Ted Cruz is Right


I don’t often agree with Senator Ted Cruz, which is why I didn’t rush to watch his CPAC address. But when I heard he’d led off by challenging the audience to stand on principle, I decided to watch the video. I’m glad I did, because from the perspective of children’s advocacy communications, Ted Cruz is right.

Some housekeeping details first. No, I don’t agree that the President is siphoning hope out of America. And no, I don’t think Senator Bob Dole and Senator John McCain are empty suits.

But when you move beyond the hyperbole, Senator Cruz’s speech offered three great lessons for child advocacy communications. They’re easy to remember if you think about them as three Ps: position, passion, and power.

The stated objective of his speech was to convey that winning means taking a position, not hiding behind passive language and ambiguous phrasing. This is no less true when the aim is winning public policy debates. Voters look to political candidates for solutions, not just analyses. As advocates, our audiences – policymakers, journalists, partners – want the same thing. As the senator told the CPAC crowd, “when you don’t stand and draw a clear distinction … [your opponents] celebrate.”

Senator Cruz’s speech also illustrates the importance of passion. Watch three minutes of his CPAC address (or, in the interest of bipartisanship, three minutes of President Obama’s 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote), and you’re reminded why psychologist and political messaging guru Drew Westen concludes that it’s the heart, not the mind, that motivates action. In short, Senator Cruz sounds and looks like he believes what he’s saying and that it’s critically important. If we aren’t conveying the same passion, we aren’t getting as much as possible from each communications opportunity.

Finally, he offers a way for the audience to connect with their own power. Toward the end of his remarks, he urges listeners to text or Tweet #MakeDCListen. Is that going to change the world, or even advance one item on his policy agenda? Nope. But it gives every person in the room a doable way to move off the bench and into the game. If they get some positive feedback – a thank-you text, a retweet – some of those folks might do more down the line. Whether it’s a petition or a phone call, a Tweet or a meeting, our communications must also give our audience a way to find and express their own power to make change happen for children.

I don’t agree with everything – or even most of the things – Senator Cruz told the CPAC crowd. But we’d miss a real opportunity if we ignore these simple lessons: [1] Take a Position; [2] Show Some Passion; and [3] Help Your Audience Connect with Their Power.