The Future of Liberalism: Where is the Liberal Message?

Why do we fail so much, when we know, almost instinctively, that more people are on our side, politically speaking? More importantly, why do so few liberals seem to notice that we are failing?

BushKiss2Once again, the reasons are deceptively simple. People really are on our side, for the most part. Who wouldn’t be? I mean, for God’s sake; liberals and progressives want cleaner air and water, we want to switch away from dirty oil and coal to much cleaner solar, wind and geothermal. We want American children to have a better education. We want the workplace to be more egalitarian. We want the markets to be open and free and we want everyone to have the opportunity to do something great, for themselves and their families. We want every family that works to be paid fairly, at a wage that allows them to live without stressing over such things as how they’ll pay for food or a place to live. We believe healthcare is a right, and that no one should face losing everything because someone they may not even know sneezed in their vicinity and made them ill. We think food should be priced fairly and be healthy and as disease-free as possible. We think consumer products should be safe. And for God’s sake, we not only want those who are religious and those who are not to be free of the tyranny of those who think their religion and that everyone should be able to walk around freely, with little or no fear of being shot by anyone, especially police, unless they pose an imminent threat to someone else.

There is a lot more on this very blog, right there above, in the “Progressive Manifesto.” How could anyone be against us, really? Am I right? Compare it to the Republican “God, Guns, Gays and Abortion” platform they’ve perpetuated for years and ask yourself why we keep losing elections. Between the two parties, only the Democrats subscribe to most of the above, and yet, they have only controlled the government for two two-year periods since 1980. How is that possible? Why isn’t the progressive message catching on?

Again, the reason is simple, which means the solution is also simple. REALLY simple.

The number one reason our progressive message fails to catch on with most Americans is because we don’t really have one. See all of that above? We actually believe that, but we don’t really discuss that. Read the liberal blogs; Occupy23most of the time, they are engaged in expressing their disgust over the Outrage of the Day™; some sort of ridiculous thing that someone said or did that liberals are required to show outrage over, in ordered to be considered a Real Progressive™. If any liberal or progressive demonstrates indifference at the Outrage of the Day™ or suggests that the blogs perpetuating said Outrage of the Day™, they are branded Centrists™ and banished from progressive-land forever.   Instead, we see someone who expresses something incredibly stupid, and we focus on them and what was said, rather than create a message that makes such expressions meaningless. The message has to be more than, “no it’s not.”

Here’s an example, and I’m sure everyone reading this has seen it.

Whenever things are quiet; maybe the professional left has run out of things to tout as their Outrage of the Day™, they will trot out the truly scary notion of — TA DA! — Gerrymandering! (Scream) I’m not going to get into this fully here, because I’ve done it before, but suffice it to say that it is not possible to take 24 percent of the electorate and gerrymander it into a permanent majority. Not to mention, the effects of gerrymandering can only help when turnout is really, really low; if you want to kill its effects, work to increase turnout. And I’m sorry, but to be a progressive — I mean an actual progressive — you have to believe that we can make progress (it’s in the name, for Chrissakes!), which automatically disqualifies anyone who pulls the Eeyore routine and tries to convince everyone that Democrats can’t possibly win anything until at least 2022 because that’s the first time we can write new districts. That’s not a progressive attitude, and it’s not even smart. I mean, if we can’t change anything until 2022, how will we change districts in 2022, hmm? Also, where it is written that you can only write districts right after a census? You can redistrict anytime; what do you think happens when the court rejects a district map? They wait ten years to write another?

Jesus SignBesides, is that really a “liberal message”? Is it progressive to give voters the idea that there is no way to fight the Republican Party? Really? And what kind of message do we really send when someone on the right says something profoundly stupid, and we react to it and focus on them and that message? I’m not saying you don’t mention it, but unless you mention it within the context of the Republicans’ overarching ideology, mentioning it only amplifies it. And unless we spend a sufficient amount of time propagating a progressive alternative message, we’re wasting our time even mentioning it. When someone says something stupid, “no, it’s not” is not a cogent message that people can hang their hopes on.

