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Why Hillary Lost: She Failed to Share Her Heart's Stories

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storycon.org H2'ed 6/5/08
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I've written about this in at least two previous articles:

Tapping the Power of story

Tap The Power of Story To Max Your Message or Campaign

In the second article I included a list of the kinds of stories candidates should identify in their lives:
" What are your greatest accomplishments in your life?

Now, try to remember some scenes in your life:
high point (peak experience)
low point
turning points
earliest memories
Significant childhood scene
significant adolescent scene
significant adult scene
Life Challenges
Positive and negative people in your life

...You can tell life stories in so many different ways. -- people, achievements, challenges, lessons, jobs... It's interesting to see which aspect a client chooses. There are no correct choices.

The interview fleshes out the stories, gets into greater depth on what were the most important aspects of the story-- what were the parallel tracks, the back story, the climax of the story. What were the hero's journey, archetypal, heroic elements of the story? I will look for stories that fit the pattern of the archetpal "American Story...


The archetypal American story is all about facing challenges at some stage in life, then recovering and overcoming them. A candidate who doesn't have a story about challenges faced and overcome is running a campaign on three wheels. If Hillary had spent an hour or two, at the least, doing a story analysis of her life, she would have had the story of the greatest test she'd faced analyzed, reviewed, rehearsed... she'd have told it hundreds of times and it would have been easy to reply directly and truthfully, but more important, persuasively and movingly, to that question.

Harold Wolfson, Terry McAuliffe, and the rest of her gazillion dollar campaign failed to tap the most important power, the most valuable resources Hillary had. Hillary's response to the debate question reflected that failure perfectly.

But it's worse. If you have experience, then you have stories to tell, stories which are moving, that touch the heart, that bring tears to the eye. Hillary didn't tellhers. In response to the debate question McAuliffe hilighted, she told a story about her being honored at a ceremony.

A candidate needs to understand the power of story. It's clear Hillary did not. Yes, after Penn was reduced from top dog to back channel consultant, Hillary began to share some stories, but they were not about her, they were about her family and others. There was never a sign that she brought anyone onto her team who understood the power of story. She depended on polling and political experts who clearly had a blindspot, a big one, when it came to to power of personal stories to touch people's hearts. If, earlier in the primary season, she'd spent just three or four hours working on first identifying her personal stories and then developing plans on how to weave them with her issues, she would have done much better, might very well have won the hearts of the people with whom she just didn't connect.

The day after that February debate, I wrote about it in an article, and some of the above comments are lifted from that article. I finished up by saying,
A candidate needs to understand the power of story. It's clear Hillary did not.

I'm not sure Obama is any better at this. With some coaching, he'd be brilliant at it, applying his oratory skills. But we're talking about Hillary, for now. If she wants to win, her only chance is to develop an inventory of stories with real people, that touch the heart-- stories that describe, in precise detail, how she got her experience, how she applied her experience to get things done. These stories can have warts. They can show mistakes and they can show how those mistakes were overcome. But if she keeps going on, just telling about her experience, if she keeps attacking Obama, evoking cold prickly feelings in her audiences, she will insure her failure. To win, she needs three or four powerful stories from her life-- stories that show how she faced challenges and succeeded, stories that touch people's hearts, stories that people can relate to, stories that people can be proud of.

In the focus groups, Hillary supporters describe how Hillary has gone through the ringer, been in the trenches. If Hillary could just describe some real stories that show this, she'd be in a far better position.

If Hillary can identify those stories-- and I'm sure she has them-- then she might be able to pull out from the plummeting fall she's been experiencing. There's no doubt in my mind about one thing. If earlier in her campaign she'd understood and used the power of story, if she'd done the simple chore of spending a few hours identifying the most powerful stories in her life, she would have been in a very different situation. The truth is that her failure to find and use the stories in her life that truly showed who she is-- that failure has been fatal for her campaign.

Hillary has a few weeks to find the magic, not a parachute, but some mystical intervention that will lift her campaign like no negative attack, no sales pitch ever can. There is no human creation older nor more powerful to change the world than story. If she doesn't find hers in the next few days, she might as well start writing up the epitaph on her campaign's tombstone.

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