Van Jones: “Language Intelligence Is The Progressives’ Field Guide In The War Of Ideas”

JR: Language Intelligence has had better reviews and better sales than any of my previous books — it hit #73 on Kindle nonfiction bestseller list –probably because it is more entertaining and more useful. I am reposting Van Jones’ review because I wouldn’t have published this book if not for him. He read a draft in 2010 and urged me to get this book out there. Thank you Van!

UPDATE: Climatologist Michael Mann has a review of the book at RealClimate. Singer-songwriter and Internet sensation Daria Musk has a shout out about the book to her 2 million fans on Google+.

The New “Must Read”: Joe Romm’s Language Intelligence

by Van Jones via HuffPost

In a war of ideas, the weapon of choice is words. Even when equipped with better and more popular ideas, progressives are losing the fight on ideas because of how we communicate those ideas — or fail to communicate them.

When I read an early draft of Joe Romm’s Language Intelligence two years ago, I told Joe it changed my life. I realized what I had learned from osmosis and practice through hundreds of speeches and direct feedback were secrets figured out centuries ago by the Elizabethans and others. Social scientists and advertisers have confirmed these secrets are the key to being memorable and persuasive.

To get our ideas out there, progressives need to communicate more powerfully. We aren’t failing to come up with good solutions. We’re failing in explaining them to the American people. That’s why I am encouraging every progressive to read Joe Romm’s new book: Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga.

Let me give you a quick example of Romm’s Rules, in effect: When Rebuild the Dream campaigned to prevent the doubling of Stafford loan rates this summer, we followed his formulas for effective communication. By doing so, we were able to help millennials and students win a big victory on student loans.

The first rule: keep it short. “Don’t Double My Rate” got straight to the point of what we were trying to accomplish. It’s hard to envision a campaign slogan like “Keep federal Stafford loans at their current low rates” taking off in the same way.

The second and third rules: Use figures of speech and repetition to make memes memorable. The alliterative nature of “Don’t Double” helped make the campaign catchy, effective, and persuasive. As President Obama took up the “Don’t Double My Rate” cause, the term was repeated in speeches and the media, and it was constantly trending on Twitter until Congress took action to pass “Don’t Double.”

That is just one example of the usefulness of Joe’s approach. As one of the most impactful climate bloggers on Earth, Joe Romm knows the ins-and-outs persuasive communication. His Language Intelligence is the progressives’ field guide in the war of ideas. If you liked Lakoff’s Don’t Think of An Elephant, you’ll love Language Intelligence.

Who Is The Better Communicator: Romney Or Obama?

Mitt Romney, left, and Barack Obama. | AP Photos

AP Photo

I have a piece at comparing the speechmaking of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.

I use the three criteria for a good speech based on my review of the greatest speeches in history in my book, Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln and Lady Gaga. The most memorable and effective speeches make use of:

  1. Short words
  2. Repetition
  3. Key figures of speech, especially metaphor

As I note in the article and my book, a 2005 study examined the use of metaphors in inaugural addresses of three dozen presidents who had been independently rated for charisma. The conclusion: “Charismatic presidents used nearly twice as many metaphors (adjusted for speech length) than non-charismatic presidents.” When students were asked to read a random group of addresses and highlight passages they viewed as most inspiring, “even those presidents who did not appear to be charismatic were still perceived to be more inspiring when they used metaphors.”

You’d need Superman’s ears to hear either Obama or Romney use an inspirational metaphor, let alone repeat it. This may be the single biggest failing in Obama’s campaign. His recent slogans, “winning the future” and “forward” are blandly literal and literally bland. Romney is no better.

The bottom line:

Obama may be credited as being a great speechmaker, but for most of his first term, he apparently left much of his speech-writing to people who aren’t very good at it. Fortunately for Obama, presidential elections are graded on a curve, and he just needs to have superior language intelligence to Romney, who could use a serious lesson in language arts.

You can read the whole thing here.

Why you should buy my new book “Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln and Lady Gaga”

 If you’d like to be more persuasive, buy my new book Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln and Lady Gaga in paperback (click here) or Kindle (click here).

For the past quarter century — since my first published article on Shakespeare in 1988 — I have studied the secrets of the greatest communicators in history. In this book, I show how you can apply these tools to your writing, speaking, blogging — even your Tweeting. I also discuss the latest social science research on how to be more persuasive and memorable.

One of the greatest speech-makers in the progressive movement gave me this jacket quote after reading a draft of the book two years ago:

Van Jones: This book changed my life, and it can change yours, too.  Joe Romm understands the secrets of persuasion and messaging and he has distilled them into this must-read book.”

As I say in the book’s opening line, “This book will change the way you speak and listen.” I believe that this book will change the lives of some significant fraction of those who buy it and read it — those who take its principles to heart and seek to master them.

I decided to give away the most important secret of blogging (and tweeting) in the book, which you can find in the excerpt at the Amazon Kindle page (click here and then hit “Click to Look Inside”).

This is easily my best book ever and by far my best written book as I apply the secrets of effective communications to the very writing of the book, something that took me years and years to achieve and the input of many, many editors.

