A Story for Your Vote


Over the past two weeks, I've watched the national conventions of the Democrats and Republicans with great interest, and one thing (okay, lots of things, but let's put politics aside and stay on track here) has really struck me. That singular thing is the universal power of story to connect us to another human being, even one who is essentially a stranger.

First, we have the narrative of Barak Obama, the son of a young, unwed Midwestern woman and an African student whose swift rise through hard work, talent, and the path of public service embodies the American dream.

Next, we have the tale of Joe Biden, a young Senator-elect whose wife and daughter died tragically and who was sworn in at the bedside of his injured sons and who commuted from Washington by train so he could be at their side each evening.

The following week, we were introduced to the inspiring story of John McCain, a POW who was tortured for years and tempted by offers of freedom, a man whose heroism and patriotism would not allow him to turn his back on his ideals and country.

Finally, we met Sarah Palin a "regular hockey mom" who rose from PTA president to mayor until -- frustrated by corruption within her own party -- she took on the old boy establishment, won the governorship, and put the cushy corporate jet up for sale on Ebay.

These are narratives distilled to legend, tales brief enough to be shared in TV ads or newscast sound bites, or spoken of with friends. They are story without the circumstance, complexity, or ambiguity of real life, but nonetheless, they are critically important.

Because story is how we relate to one another and to our world. It provides the framework on which we may hang the ghostly flesh of abstract issues and ideals. It also provides another example of why storytellers are as important in our world as they ever have been, even (and perhaps especially) within the political arena.

So how important is a candidate's personal narrative to you? Do you find it a shortcut to feeling as if you know him or her, or do you feel it's a slick attempt at manipulation by spin doctors? I'd love to hear your thoughts, but let's try to keep on topic and respectful. I don't want to have to go and dig out my old schoolyard whistle. ;)

Comments

Suzan Harden said…
Unfortunately, I believe it's all slick attempts at manipulation, but you're right. It does show the almost insane power of words. Each of the snippet stories can be twisted until the candidate makes Darth Vader look like a girl scout.

Unfortunately, our country is so freaking big that you can't get to know the candidates. Not in any way it matters.
Joni Rodgers said…
I agree with Suzan. I get what you're saying about the power of story, and Lord knows, I bank on that, but in the context of an election, it's dangerous.

What's the rest of the story? Everybody loves the "hockey mom" who put the jet on Ebay, but the next page of that story is that the jet didn't sell. She refused to listen to people who tried to tell her the thing needed to be listed with a broker. She tried and failed three times before allowing the broker to sell it -- for half a million less than what the state had paid. But hey, the Ebay line is great "narrative" for her PR. (And meanwhile, this super devoted mommy -- well, don't get me started.)

People need to expend the time and effort it takes to understand the issues, see past the PR -- and the BS -- and vote their conscience.

Geezes H. McCoy, I hate election year.
In every case, the parties (oh so carefully) craft the stories, and it's left up to the voters to ferret out what's been edited from them.

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