I've heard a lot of attacks on Biden, "He should get out," with harsh lists of everything he's ever done wrong and nothing he's done right.

Imagine you liked Biden and had half a mind to vote for him in the primary. People are trying to convince you to change your vote, and also stay energized after the primaries. How well does the comment below work; what would you change? [Cognitive Politics is about communications approaches, not about particular candidates.]

I went to college in tiny Delaware with Biden as our Senator. I often disagreed with him but he worked hard and along with some serious bad choices most of us have now heard many times (which yes are serious bad choices) he also did a lot of good work too, and worked hard β€” his efforts to fight some aspects of militarization and Central America death squads were quality work and important β€” and he gave a damn any time his privilege let him see what was actually going on.

Back then he was more blunt and real and human than any other politician I knew of: he didn't wear a fake face for the voters. And now he is a human being who really needs to retire. I mean that more as a criticism of the rest of us than him: I hope I never decide I'm past my prime, but it's going to happen, and I hope people around me don't let me do to myself what Biden's never-retire-supporters are putting him through in front of the whole country. Even if you find his politics perfectly match yours, even if he was a great candidate ten years ago, this isn't going to end well for anyone.

This approach is a "steel argument," the opposite of a paper tiger β€” make the opposing case strong enough that every reader feels heard, with a feeling of mutual exploration instead of point-scoring. Thoughts? Ways to improve it?

Stephen Wed, 02/12/2020 - 06:09

Say politics is important to you and you don't want to silence yourself around family,

but talking politics at Thanksgiving or other holidays might ruin dinner,

what are some creative alternatives?

I've started leaving alternatives in the comments; please brainstorm and join in.

Stephen Sun, 11/17/2019 - 13:12
I swallowed some propaganda. For many years, I've said that eating cattle causes methane. This blog is about communications, not meat eating. If you are conversing with people across partisan divides, in these days of heavy propaganda and few gatekeepers, I wonder if it would help to share when swallow propaganda? PS: This one caught me, which is an interesting experience. My allies sometimes goof too. I believe I wrote that the most important online action was opposing the adult left going after a smirking teenager, one nation against one teen
Stephen Fri, 11/08/2019 - 16:04

One of the leading progressives strikes me as talking to the progressive base; another is speaking progressive ideals to everyone who will listen.

These tend to be lumped together, but I think they are totally different approaches, and the difference very important. If you want to change the world, vote for candidates who speak their values (your values) with clarity to everyone, not just to you and the base. Both these approaches are opposites of the Clinton's Third Way β€” which unfortunately is where the analysis usually stops.

Even better would be attempting a conversation β€” which has to be somewhat faked when talking to a million people at once, but you can try, and people can tell when you try.


Trump was particularly good at creating a sense of conversation: people without college degrees living in places that are being left behind by the modern economy felt like he was talking to them, when no one else was. Yeah, obviously he was lying β€” no one else even bothered to talk to them.

Beto's "Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47" is a great example of talking only to your base, showing attitude and loyalty to the home-team while locking the front door so no one else will join you.

Stephen Tue, 11/05/2019 - 16:39

β€” live draft, early comments welcome β€”

Communications techniques encourage us to "reflect" and "agree." What I'm observing is that Trump said β€œTens of thousands of Kurds died fighting ISIS. They died for us and with us and for themselves,” and a few weeks later betrayed them, leaving thousands more to die at the hands of our ally who we promised we would constrain. At a moment where Trump has left our allies to die, callously, suddenly β€” how do you "agree" today?

Personally, I thought Trump was going to be a disaster, but recent events strain my very low expectations. I think that might be where to focus right now: Be very careful to help previous Trump voters separate from Trump, rather than feel under attack along with him. Aim to find ways to reflect that no one is really happy today, no one is getting what they want.

I think the "agree" right now is to validate that people who voted for Trump weren't expecting this, we weren't envisioning that America would betray allies who fought alongside our troops. Most Americans β€” both those who voted for Trump and those who voted against β€” expected that opposition to ISIS was a shared value, and that fighting alongside our troops as an ally counted for something. We were all surprised together. It's time for America to come back together.

Resources to Share…

Conservative view:…

Stephen Cataldo Thu, 10/10/2019 - 19:14

Dog whistle politics has changed. In the past, a "dog whistle" was when a politician said something that his supporters would know was racist, but centrists wouldn't hear it. Only supporters, only the target demographic that the speaker intended to mobilize, heard the dog whistle.

Today, slogans like "All Lives Matter" are dog whistles intended not to be heard by the core audience. Instead of being heard by the voters that a politician is trying to mobilize, they are heard by opponents. Only your opponents hear the dog whistle β€” which gets your opponents dump their anger on your target demographic. People saying "All Lives Matter" feel good about themselves, about not seeing race. And progressives get angry at them. There's no faster way to drive them to circle their wagons around Trump than to have progressives yelling at them. That is the point: that is why a politician trying to win the next election keeps bringing up little bits of xenophobic and racist garbage β€” he is campaigning, he is setting traps, we are falling for those traps.

Social media makes this particularly effective: if someone is unhappy about something in their lives, shares a grumpy post that casually tosses some grumpiness about that problem, and then faces holy hell from progressives β€” it drives them to the person who put the dog whistle in their hands and encouraged them to blow it.

It used to be that politicians blew dog whistles: now they use social media to encourage their followers to blow the dog whistles, without being able to hear them.