Bill McKibben: “Joe Romm  is one of the best communicators we have. This book is the essential hand-book for anyone who wants to be more effective or more persuasive.

Everyone who has read this book so far loves it, and I will be reprinting a bunch of rave reviews and sweet tweets here this week.

Heidi Cullen just posted a great review at Climate Central:

Romm’s Book ‘Language Intelligence’ Insightful, Important

I would give you a money-back guarantee if there were an easy way to do it, but since I can’t, you’ll just have to take the word of Van Jones and Bill McKibben and Heidi Cullen for now. Or go read the Introduction and much of the first chapter here.

Finally, for those who want to go beyond just becoming more persuasive and help me maximize sales this week to get the best Amazon rank: You can retweet or repost this post — the headline was designed to reach many different audiences via Twitter.  You can also buy both the$14.99 paperback (click here) and $9.99 Kindle (click here). The Kindle has active links for all of the chapters and the footnotes, which include links to many of the great speeches of all time and much of the recent social science research on persuasive speech and writing. You’ll want that extra copy of the book to give away to a friend or family member who communicates for living.

Lakoff Slams Obama’s Dreadful Messaging

Originally published by Joseph Romm on June 24, 2012 on Climate Progres. Note: All Climate Progress links worked when originally posted.

In mid-August my book on persuasion and communications will come out. I’ve been working on it for a quarter century (!) and it is easily my most useful and best written book. So I’ll be writing more about persuasion and messaging over the next few months.

While many people thought Obama was a great communicator when he was elected, in fact he is mostly a good speechmaker — when he puts in a lot of effort, which he rarely does anymore.

His messaging has been dreadful for most of his presidency, and he has delivered far too few memorable lines or speeches. Based on my discussions with leading journalists, as well as current and former Administration staff, this White House is the worst at communications in the past 3 decades (see “Relax, climate hawks, it’s not about the science. The White House is just lousy at messaging in general“).

Indeed, the Obama WH is the worst of both possible worlds.  They are dreadful at messaging BUT they think they are terrific at messaging, so much so that they shut down anybody else in the administration that might actually be good at messaging. How else to explain things like “public option” and “cap-and-trade” and “winning the future”? (see “Can Obama deliver health and energy security with a half (assed) message?“)

Last week linguist George Lakoff co-authored a good HuffingtonPost piece dismantling Obama’s big economic kickoff speech in Ohio. The whole piece is worth reading but let me just focus on the most elemental mistake —  repeating your opponent’s message.

It is now very well known from the social science literature that you can’t debunk a myth by repeating it with a simple negation — see “The difficulty of debunking a myth” and “The Debunking Handbook Part 1: The First Myth About Debunking.” In fact, the literature suggests that for many people that merely reinforces the myth over time.

But here we have Obama just repeating Obama’s main point/narrative/frame, particularly on regulations. As Lakoff explains, Obama “unintentionally feeds” Romney’s narrative, in part “by accepting and reinforcing many of Romney’s central frames (often by negating them)”:

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Must-See TEDx Video: If You Want Them To Remember, Tell A Story

Originally published by Tom Smerling on May 26, 2012 on Climate Progres. Note: All Climate Progress links worked when originally posted.

JR: I m a big fan of narratives and their rhetorical cousins, extended metaphors, as I discuss in my forthcoming book. This video is a must-see for those who want to be better communicators.

by Tom Smerling, via ClimateBites

After watching this TEDx clip, you may never want to stand before an audience again without pausing, at least once, to utter these seven magic words:

Let me tell you a little story.

But most advice about the importance of narrative comes from psychologists and communication consultants, not storytellers. So here is a master storyteller, Bill Harley, talking about his life s work, and sharing what he s learned about why storytelling is so central to human understanding.

A small sample:

It has a power nothing else has. . .

I m not talking just about literature and English. I m talking about history and astrophysics and biochemistry and law and mathematics.

All of those things are best explained through story. Because story is how we are reminded, and how we remember. If we want it to be memorable, it must be a story. . .

We are not built to memorize lists, or unrelated facts. We are built to remember narrative.So try this the next time you are giving a lecture or a talk or standing in front of a bunch of people: Stop in the middle of your offering of facts or your closely-reasoned argument, and say Let me tell you a little story.

And watch what happens. You see the faces relax, you see people reseat themselves in their chairs, and get ready. . . to hear . . . a story.

Harley s points apply not only to public speeches, but to all climate communication, from written articles to interviews, blogs, and even dinner-table conversation.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy Bill Harley s anecdotes.

If you want to look further into the art of climate storytelling, below are some suggestions for where to start:

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Climate Change Is Not A ‘Message.’ It’s An Objective Reality And An Urgent Crisis. That’s Why We Must Talk About It.

Originally published by KC Golden on May 2, 2012 on Climate Progres. Note: All Climate Progress links worked when originally posted.

KC Golden, via Climate Access

Have climate campaigners learned the art of political communication too well?  We poll and focus group.  We segment audiences and target swings. We “go to people where they’re at” – activating live communication frames and salient issues. We move the dial. There is tactical merit in all this … but climate change is not a “message.” It’s an objective reality and an urgent crisis.

