We Need To Tell The Public, Too

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
Here is something that you and I know to be true: progressive values and policies are better for people than conservative values and policies.
Progressives believe that we’re all in this together and the community taking care of each other ends up working out better for everyone. History also shows that this is how it turns out, every time. Conservatives believe people should be on their own, in constant dog-eat-dog competition, with everyone looking out for themselves and only themselves. History shows that this approach leads to disaster, every time.
You and I know this. But the pubic-at-large doesn’t know our side of this argument, because we aren’t telling them. While conservatives market their philosophy through every conceivable information channel there is very little outreach explaining the progressive side. When you turn on the radio or the TV or read the newspapers you just don’t see or hear about the benefits of a progressive approach. So the public-at-large is only hearing one side of the story — the conservative side — and they are hearing that side loudly and often.

Continue reading

Progressive Infrastructure

This post originally appeared at firedoglake.

You may have heard the term “progressive infrastructure.”  We need it.  Let me explain.

Bush and the Republicans are out, but we have to consolidate that victory, keep them out and implement progressive policies.  We need to elect progressives to state office and we have to get “centrist” Democrats to do the right thing or run primary candidates who will. 

Progressive infrastructure” is the key to getting that done. 

Look at how conservatives became so successful in elections and legislation battles.  Starting in the 1970s they built well-funded organizations employing researchers, writers, pundits, speechmakers, marketers, talk-show guests, operatives etc. all using channels like talk radio, Fox News, the Washington Times and blogs to tell the public one or another form of a basic propaganda message: “liberals and their ideas are bad, while conservatives and their ideas are good.” 

Movement operatives infiltrated churches, sports (NASCAR), interest groups (NRA) … always working to convince people to identify as conservatives.  After a few decades of this the public had a negative view of liberals.  In surveys many people say they are conservative even though they line up with us on the facts and issues.  Their candidates rode that wave into office and their policies rode it into law.  In some races all a candidate had to do was point and shout “liberal!” to win!

Meanwhile progressive candidates start from scratch in the late summer, have to decide “issues” to run on, develop a message and then reach their voters – on their own from scratch.

Like the frog in heated water, progressives didn’t see what was happening.  It took Clinton’s impeachment and the 2000 election theft to really shake and wake people up.  Then came the blogosphere. Continue reading

Progressive Infrastructure To Renew The California Dream

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
Markos, in a post today about the state of progressive infrastructure compared to the right’s, Building machines,

[. . .] But that battle is no longer one-sided. Their machine may be bigger, but we have something. And that’s all we ever needed — a hint of a partisan progressive media machine, fed by research and investigative reporting from the likes of ThinkProgress and Talking Points Memo, to begin delivering our message in the face of their vast media machine, as well as ineffective CW[conventional wisdom]-meisters like Maureen Dowd, Mark Halperin, and David Broder.

Look what we have been able to get done in this country with only the smallest, minimally-funded hint at an infrastructure of organizations and media outlets working to counter the right that has been built up since we started this fight. We fought back against the conservative machine and got the Democrats to start fighting back themselves. We took the Presidency, increased our numbers in the House and maybe, just maybe took enough senate seats to stop the filibusters.
Now, imagine what we could do if we actually started funding serious progressive infrastructure organizations and building an ecosystem in which our writers and advocates could actually make a living, sell enough books to start receiving advances, get paid reasonably to write articles, receive speaking fees from organizations and some of the things right-wing advocates take for granted… Imagine tens of thousands of young activists being trained every year. Imagine progressive non-profits having the budgets to pay people more than minimum wage and provide benefits and get things done. Sheesh.
Imagine what we could get done in California if we put together solid organizations that could reach out to all of the public and explain the benefits of progressive values and policies. I mean progressive policies like good, well-funded public schools and low-cost universities, a health care system that works for the people, help with child care, a transportation infrastructure that gets people where they want to go in a timely manner, energy alternatives that cost less and do not pollute and employment rules that bring us reasonable wages and benefits in good jobs that also give us time to have fulfillment in our lives. These are all possibilities, in fact these are all things that we were within reach of obtaining in California not too long ago. These are things thaqt we can dream about again.
Barack Obama was able to raise millions of dollars in small donations, and this has helped the country to start to restore democracy. We can do this in California, by sending $10 or $100 or more to help organizations like Speak Out California and others, and doing this as often as you can.
It is time for us to begin to renew the California Dream.
Click through to Speak Out California

Is Good Messaging Another Quick Fix?

