"Just the facts, ma'am."* The phrase made famous by Dragnet's Sgt. Joe Friday, raised its deceptive head last week at the Netroots Nation (liberal) and RightOn (conservative) political bloggers annual conventions in Pittsburgh.
Toward the end of a Q&A session a woman stood up, thanked the presenters and said, "The facts are on our side. I realize now if we just get them out there, we will win."
In the non-partisan tradition of this blog, I won't be specific as to which of the conventions I attended. I did, however, expect the dangerous thinking exemplified above to be unique to us. I was therefore gratified to see an attendee of the other convention quoted in the newspaper professing the same misguided thinking.
Facts do not produce converts.
Facts are too susceptible to fabrication, half-truths, intentional and accidental misrepresentation, interpretation, skepticism, disinterest, rationalization, and denial.
Facts can be useful in conversion, but only when used as part of a process, never as a stand alone.
If we want converts, we need to meet them where they are. We need to deal with their concerns, their perceptions, their assumptions, and their experiences. We need to build a relationship of genuine concern and trust.
And we need to offer, in the words of Bush 41, "that vision thing" so people find a better way.
Clarence Darrow, one of the most prominent American defense attorneys in the late 18- and early 1900s, summed it up well: "Don't give the jury reasons to acquit your client. Make them want to acquit him and they will provide the reasons."
* Joe Friday actually never said the phrase he made famous. But he came close. What he did say was "All we need are the facts."