Deception about it will surely go down as history’s most egregious lie. Avoiding or hedging this reality isn’t as bad as denying it, but it reinforces the larger ecosystem of denial.  It’s tough to imagine how we begin to turn the tide until we stand tall – with both feet, whole hearts, and strong, explicit words – on the side of the truth.

Our sophisticated calibrations about whether, when, and with whom climate change is an effective “message” have a perverse effect:  they reinforce our opponents’ message that it’s just a stalking horse for a political agenda. When we bounce around from “jobs” to “clean air” to whatever we think will give us a bump in a swing-state poll, we undermine our own integrity and the moral urgency of climate change.

It is of course true that we sometimes gain tactical advantage this way. And no one wants to risk losing important battles just to make a rhetorical point. But overreliance on these maneuvers can limit our power and drain morale.  Climate advocates and organizers rightly wonder whether leaders who keep changing the subject have much confidence in our ultimate ability to prevail.

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A Critique Of The Broken-Record Counterfactual Message of The New York Times On Environmentalists and Scientists

Originally published by Joseph Romm on April 29, 2012 on Climate Progres. Note: All Climate Progress links worked when originally posted.

The New York Times keeps running opinion pieces and analyses that misstate the positions of the major environmental groups and even leading scientists.

A classic example is the Dot Earth post from Friday headlined, “A Critique of the Broken-Record Message of ‘Green Traditionalists’.” I will show that this critique is pure bunk. Indeed, this critique isn’t merely untrue, it is the exact opposite of the truth.

Amazingly, we will even see that the critique contains an utterly false attack on “a bunch of scientists” who just published a major report. But people just don’t click on links, I guess.

The New York Times post begins by stating that Keith Kloor “has an essay posted on Discover, titled ‘The Limits to Environmentalism,’ that is well worth reading.” The NY Times then reposts this introduction with a link to the rest:

If you were cryogenically frozen in the early 1970s, like Woody Allen was in Sleeper, and brought back to life today, you would obviously find much changed about the world.

Except environmentalism and its underlying precepts. That would be a familiar and quaint relic. You would wake up from your Rip Van Winkle period and everything around you would be different, except the green movement. It’s still anti-nuclear, anti-technology, anti-industrial civilization. It still talks in mushy metaphors from the Aquarius age, cooing over Mother Earth and the Balance of Nature. And most of all, environmentalists are still acting like Old Testament prophets, warning of a plague of environmental ills about to rain down on humanity.

For example, you may have heard that a bunch of scientists produced a landmark report that concludes the earth is destined for ecological collapse, unless global population and consumption rates are restrained. No, I’m not talking about the UK’s just-published Royal Society report, which, among other things, recommends that developed countries put a brake on economic growth. I’m talking about that other landmark report from 1972, the one that became a totem of the environmental movement. [Read the rest.]

No and no.

This analysis, which would have been relevant 20 years ago, is simply the opposite of the truth today.

Indeed, anyone who follows the history of the environmental movement knows that the most serious complaint offered against it these days is that it has become too corporatist and too focused on the techno-fix. I’m not saying I agree with that critique 100%, but it has far more truth to it than this critique.

If you look at the major environmental groups — the ones with the power and money that this analysis purports to be about — they all work closely with industrial corporations, generally take lots of industry money, and they aggressively supported a climate bill that was absurdly pro-technology and pro-industry, that was business friendly and market oriented.

The climate bill was entirely about pushing any low carbon technology into the marketplace — including nuclear power. The bill had staggeringly generous subsidies for pretty much every industry, including many billions for the coal industry to help it develop technology to save its ass.

And the broken-record New York Times simply seems unable to acknowledge that the tens of millions of dollars spent to promote the climate bill was done by focusing on the pro-technology message and utterly downplaying the threat of climate change. The primary focus of the messaging was on clean energy jobs, along with energy security and the threat of international competition — industrial competition.

While the NY Times is oblivious to this, it did not escape the attention of the Washington Post’sEzra Klein, who wrote about it in his 2010 article, “Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?

This notion that the environmental movement — or any other major play in the media landscape — is pushing non-stop apocalyptic messages like a broken record is one I debunked in this post “Apocalypse Not: The Oscars, The Media And The Myth of ‘Constant Repetition of Doomsday Messages’ on Climate” (excerpted at the end).

To see what message they are pushing, please visit the front page of the websites of The Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council — and of the enviro groups with the really big revenues — the World Wildlife Fund, and National Wildlife FederationNational Audobon Society, the Nature Conservancy. Apocalypse not!

UPDATE: Dr. Robert J. Brulle of Drexel University, author of two books and some 20 refereed articles on the U.S. environmental movement – whom the NY Times has called “an expert on environmental communications” — emailed me after reading my post:

This opinion piece by Mr. Kloor and Mr. Revkin is, generously speaking, highly problematic. It ignores a vast amount of scholarship on the environmental movement. It seems very difficult to me to understand how Mr. Revkin can maintain his argument that his opinion blog is “science based”and run something like this. There is apparently a double standard in operation, where the physical sciences are taken into account, but the social sciences are not. I would expect more fidelity to the empirical research on this topic from the NY Times. Perhaps a good start on becoming conversant with this material might be the books of two previous NY Times environmental reporters –Mark Dowie’s Losing Ground and Philip Shabecoff’s A Fierce Green Fire.

As an aside, the notion that being anti-nuclear is somehow a litmus test for proving environmental groups are “Green Traditionalists” stuck in the 1970s is particularly absurd.  The Economist just published a 14-page report, “Nuclear energy: The dream that failed, A year after Fukushima, the future for nuclear power is not bright—for reasons of cost as much as safety.” Is there a more pro-corporation, pro-technology mainstream global publication than The Economist?

And then we come to the utter misrepresentation of the “just-published Royal Society report,” People and the Planet. Reading the NY Times, you’d get the impression that this is somehow a doom and gloom report about how “the earth is destined for ecological collapse” if we don’t reverse course. And you’d also believe that a “bunch of scientists” have written a jeremiad that “recommends that developed countries put a brake on economic growth.”

Not. And not.

Anyone who knows the Royal Society – the UK’s national academy of science, founded in 1660 — knows that like most big scientific bodies, it tends to be pretty staid and conservative. The Royal Society’s motto is apt:  Nullius in verba — Latin for “On the words of no one” or “take nobody’s word for it.”  It is “an expression of its enduring commitment to empirical evidence as the basis of knowledge about the natural world.”

So when someone attacks the Royal Society scientists, it’s a pretty good idea not to take their word for it. And in fact the report is pretty darn mild given the dire nature of our situation. More important, it most certainly does not recommend developed countries put a brake on economic growth.

If you go to the link the New York Times provided, here’s what the Royal Society has to say about our situation:

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The Hunger Games: Post-Apocalypse Now For Young Adults

Originally published by Joseph Romm on March 18, 2012 on Climate Progres. Note: All Climate Progress links worked when originally posted.

The revolution will be televised. So will the post-apocalyptical fight to feed ourselves on a ruined planet.

Those are two key themes of the wildly popular YA trilogy that begins with The Hunger Games,whose movie version comes out this week. The trailer gives the key plot points:

After what seems to be a climate-driven apocalypse, Panem, “the country that rose up out of the ashes of the place it was once called North America,” is divided into a Capitol and 12 districts, who launched a failed revolution many decades earlier.

The annual Hunger Games are televised and the rules are simple:

In punishment for the uprising, each of the 12 districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes to participate. The twenty-four tributes  will be imprisoned in the vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins.

The winner “receives a life of ease back home, and their district will be showered with prizes, largely consisting of food,” all year round.

This is “Bread and Circuses” combined — by design — since that famous phrase comes from the Latin panem et circenses (also “bread and games”).

The books have sold some 10 million copies globally — and the author, Suzanne Collins, is the “best-selling Kindle author of all time.” They are a shrewd combination of standard YA fare — another love triangle between a girl and two boys … really? — and pop-culture riffs.  You have the extreme version of reality shows like American Idol and Survivor.  You have the young girl who reluctantly grows into a ferocious killer, which started with Buffy and Nikita (if you have to ask…) and now seems to be found in almost every other movie.

The books also had some fortunate timing for the author in terms of catching the zeitgeist, since perhaps the core theme is the 99% (the 12 districts) vs. the 1% (Capitol), the poor and underfed vs. the rich and overfed.

I try to stay on top of the latest in post-apocalypse pop culture, mainly because there has been so little of it in recent years — see Apocalypse Not: The Oscars, The Media And The Myth of ‘Constant Repetition of Doomsday Messages’ on Climate. And when I heard the most popular new YA book series was built around food insecurity, I couldn’t resist. After all, as I’ve written in the journal Nature, “Feeding some 9 billion people by mid-century in the face of a rapidly worsening climate may well be the greatest challenge the human race has ever faced.”

The Hunger Games makes that challenge a literal and hyper-violent one. But like much (though not all) post-apocalyptic fiction, the book spends exceedingly little time actually explaining to anyone how we got in this mess.

Indeed, after reading all 3 books, I find only one sentence devoted to explaining what caused the apocalypse:

[The mayor]  tells of the history of Panem. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained. The result was Panem, a shining Capitol ringed by thirteen districts…”

Sounds a lot like global warming, though the books do not flesh out what happened.

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Apocalypse Not: The Oscars, The Media And The Myth of ‘Constant Repetition of Doomsday Messages’ on Climate

Originally published by Joseph Romm on February 26, 2012 on Climate Progres. Note: All Climate Progress links worked when originally posted.

The two greatest myths about global warming communications are 1) constant repetition of doomsday messages has been a major, ongoing strategy and 2) that strategy doesn’t work and indeed is actually counterproductive!

These myths are so deeply ingrained in the environmental and progressive political community that when we finally had a serious shot at a climate bill, the powers that be decided not to focus on the threat posed by climate change in any serious fashion in their $200 million communications effort (see my 6/10 post “Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?“). These myths are so deeply ingrained in the mainstream media that such messaging, when it is tried, is routinely attacked and denounced — and the flimsiest studies are interpreted exactly backwards to drive the erroneous message home (see “Dire straits: Media blows the story of UC Berkeley study on climate messaging“)

In the Canadian high Arctic, a polar bear negotiates what was once solid ice.

The only time anything approximating this kind of messaging — not “doomsday” but what I’d call blunt, science-based messaging that also makes clear the problem is solvable — was in 2006 and 2007 with the release of An Inconvenient Truth(and the 4 assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and media coverage like the April 2006 cover of Time). The data suggest that strategy measurably moved the public to become more concerned about the threat posed by global warming (seerecent study here).

You’d think it would be pretty obvious that the public is not going to be concerned about an issue unless one explains why they should be concerned about an issue. And the social science literature, including the vast literature on advertising and marketing, could not be clearer that only repeated messages have any chance of sinking in and moving the needle.

Because I doubt any serious movement of public opinion or mobilization of political action could possibly occur until these myths are shattered, I’ll do a multipart series on this subject, featuring public opinion analysis, quotes by leading experts, and the latest social science research.

Since this is Oscar night, though, it seems appropriate to start by looking at what messages the public are exposed to in popular culture and the media. It ain’t doomsday. Quite the reverse, climate change has been mostly an invisible issue for several years and the message of conspicuous consumption and business-as-usual reigns supreme.

The motivation for this post actually came up because I received an e-mail from a journalist commenting that the “constant repetition of doomsday messages” doesn’t work as a messaging strategy. I had to demur, for the reasons noted above.

But it did get me thinking about what messages the public are exposed to, especially as I’ve been rushing to see the movies nominated for Best Picture this year. I am a huge movie buff, but as parents of 5-year-olds know, it isn’t easy to stay up with the latest movies.

That said, good luck finding a popular movie in recent years that even touches on climate change, let alone one a popular one that would pass for doomsday messaging.  Best Picture nominee The Tree of Life has been billed as an environmental movie —  and even shown at environmental film festivals — but while it is certainly depressing, climate-related it ain’t. In fact, if that is truly someone’s idea of environmental movie, count me out.

The closest to a genuine popular climate movie was the dreadfully unscientific The Day After Tomorrow, which is from 2004 (and arguably set back the messaging effort by putting the absurd “global cooling” notion in people’s heads! Even Avatar, the most successful movie of all time and “the most epic piece of environmental advocacy ever captured on celluloid,” as one producer put it, omits the climate doomsday message. One of my favorite eco-movies, “Wall-E, is an eco-dystopian gem and an anti-consumption movie,” but it isn’t a climate movie.

I will be interested to see The Hunger Games, but I’ve read all 3 of the bestselling post-apocalyptic young adult novels — hey, that’s my job! — and they don’t qualify as climate change doomsday messaging (more on that later).  So, no, the movies certainly don’t expose the public to constant doomsday messages on climate.

Here are the key points about what repeated messages the American public is exposed to:

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How To Be as Persuasive as Abraham Lincoln: Study the Figures of Speech

Originally published by Joseph Romm on February 20, 2012 on Climate Progres. Note: All Climate Progress links worked when originally posted.

President’s day 2012 is another reminder of Obama’s ongoing failure to be the rhetorically inspiring leader that climate hawks had hoped for. So here’s some material from my forthcoming book on messaging.

I think science has mostly told us what it can about the urgent need to act swiftly and strongly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid destroying the planet’s livability for the next several hundred years (see “An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces“).

Yes, more observations and more analysis are valuable — and I will keep reporting on the ever-worsening climate outlook — but right now we need much more persuasiveness (see Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Part 1). As James Hansen says, we are still waiting for our climate Churchill.


One of Churchill’s defining characteristics was his mastery of rhetoric. Indeed, at the age of 22 he wrote a brilliant, unpublished essay, “The Scaffolding of Rhetoric so.” But this is the day we remember Lincoln, so I’m going to rerun Part 1 of my series on Lincoln’s mastery of rhetoric, the 25-century-old art of influencing both the hearts and minds of listeners with the figures of speech. If you have any doubt about the importance of the figures to Lincoln, consider this:

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In Praise of Clint Eastwood’s Metaphorical “Halftime in America” Superbowl Ad

Originally published by Joseph Romm on February 7, 2012 on Climate Progres. Note: All Climate Progress links worked when originally posted.

’d love your comments on Clint Eastwood’s awesome ad for Obama Chrysler:

Seriously, though, I’m not going to spend much time on the rather absurd issue of whether Clint’s gritty optimism means he is channeling Obama’s gritty optimism, as the Washington Post

An an ad touting the resurgence of the American auto industry, Clint Eastwood declared that it’s “halftime in America and our second half’s about to begin,” which could be interpreted as a reference to Obama’s second term.

The ad’s themes seem to echo Obama’s own argument that his administration brought the auto industry back from the brink of disaster.

“They almost lost everything,” Eastwood says of Detroit. “But we all pulled together. Now Motor City is fighting again.”

Oh, no, we all pulled together to save Detroit. And it worked. I guess Eastwood is a socialist, too, albeit one of those socialists who is tough and successful. I wonder if he was born in Kenya.

Obviously, anything that offends Karl Rove, “Bush’s brain,” can’t be all bad.  But the reason I’m highlighting the ad is because it is an extended metaphor — arguably the single most effective kind of advertising possible.

I’ll be publishing my book on messaging and persuasion later in the year.  It focuses on the figures of the speech.  As Aristotle said, “The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor” (see “How to be as persuasive as Lincoln, Part 3.” So I’ll be focusing more on the use of rhetoric in  politics and popular culture this year.

Extended metaphor is, for me, the most important rhetorical device. This figure is at the heart of some of Lincoln’s greatest speeches and Shakespeare’s greatest plays (see “How Lincoln framed his picture-perfect Gettysburg Address“).

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I Have a Dream (2012)

Originally published by Joseph Romm on January 16, 2012 on Climate Progres. Note: All Climate Progress links worked when originally posted. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday is an opportunity to learn from his strategic thinking and mastery of rhetoric.

Consider King’s powerful words about the civil rights struggle, which echo today in the climate battle:

We are faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’

Note how King repeatedly uses key figures of speech — alliteration, metaphor — and extends the metaphor of another master of rhetoric, Shakespeare (Julius Caeser), all of which are classic oratorical strategies (see “How to be as persuasive as Lincoln, Part 1: Study the figures of speech and Shakespeare“).

Science has mostly told us what it can about the fiercely urgent need to act swiftly to avoid adding the bleached bones and jumbled residues of our civilization to the pile (see “An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces“). Our urgent need now is for much more persuasiveness (see Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Part 1 and Part 2: Why deniers out-debate “smart talkers”).

I have a dream that progressives will some day have the winning words to match their vital ideas.  After two decades of research and writing and rewriting, I will finally be publishing my book on rhetoric this summer!

King’s most famous speech illustrates the rhetorical principle of foreshadowing, as I discuss in the book, excerpted below:

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How the White House Does Messaging on Issues It Cares About, Unlike, Say, Climate Change

Originally published by Joseph Romm on January 4, 2012 on Climate Progres. Note: All Climate Progress links worked when originally posted.

The Obama White House had a major tactical victory last month in getting a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance.  Yes, it came with the Keystone XL rider, but that mainly gives them an easy out on the pipeline decision — see “House GOP Cave on Tax Cut Extension Paves Way for Obama to Deny Keystone XL Permit.”

The reason I’m bringing this old news up is that just before I went on vacation, Politico Playbook — a must read for political junkies — explained “HOW THE WHITE HOUSE POUNDED ITS MESSAGE.”

I’m excerpting the Friday, December 23 piece below so you can see how the White House uses the bully pulpit when it actually cares a great deal about an issue, which it obviously — and nonsensically — doesn’t about climate change:

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Luntz Warns GOP on Occupy Wall Street, “Don’t Say Capitalism” Because Americans “Think Capitalism Is Immoral”

Originally published by Joseph Romm on December 1, 2011 on Climate Progres. Note: All Climate Progress links worked when originally posted.

Frank Luntz, arguably the GOP’s top messaging strategist, said Wednesday:

I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death. They’re having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.”

So just as he did with his infamous 2003 global warming warming memo –  which taught conservatives how to sound like they care about the issue while opposing all action — Luntz has some key advice for Republicans on how to pretend to care about regular people while continuing to screw them over.

Amazingly, “Yahoo News sat in on the session,” where Luntz went through his spin at the Republican Governor’s Association on “How can Republicans do a better job of talking about Occupy Wall Street?”

Here are key do’s and don’ts from Luntz:

  • Don’t say ‘capitalism.’
  • Don’t say that the government ‘taxes the rich.’ Instead, tell them that the government ‘takes from the rich.’
  • Republicans should forget about winning the battle over the ‘middle class.’ Call them ‘hardworking taxpayers.’
  • Don’t say ‘government spending.’ Call it ‘waste.’
  • Don’t ever say you’re willing to ‘compromise.’
  • The three most important words you can say to an Occupier: ‘I get it.’
  • Out: ‘Entrepreneur.’ In: ‘Job creator.’
  • “Climate change” is less frightening than “global warming”
  • Don’t ever ask anyone you want them to ‘sacrifice.’
  • Always blame Washington.

Yes, and some in the media still try to apportion blame equally between Democrats and Republicans for the toxic state  of American politics.

George Orwell, in his famous 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” wrote that

“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.  Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Democrats do sometimes misuse the language and create euphemisms.  All politicians do.  But it is Luntz and his legion of conservative followers who have twisted the English language beyond recognition.  They are the true Orwellians.  The GOP parrot him as if they were reciting lessons in grammar school (see, for instance, Luntz’s memo, “The Language of Healthcare 2009,” which became the GOP playbook for attacking reform).

Is there any nonsense phrase that has been repeated to death this year more than “job creator” — in spite of the fact that for all of the wealth GOP policies have showered on the wealthy they didn’t actually create any net jobs under President Bush?

