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Bono of U2 famously got conservative Senator Jesse Helms, who was no friend of the gay community, to fund AIDS programs in Africa.


He found common ground:

From a 2002 Guardian article on the relationship: (emphasis by TGW)

Meanwhile, the US wing of Jubilee 2000 hit on the idea of persuading the Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Baptist, to write a letter to Baptist churches across southern US states explaining the Biblical principles behind debt cancellation. Suddenly, Bono found he had access to a swathe of strongly Christian Republicans compelled by his Biblical theme - what Bono calls "the melody line" of his pitch. "We knew we had to get both sides," he explains. "So we got Billy Graham and the Pope and I went to people like Jesse Helms, who had been very tough on the the concept of foreign assistance and very bleak on Aids. He's a religious man so I told him that 2103 verses of scripture pertain to the poor and Jesus speaks of judgment only once - and it's not about being gay or sexual morality, but about poverty. I quoted that verse of Matthew chapter 25: 'I was naked and you clothed me.' He was really moved. He was in tears. Later he publicly acknowledged that he was ashamed..."

See The Art of Woo Using Strategic Persuasion to Sell Your Ideas By G. Richard Shell; Mario Moussa for a further exploration of this)

We can learn a lot from this. And we had better do it quick.

(Some of this diary is reposted from previous diaries and comments.  However, it is in a new context)

Persuasion is the key to success in politics, whether it is aimed at one decision maker in a private meeting or at a crowd during a grass roots action.  The example above shows how a little imagination can help us persuade even seemingly intractable opponents toward a goal we seek.

To duplicate Bono's success, we need to leverage a couple of very interesting psychological principles.

First, understand that, according to one view , each of us is a set of different selves belonging to differnt groups. Key to this is that, depending on which group we identify with at the moment, we act differntly.(for an excellent sumary of this see Wendy Wood's review article ATTITUDE CHANGE: Persuasion and Social Infuence

How does this apply to Bono and Helms?

Well, we can argue that each of them belonged to the following sets of groups:

Bono: youth, Irish, rock stars, progressives, Christians
Helms: seniors, Americans, conservatives, Christians

Bono was not able to connect with Helms through many shared experiences or values except one: their mutual membership in the group "Christians".  This was the first step in Bono's successful persuation.

Of course, he had to go farther.  "Christian" means a lot of things to a lot of people, but a definate piece of common ground for almost all Christians is the life of Jesus as described in the four Gospels.  So after establishing the common ground of group membership, Bono strengthend the bond by drawing on the most important piece of common ground held within the group.

It worked.

So how can we make this work for us?

By understanding the ways we do this all the time. Every time anyone says "man to man", "as a friend" or "my fellow Americans" he or she is establishing common ground.   Learning the mechanisms behing this allows us to do it consciously.

A look a the six "weapons of influence" identified by pioneering social psychologist Robert Cialdini is in order(I've diaried about these before, but in a different context, so bear with me):

Reciprocity - People tend to return a favor, thus the pervasiveness of free samples in marketing. In his conferences, he often uses the example of Ethiopia providing thousands of dollars in humanitarian aid to Mexico just after the 1985 earthquake, despite Ethiopia suffering from a crippling famine and civil war at the time. Ethiopia had been reciprocating for the diplomatic support Mexico provided when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935. The good cop/bad cop strategy is also based on this principle.
Commitment and Consistency - If people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment because of establishing that idea or goal as being congruent with their self image. Even if the original incentive or motivation is removed after they have already agreed, they will continue to honor the agreement. For example, in car sales, suddenly raising the price at the last moment works because the buyer has already decided to buy. Cialdini notes Chinese brainwashing on American prisoners of war to rewrite their self image and gain automatic unenforced compliance. See cognitive dissonance.
Social Proof - People will do things that they see other people are doing. For example, in one experiment, one or more confederates would look up into the sky; bystanders would then look up into the sky to see what they were seeing. At one point this experiment aborted, as so many people were looking up that they stopped traffic. See conformity, and the Asch conformity experiments.
Authority - People will tend to obey authority figures, even if they are asked to perform objectionable acts. Cialdini cites incidents such as the Milgram experiments in the early 1960s and the My Lai massacre.
Liking - People are easily persuaded by other people that they like. Cialdini cites the marketing of Tupperware in what might now be called viral marketing. People were more likely to buy if they liked the person selling it to them. Some of the many biases favoring more attractive people are discussed. See physical attractiveness stereotype.
Scarcity - Perceived scarcity will generate demand. For example, saying offers are available for a "limited time only" encourages sales.