This morning in Denver I attended a Seachange Forum panel on messaging titled “Winning Words on the Toughest Issues: National Security, Taxes, Healthcare and Immigration”
This was an excellent panel on how to talk about progressive values and issues in ways that the public “hears.” To really, really simplify the issue, in a 1988 campaign debate between Michael Dukakis and George HW Bush Dukakis was asked, “Governor, if Kitty Dukakis [his wife] were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?” Dukakis replied coolly, “No, I don’t, and I think you know that I’ve opposed the death penalty during all of my life,” and calmly went on to explain his position.
He was calm and reasoned, but the public needed to see emotion. Emotion, not reason is how people decide what they think about issues and people. It’s just the way it is — it is how our brains work. This is what neuroscientists, psychologists, marketers and others who study how people make up their minds are concluding. You have to connect viscerally or people just won’t “get it.”
So one thing this panel was talking about was how Democratic politicians can reach people through emotions instead of just listing issues. And, fortunately, many Democratic politicians are starting to learn how to say what they say in ways that people hear.
Is this enough?
I used to complain that progressives put all of their efforts into election cycles, hoping for a “messiah candidate” to come along. In Messiah Candidate Thinking I wrote,

I don’t think that one person or one election is going to lead us out of the wilderness. I think there is a lot of work required before progressives can win again and turn America in a progressive direction.
. . . This right-wing assault has eroded the public’s understanding of (and belief in) democracy and community. It has even eroded understanding of – and faith in – science and reason! So I think there is a lot of work that has to be done to bring things back. We have to spend the money and do the work and take the time to build the think tanks and communications organizations (like Commonweal Institute) that will reach the public and explain and promote the benefits of progressive values and a progressive approach to issues. Over time this effort will restore public demand for progressive candidates.
Messiah-Candidate Thinking is a way to avoid facing the changes that have occurred in America. It is a way to put off the work that needs to be done.

So we have moved a long way, from looking for the “right” candidate who “knows” how to reach the public to come along and save us, to helping many candidates understand how to reach the public.
OK, so progress. But I left the panel feeling like this understanding how to talk to people is still a very reactive approach. It is still catching up to the right, and trying to come up with magic slogans that will suddenly turn the public in our favor. It is good, it is important, it is a start. But it’s still a search for a quick fix.
I think the answer is long term. We ust have to go through the hard slog of building a movement. We need to build and fund an infrastructure of organizations that reach out to the public, explaining the benefits to them of a progressive approach to issues, and of voting for progressive candidates. It is going to take years and decades to help people understand why one-person-one-vote democratic solutions work better for everyone than conservative one-dollar-one-vote approaches. It is going to take a long time for people to remember why we’re-all-in-this-together is better than -everyone-on-their-own, in it for ourselves approach. They’re way sounds great but it is a food chain with a very few at the top, and the rest of us end up as the food. We need to spend the time and effort to help the public understand that again.
It requires a movement and a lot of work, not a quick fix.
Note — on the panel were: John Neffinger (Truman Security Project Communications, Formerly Director of Communications & Outreach at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and Public Speaking and Body Language Consultant), Dr. Drew Westen (Author of the “The Political Brain”), Richard Kirsch (Campaign Manager of Healthcare for America Now and Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York) and Stan Greenberg (Political Pollster and CEO of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research). This was one of the Seachange Forum’s panels going on at the Starz Green Room.
(I’m helping Seachange by leting people know about these events at the convention.)

zv7qrnb

On Democrats Reshaping Themselves As Republicans

I was thinking about how Obama squandered the enthusiasm and good faith of the activist “base” when he decided to “move to the right” to “appeal to the center.” I am not quoting the Obama campaign, I am describing what happened to so many Democrats over the years who have helped move the goalposts ever rightward. In the face of an ongoing corporate propaganda campaign the “realists” and “pragmatists” have concluded they need to “go where the votes are” rather than fight back and work to counter that right-wing messaging and explain to the public why progressive values are better for them.
(NOTE – I think this is really more the fault of the funding base than the politicians. They just don’t get it about building organizations capable of countering the messaging. And I am including everyone who is not giving all they can, even if that is only $20 a week, to progressive infrastructure organizations like Commonweal Institute and Speak Out California.)
All of this made me think of one of the great blog posts, from just after the 2002 elections. RENDEZVOUS WITH LUNACY
It begins with this picture:
PodvinAndMcAuliffe.jpg
From the post,

Why would voters choose a phony right wing Republican over the real thing? What made McAuliffe and Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt believe that rural conservative whites would choose warmongering Democratic slaves to Corporate America over warmongering Republican slaves to Corporate America? When I want to vote for a warmongering corporate slave, I always vote Republican.
[. . .] I am not an astute observer of the political scene – I am merely an embittered observer. Yet despite being a rank political amateur, I am able to understand that the path to power does not consist of alienating people who are willing to vote for you in order to ingratiate yourself to people who are unwilling to vote for you. The current Democratic leadership just can’t seem to comprehend this most important concept.
[. . .] Abandonment of stated principles and unilateral surrender have now officially been discredited as tactics for regaining Democratic control of Congress. It is time for new party leaders to try a different approach, like treating their voters with respect. Bush and the Republican base have a symbiotic relationship – he attends to their concerns, and they respond by faithfully supporting the G.O.P. This intriguing arrangement might well serve as a useful model for the Democratic Party.