And yes, I put “Climate change” is less frightening than “global warming” into the list above even though it is from Luntz’s 2003 climate memo.  I included it because conservatives continue trying to blame “the left” for supposedly changing the name from “global warming” to “climate change” (see Debunking the dumbest denier myth: ‘Climate Change’ vs. ‘Global Warming’).  For the record, while I would normally be inclined to recommend progressives say the exact opposite of whatever Luntz recommends for conservatives, there is way too much conflicting analysis to suggest that one of those terms is somehow more effective than the other. Feel free to use both.

How powerful are Luntz’s memos in the energy/climate debate (he wrote one on energy in 2005)?  Just think how many people who want to sound like they care about the issue follow his advice and talk about breakthrough technology as the only answer — see Bush climate speech follows Luntz playbook: “Technology, technology, blah, blah, blah.” As Business Week noted at the time “what’s most striking about Bush’s Apr. 27 speech is how closely it follows the script written by Luntz earlier this year.”

Returning to Luntz’s Occupy Wall Street advice, his comments on capitalism are the most revealing and important for progressives.

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Messaging Miracle (VIDEO): Obama Says GOP Plan is “Dirtier Air, Dirtier Water”

Originally published by Joseph Romm on October 17, 2011 on Climate Progres. Note: All Climate Progress links worked when originally posted.

Okay, maybe not a miracle, but the bar is so low for the President rhetorically now that he does deserve praise when he manages to get it right:

President Obama used some of the harshest rhetoric of his term today in denouncing the Republican jobs plan, saying the GOP’s emphasis on less regulations would harm the environment, undercut health care and fail to produce necessary jobs in the short term.

You got their plan, which is let’s have dirtier air, dirtier water, (and) less people with health insurance,” Obama said in kicking off a three-day bus tour at the airport in Asheville, N.C.

So he has the simple language and some repetition (“dirty”) here — though “less people with health insurance” doesn’t flow.  I might have said, “dirtier air, dirtier water, sicker people — and just when people need health insurance the most, the GOP wants to cut 30 million of them off.”

But let’s give him the props.  Now he just needs to repeat this a hundred times or so.

Here’s the video:

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Bombshell: Democrats Taking “Green” Positions on Climate Change “Won Much More Often” Than Those Remaining Silent

Originally published by Joseph Romm on October 13, 2011 on Climate Progres. Note: All Climate Progress links worked when originally posted.

Talking 'Green' Can Help Candidates Win Votes, Study Finds

Stanford public opinion expert Jon Krosnick and his colleagues analyzed the 2008 presidential election and the 2010 congressional election.  They found:

“Democrats who took ‘green’ positions on climate change won much more often than did Democrats who remained silent,” Krosnick said. “Republicans who took ‘not-green’ positions won less often than Republicans who remained silent.”

I asked Krosnick by email about the implications of his research for the President who has all but dropped “climate change” from his vocabulary.  Krosnick answered:

Our research suggests that it would be wise for the President and for all other elected officials who believe that climate change is a problem and merits government attention to say this publicly and vigorously, because most Americans share these views.  Expressing and pursuing green goals on climate change will gain votes on election day and seem likely to increase the President’s and the Congress’s approval ratings.

I’ve talked to senior officials from the Administration as well as journalists who cover them — and both groups report that team Obama has bought into the nonsensical and ultimately self-destructive view that climate change is not a winning issue politically (see “Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?).

And it is nonsense.  Prof. Edward Maibach, Director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, made the exact same point in a Climate Progress guest post last month: “Polling Expert: Is Obama’s Reluctance to Mention Climate Change Motivated by a False Assumption About Public Opinion?

At the end, I repost yet again the umpteen polls that support this painfully obvious conclusion.  This new election analysis supports earlier polling analysis by Krosnick, which found:

“Political candidates get more votes by taking a “green” position on climate change – acknowledging that global warming is occurring, recognizing that human activities are at least partially to blame and advocating the need for action – according to a June 2011 study by researchers at Stanford University.”

Krosnick’s new study, “The Impact of Candidates’ Statements about Climate Change on Electoral Success in 2008 and 2010: Evidence Using Three Methodologies” here.  Let’s look at some more of its findings,  particularly at the presidential level:

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What Would Shakespeare Do: How to End the Recession With a Clean Energy Transformation and Avert Tragedy

Originally published by Joseph Romm and David Fenton on October 5, 2011 on Climate Progres. Note: All Climate Progress links worked when originally posted.

By David Fenton, in A HuffPost repost

Economic Stagnation. Recession. According to Paul Krugman and George Soros, we face now perhaps even Depression.

Hard Times is the American story, now and for the next several years at least. How we find the way back to jobs and growth is the only question. And we have the answer, because changing the energy system is the way back to economic growth. According to some economists, it’s perhaps the ONLY way back. The only new engine of growth, as there is no great new wave of technology, pharmaceuticals, housing, consumer spending and certainly no credit bubble on the horizon.

Saving the climate is the path out of the economic mess. The great waves of growth set off by the intercontinental railroads, the interstate highways, the internet, production for WWII — energy transformation is the next wave.

This should be our message for these hard times.

Here are some examples of how to talk about this.