Once again, it’s necessary to need to remember the concept, nature abhors a vacuum.

It really does. When there is an informational vacuum, especially one created by Republicans for their own nefarious purpose, we should be the ones to fill it, not the GOP Fart Machine. In order to do that, however, we have to understand something very basic…

John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, Sara Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and any of 1,000 other people I could name (and bore you to tears) are not the problem. They are a symptom, and only a symptom, of a much larger ideological construct that has to change if we are ever to make political progress and create a progressive country. When are we going to get this, my fellow liberals? How many of these people do we have to get rid of before you realize that getting rid of a series of individual right wingers doesn’t actually fix anything? Blue DogsRemember people like Newt Gingrich, Jerry Falwell, Dick Armey, Trent Lott, Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms, Tom Delay and others like them? How about Dennis Hastert, who created a rule that John Boehner continues to use to this day; nothing gets to the House floor unless a majority of the majority is in favor of it? That’s why huge jobs bills never even get discussed. Hastert’s been gone for years now; if he was the problem, why is the problem not gone? When all we do is get rid of bad apples and replace them with more bad apples, especially when the new bad apples are worse than the old ones, what have we accomplished? How did we get the Tea Party? Because our side attacked Blue Dogs for not being “progressive enough”

When all we do is get rid of bad apples and replace them with more bad apples, especially when the new bad apples are worse than the old ones, what have we accomplished? How did we get the Tea Party? Because our side attacked Blue Dogs for not being “progressive enough” and as a result, Tea Party candidates replaced them. I say this a lot, but that’s not progress, folks. In fact, it’s regress. The way to change Blue Dogs is to change the meme. We have to change what’s acceptable for politicians to say and do, and we do that by changing hearts and minds. Ironically, we’re doing exactly that with the concept of gay rights and marriage equality. The rules of debate have changed on that subject because we are making people see that they already know gay people, and that the law is unfair to people they know and love. It’s no longer acceptable to be anti-gay, precisely because we changed the parameters of the debate.

We need to adopt that on politics as a whole. Instead of arguing with dimwits on climate change, we need to change the debate to “where’s the downside to switching to solar and wind power and electric cars?” Instead of constantly screaming about massive budget cuts on social programs every goddamn day, why don’t we tolerate the Blue Dogs of this world and work to change the debate to something we can win, like, “Why should people be working 60-80 hours a week and not making enough to pay the bills?” or “Why are any working people on welfare at all?” Instead of constantly getting into it with morons who want to kill Obamacare, transform the debate to “Why should anyone lose everything they’ve worked for all their lives because someone at the supermarket sneezed on them and got them sick?”

Again, the overall question that should infuse everything we discuss (and I mean discuss, not scream about) is, “What do we want our country to be?

We need to stop obsessing over individual politicians, events and issues, and we need to spend more time trying to change the mindset of the American people. And the only way to do that is to present an alternative that is more acceptable and to let that fill the vacuum. The problem isn’t Dick Cheney; the problem is what Dick Cheney stands for. The problem isn’t right wingers, it’s that right wingers’ basic philosophy is morally and ethically bankrupt, and they have far too much influence on the electorate. They get to make policy and laws, and we cede ground to them by focusing too much on whatever gets other liberals outraged enough to click on an article. What we need to oppose isn’t them, but what they represent. It does absolutely no good at all to obsess over Caribou Barbie (Sarah Palin) and her Facebook page, unless we are also promoting our own agenda and message and going after why what she says is bad news.

Changing hearts and minds is very doable. Beginning with the 1932 elections and going for almost a half century, we did exactly that, by working with Democrats and not against them. During that period of time, we changed this country for the better. Then, suddenly, beginning with the 1972 election, progressives seemed to forget everything we once knew and we started focusing on individual people and issues, and the country has suffered as a result. And since 1980, when we allowed Ronald Reagan to be elected, look at what’s happened to us.

But I’m not just about complaining. In the next column, I’ll discuss how we can return the United States of America to what it once was, the last time progressives ruled the politics. Stay tuned.