightening.  So I think it kind of depends on where you fall down in those two areas.  

A Democratic rights bill might be something along the line of an immigration bill that says we’re going to give more rights to children who are born in the United States to illegal parents.  So we’re going to increase rights to that population.  Well, for the conservative mindset you’re breaking the rules.  So you’re adding a new group in and you’re incentivizing a process for illegal immigration.  Again, a more practical approach in my opinion would have been to say, "We have children in this country who are born here.  Under our law, that makes them citizens and they’re born by illegal parents.  How are we going to—let’s be practical--to deal with that we need to do this, this and this?"

So again, one of the very practical results-oriented, let’s get these kids registered, 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?  So those would be two examples possibly.  I think the language of conservatives is more about economics, and economics lends itself more to results.  "We’re going to cut the budget.  This is what it looks like."  It sounds very clear.  "We’re not going to raise taxes."  That’s a pretty clear result.  Or I think on the left, some of the cases that they’re making are more difficult to make in a results-oriented way.  But that was always my effort when I was trying to do social change here more domestically, was, how can we make this a result that will come from it as opposed to adding a right that’s going to threaten you as status quo?

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd