Kerry communicated ideas and concepts. But people don't vote on ideas and concepts. They vote based on their feelings.
SFBG Ronald Reagan was pretty much the master at appealing to emotion, wasn't he?
TH Ronald Reagan, FDR, and Jack Kennedy were three of the greatest communicators that we've had in the White House.... What made them great was, first of all, their ability to be multimodal in their communication. They talked about their vision for America, they talked about their story of America, and they gave America a sense of what they thought it could be.
Number two, they all principally used "moving towards pleasure" strategies instead of "moving away from fear" or "pain avoidance" strategies. In other words, they held up an ideal of what we wanted to move towards as a country and made us proud of ourselves.
Number three, they communicated emotion and always used story and emotion to pass along information.
SFBG You point out how Reagan picked up one of Kennedy's themes, which Kennedy himself picked up from John Winthrop: the "America as a city on a hill" theme. Except Reagan inserted a key word into its phrasing, didn't he?
TH Yes, shining. He dramatically improved the "America as a city on the hill" metaphor by making us a shining city on a hill. He put that word in, and it gave the image even more power.
What's interesting is ... Reagan's notion of America as the city on the hill was very different than Kennedy's. John Kennedy's idea of the city on a hill was that the entire world is looking at [America], and every single one of us in the country is the city. From the highest and best to the poorest economically, we are all part of that city on the hill, and we welcome people in to participate in it. Reagan, on the other hand, his version of the city on the hill was we're the castle, we're the fortress, we're the place where Cinderella the lowly commoner hopes one day to get in and dance with the prince.
SFBG I noticed your Wikipedia page says you campaigned for Barry Goldwater in your youth.
TH When I was 13 years old, my dad was active in the local Republican Party, and I went door-to-door with him. I read [Goldwater's] autobiography Conscience of a Conservative [Victor Publishing Co., 1960].... I even went to a John Birch Society meeting. I was convinced that the communists had infiltrated the State Department and they were coming to get us. But within two years I had completely shaken myself out of that trance. There's nothing like growing up, going off to college, and discovering that you're of draft age and your government wants to kill you. Not to mention being exposed to ideas beyond what I had learned up to that point, [like] the core concepts of the Enlightenment.
SFBG So you heard a different story.
TH Exactly, and I lived a different story. I really saw America differently the first time one of my friends came back in a box from Vietnam.
SFBG My mother is a big fan of your radio show. But she lives in San Diego, and the Air America affiliate there is either going off the air or has already gone off the air.
TH It went off the air last week, actually.
SFBG Can you talk about the future of progressive media in light of that kind of setback?
TH The first two or three years that conservative talk radio was on the air, it struggled terribly. But then it reached the point where advertisers realized they were getting results and program directors realized that they had a core listenership, and it started to take off....
In the next year or few years I think there's going to be a broad perception shift across radiodom that beyond the ongoing feast and famine of Air America, liberal talk radio is here to stay....