For the purposes of this discussion, Liking, Commitment and Consistency, and Social Proof and Authority are the most important.

This overview  Robert Cialdini's offers further insight into these principles.  

(all emphasis in citations provided by TGW)


People prefer to say yes to individuals they know and like....Compliance practitioners may regularly use several factors....

Similarity--is a second factor that influences both Liking and compliance. That is--we like people who are like us and are more willing to say yes to their requests, often without much critical consideration...

Increased familiarity--through repeated contact with a person or thing is yet another factor that normally facilitates Liking. But this holds true principally when that contact takes place under positive rather than negative circumstances. One positive circumstance that may work well is mutual and successful cooperation....

Bono invoked the Liking prinicple by establishing his similarity to Helms on matters of faith.

Commitment and Consistency

People have a desire to look consistent through their words, beliefs, attitudes and deeds...

Good personal consistency is highly valued by society.

Consistent conduct provides a beneficial approach to daily life....

Helms was public about his Christain faith and would have felt compelled to act on it once he had begun to agree with Bono.  He would have also wanted to act consistently with the words of Jesus he publicly held as truth.

Social Proof

...People often view a behavior as more correct in a given situation--to the degree that we see others performing it...

Similarity--people are more inclined to follow the lead of others who are similar.

Helms, as a member of the group Christians, would feel a need to act as he saw his fellow Chritians acting.  Bono provided a model of a charismatic Chirstian whose behavior Helms could look to in order to validate his actions.  More importantly, Bono painted an image of a compassionate Jesus Helms could emulate.


By invoking the Bible and the life of Jesus, Bono appealed to the ultimate authority in the life of a devout Christian.

Okay, that's Bono and Helms.  How do we do it?

Look at all the groups we and our targets of persuasion might actually belong to. They may not be obvious, but they could be key. Whether the group is political, religious, cultural or any other type is far less ikmportant than how it can provide a path to persuasion.

Examples of groups with possible common concerns"

Parents: pollution, childhood disease, gun violence, education
Dog owners:  humane treatment of animals
Atheletes: diabetes, obesity, physical education
Frank Zappa fans: freedom of speech

Members of any of these groups can come from the whole range of the political spectrum.  However, focusing on the common group can make the policies more important than the politics.

So how to emphsize group membership?

On the most basic level, keep in mind the Liking principle. Other movements understood this. Look at films of the Civil Rights marches: everyone was in their Sunday best. When I see tee-shirted, bearded and pierced activists trying to get signatures and donations in a busy business downtown, it make me nuts. I have no problem with the style, but it would be more useful at a concert. If you want business professionals to stop and talk, dress like them. If you want Soccer Moms or NASCAR Dads to support you, don't bang a bongo at a World Bank protest, dress and act in a way that makes them sympathize with you; put on a sports jersey.

We need to be a movement, not an exclusive club. If that means doing the modern version of getting clean for Gene once in a while, we should do it.

Commitment and Consistency lends all sorts of possiblilities.  Common ground can be established though any publicized and respected statement or document:

    For example:

    The Bible: Many religious groups are to the right on
     social issues, but to the left on economic issues. According to legend,
     Henry Hyde one remarked of the US Catholic Bishops that "they are with us
     on abortion, but on everything else they are a bunch of socialists." The
     difference in the approaches of the two parties to these folks is: the
     Republicans ask for their votes based on their agreement
     on social issues while the Democrats wait for their  
     votes based on agreement on economic issues.

     But, as Tip O' Neil famously said, "People like to be asked". The
     Democrats need to ask for religious voters' support based on the issues
     they agree on, just as the Republicans do. (For a very informative look
     at a religious group puching for social justice see the
     Sojourners: Christians for Justice and Peace)

    The Constitution:  The Republicans made a strategic error
    by insisting that the Constitution be read aloud in the House.  From this
    point on, every time they propose an encroachment on the rights spelled
    out in that document, a Democrat can argue "this flies in the face of the
    Constitution, which I remins my collegue was read into the record at
    his/her party's insistence.  Have our principles suddenly changed?"

Authority would also be relevant to each of the above examples.

