How To Rebuild Support for Progressives

In the post Democrats: The Party of Losers, BopNews blogger AaronBurrFan is writing about the Joe Bidens who repeat right-wing talking points, and the effect this has on the public perception of Democrats. He says that a lot of the public supports Progressives, “but they do not consider Democrats a progressive party.”

Indeed, what has been going on for the past six months is that progressives within the Democratic Party have been fighting tooth and nail, this has hurt Bush, and conservative empty Democrats have taken credit for the victories. And progressives – as seen in their support for Hillary Clinton and Bob Casey – are quite willing to let this happen.
[. . .] As long insider Democrats insist on running on empty and mistake carping and whining for fighting, and as long as progressives seek to work with insiders instead of unseating them, the Democrats will not be in charge. Oh sure the Republicans will screw themselves over, but that won’t redound to our benefit. It will just help a different group of Republicans. They are good at the endless outsider thing. Americans can smell unprincipled corruption in the Democratic Party, and will accept the principled corruption of a McCain instead.

He also refers to a David Sirota post, Why the Public Believes Dems Stand for Nothing. Sirota writes,

– When you vote with Republicans for an energy bill that showers huge oil/gas companies with massive tax breaks at a time of record deficits, and that energy bill won’t lower the cost of gasoline, Americans will believe you stand for nothing.
[. . .]
– When you say you are for economic fairness, and then your top leaders start negotiating the elimination of the Estate Tax that falls on the wealthiest 2 percent of citizens, Americans will believe you stand for nothing.
[. . .] If the party really wants America to believe it stands for something, then the party has to actually stand for something – not just talk about standing for something. Americans aren’t stupid – they know the difference between lip service, and action.

I completely agree, BUT… (expanding on comments I left at the BopNews post…)
I think that as we articulate the vision of the kind of country/society we want and argue for that vision, that more and more people will come to agree. Then people will elect candidates who share that vision, and will support Progressive issues.
This is a long-term project, and it requires a lot of work focusing and articulating that vision (think tanks, etc. and the MONEY to fund them). It also requires a lot of effort advocating that vision to the public-at-large (advocacy communications organizations and the MONEY to fund them).
This is how the Right has accomplished so much. They reached out to the general public to PERSUADE them. They spent decades articulating their vision and communicating it to the public. (That’s the nice wording — they also use threats and intimidation and trickery…) They have put literally billions of dollars into their movement-building efforts.
So I think it isn’t JUST a matter of politics and electoral tactics – and of getting the Bidens and DLCers out. The public used to support Progressive ideals. The Right came along and spent decades persuading the public to instead support their side. I think the Bidens and DLCers are just acknowledging the “facts on the ground.” So while we should pressure them to be more supportive of Progressive views, we have to also work to get the general public people BACK, so the Bidens and DLCers will feel that there is more widespread support for more Progressive views. To accomplish this we have to start making the BASIC CASE again that democracy and community are superior values. In marketing terms we need to talk about the BENEFITS of Progressive values, and reach the general public.
Let’s examine why on the Right the elected officials all voice the RW talking points in unison and ours do not. Look at where the Right’s people get their media training and those talking points from. That’s how the RWers all know what Progressive ideas they aren’t supposed to reinforce. They’re educated, and that takes money and effort. They are provided with seminars on that very subject. Ours are not.
It is not that their candidates are so good. Jeeze, Bush better than Gore? I think that the Right’s organizations out there “educating” the public-at-large on the Right’s issues and ideology for decades paves the way for them to insert their clones into the election process. Their candidates just repeat the talking points. On the right it is the funded conservative movement that leads the way, not the party or the candidates.
Meanwhile, candidates on our side are largely on their own, and start from scratch at the start of election season. They have to “come up with issues for the campaign” and educate the public on those issues, from scratch, in a short campaign season. Their campaigns are largely independent of other Progressive campaigns, while the Right’s are all coordinated.
The decades of the RW pounding away on their underlying ideology has a huge effect on the viability of candidates.
Here’s what I am saying. The BopNews post (go read it) noted that X% of the public agrees that “The role of government should be to promote the principle of a strong community. America is most successful when we pull together to pursue policies that expand opportunity and create a rising prosperity for all, not just a few.” But it used to be a much higher percent. In fact, it used to be a near-universal consensus. Where did that consensus GO? We’re losing ground, and we’re not really doing anything about it.
I think that much of the leadership of our side assumes there is still that consensus and is only now beginning to come to grips with the fact that so many of the public now believe “The role of government should be to promote the principle of self reliance. America is most successful when we have a limited government that keeps taxes low so that businesses and individuals can prosper.” (That’s also from the BopNews post.)
I think that part of the solution to this is to start reaching out to the broad public-at-large with a very basic underlying message that explains that democracy IS good, and community IS good, and explains why they are good, and explains the benefits of these. Marketing word: benefits.
I think that we really do have to go back to the basics, because the Right has spent decades and billions in their effort to break down that consensus. And they are succeeding.
It’s like being college professors and realizing that we have to go back and start over and teach all of our students that 2 plus 2 really does equal four, and explaining why they should know that, and what they will get out of knowing that. We have been assuming that everyone knows that and we are wrong. Meanwhile the Right has been out there telling them 2 plus 2 really equals 5 and those pointy-headed professors are trying to trick them.
So the Joe Bidens, recognizing that the public thinks 2 + 2 = 5, and recognizing that they are rewarded for going along with that, go along with that. It’s not just that we have to put pressure on them, it’s that we ALSO have to get going on the long, hard slog of reaching the public-at-large and rebuilding that broad base of support for 2+2=4.
(Several articles on building Progressive Infrastructure here.)