Next in series: How racist trolling wins votes from people who don't want to be racist

Stephen Cataldo Tue, 08/13/2019 - 20:44
I don't entirely have an answer to the question "How Do Racists and Anti-Racists Use Group-ism at Election Time?" β€” if you have pieces of the puzzle, add them to the comments. I recommend looking at What Ails the Right Isn’t (Just) Racism: An authoritarian fear of difference best explains the intolerance sweeping the Republican Party. The short answer to my question: enough Americans
Stephen Tue, 08/13/2019 - 18:49

I watched good folks start to tear into each other when this window decal made its way to a political facebook group.

I'm guessing: this image is seen as wildly racist to some, and a silly joke about lousy ex-boyfriends to others.

And there is a big danger: when people don't think they're sharing something racist, and then get accused of it, they tend to feel pushed out, not called in. This is creating, over and over, a feeling of rejection among a large part of the country.

This provocation is done very much on purpose:

1) Politically active people (provocateurs) are aiming to get the target audience β€” especially non-politicized voters β€” to blow dog whistles. The tactic is strongest when the people blowing the dog whistle don't realize they're doing it, don't hear the dog whistles or intend any harm. An example is getting people saying the phrase "All Lives Matter" β€” which free of any context, just those three words, sounds pure and innocent and idealistic.

(2) Then the target audience face intense anger from progressives.

(3) Then the accidental-dog-whistlers get angry at the people who yelled at them. Now they are politicized.

That is 2016. That is the "deplorables" thing β€” millions of people were really angry about being called racist and not knowing what the accusation was about. Fox and similar media worked hard to worsen the confusion, very much on purpose taking Hillary Clinton's quote out of context. Progressives didn't work hard to welcome back the people who felt confused and offended.

How do we build solidarity among decent people, when we face this tactic? (I have no idea about the originators of the sticker β€” I feel sure that if a million people see this sticker, some are going to see a racial overlay and some simply are not) but the conflicts here are the same as the broader pattern, and we certainly see it happening on purpose often enough.

I feel scared to say that as a community we don't seem to have developed ways to invite each other in, even among allies who intend to be anti-racist.

Could your community discuss racist implications of that window decal in a way that people reading the discussion would feel like "I want to join those people, I feel inspired by those people"? How would that work?

Exercise: Imagine you went on a year long news fast, and came back to hear people saying "All Lives Matter." That sounds sweet and gentle and heartfull, right? How would you want your community to bring you up to speed?

PS: One group that is inspired to be that kind of community, working on strategies to reach across partisan divides and generate understanding, to learn why we misinterpret each other, is: SMART Politics. A small group from Cognitive Politics and SMART Politics may soon start creating "Rapid Responses" to current issues that combine the best communication techniques with social media β€” speak up if you'd like to volunteer and co-create.

Learn more techniques progressives will need to deal with to win elections: online at the outrage–>anger–>reaction cycle or read "Disinfect Festering Racism," Chapter 5 of Cognitive Politics (p90).

Stephen Tue, 08/13/2019 - 13:22

Cognitive Politics is about communications techniques. This blog looks at how we share outrage on social media, an exercise intended to be shared with the Smarter Politics community.

My friends are asking "When is the President going to be held accountable?"

Trump's America isn't what I ever thought America would be.

I'm angry in solidarity with you. SMART started because anger wasn't winning us elections, wasn't keeping people like Trump out of office.

These are dangerous times for many people β€” we need to be careful: quotes like the above only move us in the right direction, only move towards winning the next election, which is the only way Trump will be held accountable, when they increase solidarity.* When people who felt abandoned by neo-liberal de-industrialization, by a culture that doesn't feel familiar, or watching friends addicted to opioids, when Trump gives them some group to blame, how do we not contribute to separation?

Okay SMART, here's the exercise for the comments: if you feel a desire to share quotes like Anne Frank's, how do you do it so that it is welcoming, a call-in rather than a call-out? How do you get conservatives on your feed (maybe they believe in balancing budgets, or serving when called, or family values) to shake themselves out of the frog-in-boiling-water that comes from Trump slowly turning up hate, and liberals participating in dividing us-into-them?

How would you introduce this quote on your feed so that moderate conservatives felt like you and they were Americans together? Or at least, if they commented against you, moderates watching the interaction would not witness a left-right bar-fight, but would feel like that the people upset by Anne Frank's quote have stepped out of history's arc of the moral universe.


* Also, solidarity among wavering progressives β€” but not burn-out.

Stephen Cataldo Mon, 08/12/2019 - 12:12

The spin on the Mueller Report is overwhelming: not just whether Trump is guilty, but even simply what did Mueller find: a lot of us are watching only soundbites. What communication techniques can help? What should progressives be sharing?

Question: what is the best short video, article and tweet (one of each) to share about the Mueller Report, that will help politically disinclined TV watchers say "that's not what I saw" when Mueller is described as having found nothing?

My intended goal here is to find resources that will reach people who don't already agree with you, and have short attention spans β€” communications techniques probably call for either a simple and clear observation, or a messenger who will be believed by your intended audience, though if you have another communication technique in mind, please say it!

Recommendation: When sharing on social media, try not to add tribal markers: words whose fundamental meaning is "I told you so" or "My team was right!" will distract from an observation, and make your partisan views into the messenger. Instead, try something like "I saw this and found it interesting. What do you think?"

Stephen Thu, 07/25/2019 - 10:49