Avoid the passive voice

Posted on June 19, 2019

Richard Nixon and his press secretary were famously ridiculed for saying “mistakes were made.” And yet, the same phrase has been used by Democrats and Republicans ever since.

To many people, the passive voice seems like a great way to avoid responsibility. E.g., “the deadline was missed,” “the wrong email was sent,” or as Justin Timberlake’s agent said, “I am sorry if anyone was offended by the wardrobe malfunction during the halftime performance.”

But speaking that way is a lousy way to present your case for social change. For example:

Don’t say . . . Say . . .
Five-thousand people lost their jobs at Walmart.

One-hundred Sam’s Club stores were closed.

One-hundred demonstrators were arrested.

The new law ends health insurance for 50,000.

Walmart fired 5,000 loyal hardworking employees to increase profits for the owners.

Walmart closed 100 Sam’s Club stores, laying off thousands of hardworking employees.

At the instruction of the mayor, police illegally arrested 100 peaceful protesters.

The legislature and governor took away healthcare coverage from 50,000 citizens of our state.

 

Why . . .

When you’re speaking about politics or policy, it is essential to show how you and your side are different from the opponents. It’s not enough to convey “I am on your side,” you have to demonstrate that the political opponents are against their side.

Whenever possible, be proactive in both language and deed.

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Don’t repeat the opponents’ frame

Posted on June 3, 2019

In his book Don’t Think of an Elephant, Professor George Lakoff provides the most basic principle of framing: “Do not use their language. Their language picks out a frame—and it won’t be the frame...

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Please don’t reject messaging as “spin” or “manipulation”

Posted on May 22, 2019

As we go around the country giving messaging workshops, we’re nearly always asked whether our message framing is a gimmick. After all, conservatives make it seem like a cynical game. They refer to the...

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Don’t accept the normalization of hate speech

Posted on May 8, 2019

America is not really a nation of laws. Our statutes govern only the grossest of behavior. The way Americans behave toward each other day-to-day—attitude and etiquette, willingness and wariness, prejudice and tolerance—is governed mostly...

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How do you explain progressive economics?

Posted on April 24, 2019

As you know, conservatives have well-established concepts and language to explain their ideas about economics. And those talking points dominate any conversation with the public. The position themselves as defenders of a “free market” system...

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Five Words the Media Should Stop Using

Posted on April 11, 2019

Language matters. When the media (or sometimes progressives) use language that indirectly supports the right-wing narrative, it obscures truth and impedes political persuasion. Here are five egregious but common uses of language by the...

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What We Stand For: Twelve Words

Posted on March 27, 2019

Most Americans are progressive on most issues. By margins of at least two to one, our fellow citizens agree that the U.S. economy is rigged to benefit the rich and powerful; think wealthy individuals and corporations pay too little...

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How to message in social media

Posted on March 13, 2019

As a political leader, what is your purpose for using social media? Are you trying to move persuadable Americans to your side? Rile up your base? Or perhaps put down political opponents? Certainly, Donald...

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Improve your non-verbal communication

Posted on February 28, 2019

You may have the best political ideas in the world (from PLI’s Progressive Agenda!) and employ the best messaging (from PLI’s Voicing Our Values!) but still communicate ineffectively because of a failure in non-verbal...

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Progressive Economic Platform for 2019-20

Posted on February 13, 2019

Progressives need to tell a compelling story about the American economy, and it shouldn’t be hard. The rich have spent decades rigging the economic and political systems to benefit themselves at the expense of...

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