6 thoughts on “How To Rebuild Support for Progressives

  1. We progressives need to be working on several levels simultaneously — supporting the development of think tanks that can articulate ideas and market them to the public through multiple channels, and also as individuals figuring out what we’re for, and why, and how we can express that directly to others through our speaking and writing.
    So we believe there’s value in community, in sharing, in inclusiveness, in caring for others. Why? How does that tie into our own values and the world we would like to see for the future? Ask yourself. Talk with your friends and family. Whether they agree with you or not, you’ll learn in the process of listening and responding. In doing so, you’ll be contributing to the overall effort to take back our country.
    And then coming back to those advocacy think tanks — you’ll be helping reinforce what they are trying to do, and you can help them grow so that they in turn can reinforce your values by speaking through other channels that you can’t reach as a single individual.

  2. The Sirota article was right on, as are you. It’s time for our people to vote what they preach. It constantly surprises me what sheep our senior Dem legislators turn out to be.

  3. DAMN! Yes, we do need all the things Dave outlined above. Yes, the Democratic party is acting like a bunch of jackasses, but they always have, and that’s why the donkey is their traditional symbol. And yes, Howard Dean is right on track working to rebuild this party infrastructure, pretty much as Dave outlines it, thank God!
    Even so, it’s also true that we’ve all been collectively brainwashed. No way the progressives are bankrupt when it comes to ideas and policy. No way we’re a bunch of weaklings with no ideas. We’ve been talked into believing this and acting accordingly. We KNOW what our values are. We KNOW that the country is going to Hell on its current path. Our most urgent need is a charismatic and articulate LEADER who can stand up and say this loud and clear!
    So who qualifies for this role? Who can outshout the neocons? We need a Lincoln, or a Roosevelt.

  4. I linked to this post with a diary cleverly titled How To Rebuild Support For Democrats. I also threw in my two cents worth about a sales formula called F.A.B. for Feature, Advantage, Benefit.
    You explain the Feature, the Advantage over your competitors product or service and the Benefit your product has for your customer. Democrats can start winning a lot more arguments and elections if they start explaining the Benefit their program or policy has for voters in their everyday life.

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