Portland's own lefty talking head, Thom Hartmann, has penned a mighty useful tome. Drawing on his own experience as a communications scholar and a radio talk show host—one who likes to spar with people on the opposite end of the political spectrum—Hartmann shares the art of effective political communication in his new book Cracking the Code.

While that sounds like a snoozy topic, Hartmann drops in enough anecdotes and ripped-from-the-headlines (or, from politicians' speeches and campaign ads) examples to keep it lively. Indeed, framing something as a story that appeals to the senses is one of Hartmann's top communication tips.

Hartmann sets up his book as a guide for liberals to be as effective at political communication as conservatives (witness the post-9/11 fear-mongering, the Reagan-era "welfare queen" imagery, the portrayal of John Kerry as a flip-flopper). It's not a new conceit: Republican Newt Gingrich is frequently cited as a political communications genius, one who guided conservatives to political dominance in the late 1990s; Hartman even cites Gingrich in the first 10 pages of his book. The question is, how can liberals use the same tools to advance their own ideas?

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Hartmann breaks it down into a few basics, like using stories to convey ideas and values, and figuring out the common values between people on opposite sides of the political fence. ("Conservative or liberal, we both love this country. We both live in this country. We both want a better world for our children and grandchildren. We all want safety and security.") He also drills down into specifics, like recognizing that use of the word "you" can set up confrontation, but framing things in "we the people" terms pulls folks in. Hmm, can anyone say, "Yes, We Can"?

It's a useful and fascinating book, one that'll teach you new things about how your own brain works, and could make you a more effective communicator—whether you're delivering a campaign speech or just arguing politics over the dinner table. But perhaps more importantly, Hartmann's book will also make you a better political observer and listener, one who's able to cut through the communications tricks, and figure out what the politicians are really saying—or not saying.

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