December 17, 2020

Poltiical messaging’s secret sauce: “Cluefulness”

A large fraction of political messaging fits a single, underappreciated frame, which for lack of a better name I’ll call cluefulness. The idea is to take the well-established word “clueless”, give it the antonym “clueful”, and note that a huge fraction of political messaging amounts to:

0. More precisely, what I mean by “cluefulness” (antonym: cluelessness) is the characteristic of truly understanding aspects of the world. Examples might include:

Cluefulness messaging was central to Donald Trump’s success, was central to Republican 2020 Congressional campaigns too, and was crucial in the 2020 Democratic primary as well.

1. Let’s review some validating examples. The “clueless” theme fits:

Conversely, politicians try to appear “clueful” via, depending on their target constituency:

2. Being judged clueful or clueless affects the impact of almost any (other) message you send.

3. Donald Trump of course makes great use of cluefulness messaging. For example, in the 2016 campaign:

And along the way he claimed to be cleverer and more insightful than the traditional experts about … well, about almost everything.

4. Cluefulness messaging plays into left/right political polarization in multiple ways. One centers on the “choose your own facts” approach to news.

5. Another major strand of cluefulness messaging is to directly attack left-wingers’ mentality, often in the nastiest of terms. On social media and talk radio alike, liberalism is a mental illness, leftists are “libtards”, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a complete and utter dunce.

Supporting these swipes are more specific accusations of cluelessness, for example:

In particular, Trump has long attacked Democrats as being “crazy”, “stupid”, “clueless”, senile or otherwise mentally deficient.

6. Cluefulness messaging is also big on the left. Indeed – and this is one of the examples motivating my whole analysis — the decisive metaphor of the 2020 Democratic primaries was “knowing” the constituencies.

7. The cluefulness emphasis gets bigger the further left you go.

8. While it’s blossomed in the eras of talk radio and social media, cluefulness messaging is hardly new. Since at least the 1950s “Red Scare” era, politicians have accused each other of insufficiently appreciating foreign or domestic dangers. So it was between Richard Nixon and Adlai Stevenson (in both directions, as outlined in my post on Accusations of recklessness or insufficient caring). So it was with many accusations of insufficient defense spending, or when Michael Dukakis looked ridiculous photographed with a tank. Republicans’ focus on China-bashing as a 2020 campaign issue was yet more of the same. And domestic-policy examples from the 20th Century include:

Related links:

Comments

One Response to “Poltiical messaging’s secret sauce: “Cluefulness””

  1. Seven categories of political messaging | Strategic Messaging on December 17th, 2020 9:13 am

    […] a companion post, I argue for adding a less obvious seventh […]

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