Put The Progressive Messaging Machine Back on the Rails

There have been so many potentially game-changing moments for the progressive movement over the last few decades, but the game never actually changes. The fact of the matter is, the progressive movement has largely been toothless for more than a generation because we let opportunities slip away because they don’t meet our unrealistic expectations. As I mentioned last week, we are largely losing the messaging game. And the primary reason for that is that some of us – unfortunately, the loudest and most prominent of us – have become so enamored of our own idealism that we think it’s reality, and we don’t understand why everyone doesn’t feel the same way. 

We lose the messaging game in large part because we don’t listen.

ScreamerThe loudest on our side, whom I call PUBs (Progressive Unicorn Brigade) because I’m not crazy about the term “emo,” tend to be reactionary, and they take every political disagreement so personally, it’s impossible to conduct a civil conversation with them. Disagree with a PUB and you get a reaction similar to one you’d expect if you’d kicked a dog. They are always arguing with other liberals, and arguing with the right wing, and arguing with conservative Democrats, and arguing with Obama, and arguing with blacks, and arguing with… you name it. The problem is, with all of the reaction and the arguing, where’s our message supposed to come from? 

There’s a great example currently making its way through the professional left. Actually, it’s been making its way through theKeystone XL pro left media for years now. It’s called Keystone XL, and the arguments about it have hit a fever pitch lately, because it looks like the Republican Party will try to have its way and make sure it’s built. Pardon me while I yawn. See, here are the problems with these arguments:

  • Though everyone on the left refers to it as “Keystone,” it’s actually Keystone XL. It’s called that because it’s the second leg of a pipeline that already exists
  • The rest of us were protesting this pipeline were out in force in the early days of the Bush Administration, when this monstrosity was being planned and built.
  • We never mention alternatives. The oil will be shipped to the Gulf area for transport, and without the pipeline, trucks and trains will haul it, which means lots of potential damage in populated and poor areas. (Has no PUB put two-and-two together with regard to the derailment in West Virginia earlier this week?

The point is, like every other such issue, it’s not cut-and-dried, everyone who disagrees with us isn’t “evil,” and there are actually rational reasons to be for it, at least at the moment. The time to protest and stop Keystone passed more than a decade ago, before it was three-quarters built. By the time PUBs and professional lefties noticed it, however, it was too late. There is an issue with the route, especially with regard to the Ogalalla Aquifer, but the rhetoric on the left usually fails to mention that. Look at the map above. It already goes through the Aquifer. The map is also slightly old; the last section, between Cushing, Oklahoma and Houston and Port Arthur, Texas, is being completed as we speak. In other words, Keystone is complete; the issue is Keystone XL

Of course, the real issue should be, why are we allowing Canadian oil interests create a shortcut through our country in the first place? And who, exactly, is ignoring the environment in the meantime? And the answer is, Republicans. Republicans care about short-term monetary gain (but only for their financiers), and they couldn’t give a shit less about the environment. Yet, they keep winning. How do people like this keep winning, you ask (or should ask, anyway)? It’s because liberals have no discernable message. Think about it; what do we believe in? According to the public, our message would seem to be a series of complaints about a lot of things, followed by short meaningless catch-phrases. The liberal message that’s getting out is far more narcissistic than any message that should come from a movement that calls itself “progressive.” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a “movement progressive” start a response to a reporter asks them about messaging with something like, “Well, for me personally…” It’s depressing. We’re progressives; we want to see progressives; we want to see society make progress. And that’s not going to happen if we take an “every man for himself” approach.

Clara BowThen there is the list of demands that accompanies every protest.  That’s all well and good, but how do we plan to have those demands met, when the government we elect is openly hostile to everything we believe in? The simple answer is, we can’t. If we’re to move this country forward, we sure as hell can’t do that with a government that is openly desirous of taking us back to where we were a century ago. As we head into the next “Roaring 20’s,” it doesn’t help that our government is being run by people who want to take us back to the previous “Roaring 20s.” We have to get rid of Republicans and install Democrats in office who are at least amenable to making progress in the country.  That means getting more people on our side and changing hearts and minds.

It shouldn’t take all that much, really. Most people likely agree with us on almost every issue. The problem is, we don’t promote a cogent message they can relate to. That is why I came up with the Progressive Manifesto a while back. It’s a series of general statements of principle that just about everyone can relate to. it’s not a laundry list of complaints, and they’re expressions of real American values, not just pipe dreams that don’t matter. It’s time we progressives returned to out core values and restored the real American Dream to replace the bastardized version the Republican right has foisted on us, in which we’re supposed to be grateful for being allowed to live here, rather than working to make this a great country for everyone. The American Dream is about working and making a life for yourself and your family, not being able to listen to all the movies and music you want for $10 a month. It’s about having access to doctors when you need them, not only being treated if you have the cash on you. It’s about being able to walk down the street when you want without having to worry about being shot by police.

The reason Republicans keep winning is because of low turnout. And turnout is low because the Republican Party has a message that is designed to depress people and make them not want to vote, while our message is largely non-existent. Think about all the time you spend repeating right wing talking points and “refuting” them and ask yourself when you have time to propagate a progressive message. There is the depressing right wing message and nothing coming from our side. 

And that’s the problem. We spend far too much time complaining about things we’re against, and not enough time telling people what we’re for. Instead of making long lists of demands and complaining about everything, we should explain what we would like to see the country become. Talk about those things we’d like to do and then help either elect those who might help us do some of that or (just as importantly) get rid of those who are actively trying to block progress. Make no mistake; both are equally important.

Come on… try this. We already know that complaining and making demands doesn’t work. It’s time to find out what does. 

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