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Communicating Green Jobs: “If You Translate the Value of Those Jobs With The Other Benefits, You’ve Got To Win”

Originally published by Joseph Romm on October 5, 2011 on Climate Progres. Note: All Climate Progress links worked when originally posted.

The political conversation around green jobs has been about counting specific job numbers and using those figures to determine if clean energy is a good thing or a bad thing. Given that President Obama made green jobs a central part of his political platform, counting those job numbers is very appropriate.

And as we’ve pointed out again and again on Climate Progress, federal and state programs have created and saved hundreds of thousands of good jobs. In some cases, however, jobs haven’t been created as quickly as hoped — opening the entire concept of clean energy investments to political criticism.

But these criticisms ignore all the other value that clean energy projects bring to communities.

John Williams, an expert on sustainable communities and clean energy with HDR, believes we need to get back to the basics on messaging. Speaking to Climate Progress at the Greenbuild Conferencein Toronto, Williams argues that we need to get beyond the “campaign” stage of promoting green jobs, and back into the “transformational” stage of talking about the immense economic, environmental and societal value through a business lens.

Here’s the video interview:

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Memo to Right-Wing Anti-EPA Job-Killers: Sick and Dead People Aren’t Very Productive

Originally published by Joseph Romm on September 12, 2011 on Climate Progres. Note: All Climate Progress links worked when originally posted.

A recent EPA study estimated that just one law — the Clean Air Act — prevented 230,000 deaths, 3.2 million lost school days, and 13 million lost work days a year in 2010. The benefits of this act, including savings in medical expenses and increased worker productivity, are 30 times greater than its cost of implementation, and the benefits of regulation, more generally, also have been shown to exceed costs [PDF]. right-wing noise machine has mastered the art of repeating a few key nonsensical messages over and over again until some people actually believe them.  It has much in common with the sheep in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, who repeat the pigs’ perversion of the original principles:  “Four legs good, two legs better!” or “All animals are equal,but some animals are more equal than others.”

And so in the Orwellian world of the right-wing, the word “rich” is out and “job creators” is in.  There simply are no more rich people in the Tea Party fantasyland.  Of course, no jobs are being created, and the rich are simply sitting on their billions, accumulating a staggeringly disproportionate amount of the wealth to shame the Gilded Age — the richest “400 people have more wealth than half of the more than 100 million U.S. households,” Politifact was grudgingly forced to agree that Michael Moore’s statement was correct.  So one would have to be a sheep to keep calling them job creators.

Oh, but wait, say the sheep,  the reason the job creators aren’t creating jobs is because of the “job-destroying EPA,” a phrase repeated as often as “job creator” is.  In a sane world — I know, I know, another counterfactual, but bear with me — everyone would call it the “life-saving EPA.”  But that would require a president with coherent principles and messaging skills to lead the way, as opposed to one who caved on the life-saving ozone rule — even though a National Bureau of Economic Research study found “robust evidence that ozone levels well below federal air quality standards have a significant impact on productivity:  a 10 ppb decrease in ozone concentrations increases worker productivity by 4.2 percent.”

In the interest of continuing to set the record straight, what follows is a post by Elizabeth A. Stanton, a senior economist with the Stockholm Environment Institute-U.S. Center, viaTripleCrisis (and Grist).

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Polling Expert: Is Obama’s Reluctance to Mention Climate Change Motivated by a False Assumption About Public Opinion?

Originally published by Joseph Romm on September 8, 2011 on Climate Progres. Note: All Climate Progress links worked when originally posted.

Politicians’ understanding of the public’s beliefs on climate is much poorer than their understanding of the science.

I’ve talked to senior officials from the Administration as well as journalists who cover them — and both groups report that team Obama has bought into the nonsensical and ultimately self-destructive view that talking about climate is not a political winner (see “Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?).

Now I suppose it is perversely true that if your messaging is as dreadful as the Administration’s — where you turn the triumph on healthcare reform into a political liability, where you buy into and repeat the pernicious right-wing frame on issues from the debt ceiling to clean air for kids (!) — then whatever you talk about will turn out to be a political loser.

But the fact remains that the public strongly supports climate action and aggressive clean energy policies even during the deep recession, even in the face of an unprecedented fossil-fuel-funded disinformation campaign during the climate bill debate — even without the White House using its bully pulpit to tip the scales further (see “Memo to policymakers: Public STILL favors the transition to clean energy” and links below):

From what you've read and heard, in general, do you favor or  oppose setting limits on carbon dioxide emissions and making companies  pay for their emissions, even if it may mean higher energy prices?

This confusion about public opinion and messaging extends far beyond politicians to many in the progressive community and media.  So I’ll be doing a series of posts in the coming weeks to set the record straight.

I’m fortunate to be able to start with a previously unpublished memo from one of the leading experts on public opinion and climate communications, Prof. Edward Maibach of George Mason University.  He is Director of their Center for Climate Change Communication and a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Communication.

Maibach has been involved in some of the most in-depth, multi-year polling on this subject, the widely cited “Climate Change in the American Mind Series.”  He discusses his findings, and why they are at odds with Obama’s silence on climate change, below:

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