Now, the Constitution example above would have been in a public argument where one side scores point with the audience.  On a personal level, a persuasive dialoge could be more useful.  How could it work?

By owning the words.  Terms everyone uses can allow the side that defines them to establish and control common ground.  For example, everyone believes in "National Security", but few think about its definition.  Owning the terms can allow you to persuade others to endorse a policy.

Example dialogue:

Start with the premise that he purpose of national security is to protect the lives and property of the citizenry.  No conservative is going to argue with that.  Hell, throw in "from threats within and without" and you'll still get agreement.

So, with heads nodding all around start asking if they mind paying taxes for defense and security.

You'll get agreement.

Ask: do you like a good return on investment?


Do you lock just your front door and leave your back door open?

Hell, no!

So, do we defend just against outside threats or do we look inside as well?


Would you defend against a chemical attack in the US?

You bet?

No matter who it came from?

You bet: I'd start kicking ass!

So, if some terrorist put cancer causing chemicals in our water, you'd want to kick ass?


Well, let's go get (insert local polluting company here).  Grab your pitchfork.

Now rinse and repeat the argument for property.  Start talking about the mafia (who everyone will agree are criminals), move to people's back accounts, and end with Wall Street.

While this may only convert a few, if any serious conservatives, it will work on independents.  The key is defining the debate.  If you can do that, you win 9 times out of ten.

This can get even deeper, as you go from owning the tems to activating the worldview.  As mentioned above, one view states that we have differnt selves at different times.  Dovetailing with this view is George Lakoff's view that we all hold two concepts of family that guide our political views.  

As I understand it, here is a very simplified version:

  1.  Politics are an expression of concepts of the family

  1.  Most people hold two concepts of the family simultaneously, though one is dominant

              A.  Strong father (dominant in conservatives)

              B.  Nurturant parent (dominant in progressives)

  1. There are many differences in the worldview, but the key for this argument is that the strong father model holds that children ought to be taught to support and fend for themselves in an inherently bad world, while the nurturant parent model holds that children should be taught to nurture others in an improvable world.

However, a key thing to remember is that different models can be used by the same people in different situations or for different reasons.  A conservative can understand the dynamics of the Cosby show, for example; and a  pro-labor progressive can be very conservative at home.  How you activate a model with your message can make or break the success of the message.

So examples of how to appeal to conservatives include either appealing the nurturant parent model in them at a time when it is dominant (for example, in a relevant non-political group such as a large playdate) or,

Appealing in a way that works with the strict father model.  For example:

  1.  Frame violence as a threat to young children who are not yet able to fend for themselves, as opposed to adults, who, in the strong father model, can fend for themselves.

  1.  Frame the corporate takeover of America as an interference just as dangerous, if not more so, than that of government.

See Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate--The Essential Guide for Progressives, by George Lakoff. See also: Cognitive Policy Wonks and The Progressive Strategy Handbook Project

The point of all this is that it is not enough to be right, you have to be convincing.  The opposition tells some very convincing lies, we have tried to anwers them with unconvincing truths.  But convincing truths will win every time out of the box.

Recommended reading/listening/viewing  for radicals:

The incomparable Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. Online preview here  

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. by Robert Cialdini. This is the single most valuable book I have read on how to persuade and how to avoid being persuaded.

Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate--The Essential Guide for Progressives, by George Lakoff. See also: Cognitive Policy Wonks and The Progressive Strategy Handbook Project

Frank Luntz: everything he’s written.  He's a conservative message master, and you have to know the enemy.    Remember the great scene in Patton, when the victorious general shouted: “Rommel! You magnificent son of a bitch!  I READ YOUR BOOK!”

Making the News: A Guide for Activists and Nonprofits, By Jason Salzman

The Campaign Manager: Running and Winning Local Elections, By Catherine Shaw

How To Win A Local Election,by Lawrence Grey

The Opposition Research Handbook: Guide to Political Investigations

Guerrilla Marketing

Chomsky.Info  Many of Noam Chomsky’s insightful and frightening analyses

Robert Newman’s History of Oil Thanks to GreyHawk for recommending this.

To see how the combined direct costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars affects you see the National Priorities Project's and select your state and city.  

Build Infrastructure:  Volunteer!  List of State and Local Democratic Parties

Cross-posted here at

Originally posted to TheGrandWazoo on Tue Jan 18, 2011 at 03:42 PM PST.

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