It includes the classic wisdom,


When your supporters don’t vote for
you, then you


LOSE.

Oh please go read the whole post. Classic blogging.
And we bloggers out here in the non-beltway wilderness keep trying to explain this message over and over.

SEIU’s Accountability Project – Making Politicians Do The Right Thing

I am at the SEIU 2008 convention in Puerto Rico. Todd Beeton posted earlier today over at MyDD about the SEIU’s Accountability Project and I’d like to add to this discussion. This is a big, big deal for progressives! As Andy Stern said in his address to the convention today we are tired of, “Politicians who want your vote but after the election are at your throat.”
In his post Todd explained,

. . . In a nutshell, after November, the SEIU intends to hold our Democratic representatives to their promises and let them know that there is the money, the organization and the will not only to fund primary challenges but to recruit and even train qualified candidates around the country if they don’t do what they said they’d do.
What makes this threat real, of course, is that SEIU was instrumental in the defeat of Al Wynn by Donna Edwards in Maryland’s February 12th primary. The SEIU spent $1 million on that race alone. Next year and all during the ensuing cycle, they’re prepared to spend $10 million to target Democrats who don’t follow through on their promises. Think about what the SEIU got for their money in MD-04: Congresswoman Donna Edwards who will champion progressive legislation on issue after issue affecting not only those in her district but impacting people’s lives for the better all over the country, as every new and better Democrat added to congress by definition does.

The primary race between Al Wynn and Donna Edwards was a very big victory for progressives. Prior to this race Democrats in Congress only saw one effective power bloc on the playing field which meant going against those big corporate interests could cost them their jobs. Whatever they might want to do, politics is about what you make them do. Wherever their hearts might have been, elected Democrats could see that only one side was able to rally the only real support or punishment that counted: enough votes. Yes, Ned Lamont caused some problems for Joe Lieberman but it’s still Senator Lieberman.

Continue reading

Things People “Know”

Progressives have their work cut out for them for November. And even if they win the Presidency there’s nothing that tells me they’ll be able to get anything implemented because there is little supporting infrastructure out there that gets the message out, creating demand for progressive candidates and policies. In fact, progressive organizations like Rockridge Institute (see story) and Center for Policy Alternatives are going under because they cannot find funding.
Meanwhile the right-wing drumbeat is still finding its way to every corner of the country.
W Virginia keeps distance from Obama

Most people questioned said they mistrusted Mr Obama because of doubts about his patriotism and “values”, stemming from his cosmopolitan background, his exotic name and the controversy surrounding “anti-American” sermons by Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor. Several people said they believed he was a Muslim – an unfounded rumour that has circulated on the internet for months – despite the contradiction with his 20-year membership of Mr Wright’s church in Chicago. Others mentioned his refusal to wear a Stars and Stripes badge and controversial remarks by his wife, Mich­elle, who des­cribed America as “mean” and implied that she had never been proud of the US until her husband ran for president.
Conservative commentators have questioned Mr Obama’s patriotism for months and the issue is expected to be one of the Republicans’ main lines of attack if he wins the nomination. “The American people want a president who loves their country as much as they do,” said Whit Ayres, a Rep­ub­lican strategist. Obama supporters believe patriotism is being used as code to harness racist sentiment.

Hundreds of millions for candidates to run TV ads that literally just go up in the air — but nothing for the organizations that make long-term change possible.

Rockridge Closing — Why Building Progressive Infrastructure Matters So Much

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
On the same day that Barack Obama raised one million dollars in one minute for his campaign George Lakoff’s Rockridge Institute announced that they will be closing their doors.
In the comments at the OpenLeft blog post, The Rockridge Era Ends, Paul Rosenberg wrote,

As If We Needed Any More Proof That Democrats STILL Don’t Get It!
This is really terrible news–not just because of the loss of Rockridge, as if that wasn’t bad enough, but because it shows so clearly that there is NO recognition of the need to build progressive infrastructure.
Just look at how many millions have been raised by the Presidential campaigns this cycle. And just a tiny fraction of it could have not just kept Rockridge afloat, but DOUBLED it in size. …

