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Posted: May 19, 2012 6:22 p.m.

Cushman: Addiction to story, morals and all

As a child, I was a voracious reader, mostly of fiction. I would read during class, during lunch, during the bus ride. When I was reading, I was not part of my boring normal life, but part of a deeper, more compelling story.

Fiction has the ability to transport the reader into a different world. The same holds true for movies and television shows. Stories of all types capture our attention and imagination. Even news is told in story fashion.

Sports coverage includes the backstories of the athletes to draw us into the narrative of the event.

When we talk, we trade information with friends, often through story form: "Let me tell you what," or, "Can you believe that?"

Even how we view our own lives is a storyline. More often we are the protagonists, the people who are battling against the forces of evil and becoming stronger and better through the process. According to Jonathan Gottschall, author of "The Storytelling Animal," "we are, as a species, addicted to story."

But not all stories are real. For instance: The Obama-Biden campaign recently rolled out a story about Julia, a made-up woman. Titled "The Life of Julia." It is billed as a way to "take a look at how President Obama's policies help one woman over her lifetime - and how Mitt Romany would change her story."

The moral of the story given to us at the end of the slide show is: "From cracking down on gender discrimination in health care costs to fighting for equal pay, President Obama is standing up for women throughout their lives."

The story promises a nanny state where the government is the one that makes sure people, in this case women, are cared for and happy.

In his newest book, "The Road to Freedom," Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, lays out the opposite moral argument. It is in favor of the free enterprise system and against government control.

The choice he describes is between two versions of America. One where "government will restart our economy with more stimulus, more taxes and more borrowing. Morally, the government holds the secret to fairness through more income redistribution and taxation of the wealthy. The government will lift up the poor and the disadvantaged. We need government programs in order to pursue our happiness." Think Julia.

The second version is the belief that "the key to our success lies in free enterprise - the system our Founders left us to maximize liberty, create individual opportunity and reward entrepreneurship. Free enterprise creates the opportunity our ancestors came to America seeking - the opportunities that allowed them to pursue their happiness in a new land."

The opposite belief system from Obama-Biden and convincing to me (but then I'm a conservative).

Brooks writes that the argument for the free enterprise system must be based on what is moral to be won. "Free enterprise teaches us to earn success, not learn helplessness. It rewards merit, which is the fair thing to do. And in the end, it is the only system that can improve the lives of literally billions of poor people - here and around the world."

If Brooks is correct, then why is President Obama currently in the lead?

According to a Gallup poll released Tuesday, "56 percent of Americans think Barack Obama will win the 2012 presidential election, compared with 36 percent who think Mitt Romney will win."

This is in contrast to a poll released by Gallup last Thursday where "registered voters are more likely to say Mitt Romney, if elected president, would do a very good or good job of handling the economy than they are to say President Obama would, if re-elected - 61 percent versus 52 percent."

Brooks' argument is right, and compelling, but the America people are responding to story more than the moral argument.

Gottschall noted in his book that "if you want a message to burrow into a human mind, work it into a story." Fiction is more than fiction; it is a way to teach morals. "In fact, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than nonfiction, which is designed to persuade through argument and evidence."

The moral of this column: Conservatives have to do more than make the moral argument; they have to be able to share stories, connect emotionally and persuade through more than evidence and argument.

 

To find out more about Jackie Gingrich Cushman, visit www.creators.com.

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