I want to say this about that:
Donating a dollar to a progressive infrastructure organization like Speak Out California and Commonweal Institute today is like giving ten dollars to EACH progressive candidate in every local, state and nation race this November, two years later, and every election following.
Let me explain what I mean. Progressive infrastructure organizations like Speak Out California and Commonweal Institute are working to help the public understand and appreciate what progressives are about. By explaining the benefits of a progressive approach they help build public acceptance of and demand for progressive policies and candidates — across the board. As more people understand why progressive solutions benefit them more than conservative proposals, they develop a lasting positive identification with the progressive “brand.” Then later, during the election cycle, they vote for progressive candidates — across the board.
This is how the conservatives have been so successful. They work year-round to convince people to identify as conservatives. (You’ve probably complained or heard people complain that that have managed to turn “liberal” into a bad word in people’s minds.) When election time comes around it’s as though all that their candidates have to do is point at the opponent and shout “liberal” to win. They ride a wave of nationally-advanced propaganda convincing people to support “tort reform” or “tax relief.” This has been going on for years, so at election time everything is laid out for them on a silver platter, with the public prepared and primed.
Progressive candidates, on the other hand, are generally on their own, starting from scratch for each election. Their general campaign begins in the late summer or fall, they have to decide what “issues” to run on, they have to develop a message from scratch, by themselves, and then they have to reach their voters from scratch. And they have to do all of this on their own in just a few months. No wonder conservatives, even with their awful “you’re on your own” philosophy, have managed to do so well and gain so much traction.
This is why building up a national progressive advocacy infrastructure would leverage all of those campaign donations and help us build a sustainable progressive majority. A few dollars to progressive advocacy organizations on any given TODAY builds long-term support for every progressive candidate on any given TOMORROW. It provides leverage — lowering the need for massive election-cycle funding.
The demise of Rockridge Institute demonstrates that the Democratic Party donor base hasn’t yet gotten that message. Instead, masses of money have to be raised for candidates at the very last minute — for example a million dollars in one minute, the day before the big Pennsylvania primary. And almost all of that money will just literally go up in the air to pay for TV ads that leave nothing behind to show for the money. They don’t build the brand, they don’t tell people about the benefits of progressive ideas, they don’t help other candidates… But almost nothing for the Rockridges and Speak Out California’s and Commonweal Institutes.
Please think about donating to help build a solid progressive infrastructure of organizations that will work year-round to help the public understand why progressive policies and candidate are better for them than the conservative solutions. This will help build a sustainable progressive majority in America. Please help these organizations grow. It’s about building a progressive ecosystem that benefits all of us.
Click through to Speak Out California

Progressive Infrastructure 101

This post is a must-read: “THANK GOD FOR TALK RADIO!”

So: Politics 101. Stake out an ultra-extreme position so that when the rest of your party endorses a merely extreme position it looks like it’s a moderate compromise.
Question: why don’t liberals do this? The stock answer is that we’re wimps, but I don’t think that’s it. At least, not always. I think the answer is talk radio. Our extremists don’t succeed in redefining the playing field because there’s no institutional infrastructure behind them that converts lunacy into political pressure.

Yes, progressives need to develop an infrastructure to get their message out to the public. The progressive movement needs infrastructure organizations to research and develop ideas and articulate these ideas in ways that resonate with the public- thereby creating demand for progressive policies and candidates.
Go read more about progressive infrastructure here and here. And here is Seeing the Forest’s collection of posts on the subject of progressive infrastructure.

Why Don’t Democrats Have “Courage?”

Why does it seem that so many Democrats are “spineless” and rarely have the courage to “do the right thing?” Why does it seem they always “cave” to the right?
When I hear people talking about “the Democrats” and “the Republicans” I think what they really are seeing is the political effect of a supporting movement-oriented infrastructure that the right has and we do not. The right has a well-funded infrastructure and ecosystem that sets up a supportive public environment, rewarding their politicians for staying in line with the right’s agenda, and punishing the ones who do not. Progressives just don’t have that.
Face it, it is very easy for Republicans to be wingnuts. It doesn’t take brains or courage or commitment – they just ride a wave that their movement apparatus sets up. Their candidates ride that wave into office and their policies ride that wave into law.

Continue reading

BlogPac Grassroots Progressive Infrastructure Project Grants

Chris Bowers announces the first of the BlogPac grants for “grassroots progressive infrastructure projects.”
I can not stress enough how important this is! Please go read the post and learn who the first grant-winners are.
But there is a problem — BlogPac is very low on funds. There were over 100 applicants for these grants and barely funds for these first five to get even small grants. Chris writes,

… today I am asking you to become a stakeholder in the effort to help seed the progressive grassroots. Let’s make this contest a regular event held at least every other month, and keep building progressive, grassroots infrastructure. By contributing to BlogPac, you ensure that the infrastructure all activists in the progressive movement need to be more effective is being built. By becoming a regular contributor of $10 a month or more to BlogPac, you guarantee yourself a regular vote on how we will distribute these grants in the future. In every subsequent contest, as netroots stakeholders regular BlogPac donors will have a vote to decide which projects receive half of the grant money in these contests.

Once again, if you want to build a new progressive movement that helps our candidates win and our ideas to become policy, please help this cause!