A new post on Alternet by University of California - Berkeley professor and author of Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate George Lakoff (and described in this diary by eXtina) says essentially that the ultra-right conservatives mutinying against the traditional party leaders are ultimately benefiting from the old adage, "all press is good press". He argues that as a function of the way our brains are wired to comprehend information, the mere fact that Democrats and progressives address the conservative policy distractions in their own terms reinforces the conservative mindset of all who are toxicly infected by it, not least of which for the crucial independent (I refuse to call anyone between the parties "moderate," as moderate is about twice as far to the left as much of the Democratic establishment):
Liberals tend to underestimate the importance of public discourse and its effect on the brains of our citizens. All thought is physical. You think with your brain. You have no alternative. Brain circuitry strengthens with repeated activation. And language, far from being neutral, activates complex brain circuitry that is rooted in conservative and liberal moral systems. Conservative language, even when argued against, activates and strengthens conservative brain circuitry. This is extremely important for so-called "independents," who actually have both conservative and liberal moral systems in their brains and can shift back and forth. The more they hear conservative language over the next eight months, the more their conservative brain circuitry will be strengthened.The entire article is certainly worth reading, and eloquently reflects a sentiment long expressed here on Daily Kos.
He further argues that a progressive alternative morality needs to be clearly articulated by everyone running for public office against the Rabid Wrong and as the root of the policy suggestions we propose.
I think Democrats need much better positive messaging, expressing and repeating liberal moral values -- not just policies-- uniformly across the party. That is not happening.While a vision or platform of morals based on community and responsibility, as he argues further, is an obvious moral framework in opposition to one idealizing total personal freedom, except in the realm of strong, forceful, masculine, disciplined, patriarchal family-centric roles and relationships, I believe that the Overton Window is shifted too conservatively and doesn't so much "skew" as "thud" authoritarian to base our platform of progressive morals on something so seemingly antithetical to what is so widely believed and discussed. However strongly we may feel here at Daily Kos, liberal progressives do not constitute a majority of Americans, despite signs that the tides may be turning. We share these views as a direct result of the fact that we have such a vibrant and supportive community. But because this attribute is not yet shared by a majority of Americans, they are unable to appreciate that the ideas of "freedom" and "community" are in fact far from antithetical, and thus I believe progressives should frame their case morally in a way that can appeal to voters in a different way, in a way which can appeal to people of many political sways: a new progressive nationalism.
One of the reasons that it is not happening is that there is a failure to understand the difference between policy and morality, that morality beats policy, and that moral discourse is absolutely necessary. This is a major reason why the Democrats lost the House in 2010. Consider how conservatives got a majority of Americans to be against the Obama health care plan. The president had polled the provisions, and each had strong public support: No preconditions, no caps, no loss of coverage if you get sick, ability to keep your college-age child on your policy, and so on. These are policy details, and they matter. The conservatives never argued against any of them. Instead, they re-framed; they made a moral case against "Obamacare." Their moral principles were freedom and life, and they had language to go with them. Freedom: "government takeover." Life: "death panels."
More below la squiggly.
I believe that the conservative political architects' embrace of ideologies of uber-Americanism has been another strong rhetorical association for them at our expense, one which roots itself in the surely now dispelled notion that Democrats are weak on national security, and which provides conservatives with yet another straw man to distract voters from allowing real progress to occur. In light of this, I believe that the platform Democrats need to stand on is one in which progressives play on a trait shared by most people in some aspect of their lives: a competitive drive to excel. It should be the job of every Democratic candidate to demand leaders solve problems like why we are ranked at the bottom of the industrialized world in healthcare, in happiness, in pollution, in change in income inequality, and making our way down in education, science, and technology, and to demand that we enact pragmatic solutions which seek to get us ranked the highest in the world. Our vision will be based on the idea that America can be the best country in the world, and we can prove it. If we are willing to devote the resources to be the best in the world in the Olympics, to have people who truly push themselves to the reach their maximum potential in service to a cause which makes their country greater, then surely politicians who demand less are not fit to serve the public and should therefore be replaced by people who will enact pragmatic solutions to make us the safest, happiest, most well educated, prosperous nation in the world.
This is a winning message.
As in art and war, people who can see the future, make the future. A progressive future for America can and should be one where our public servants do just that: serve a cause dedicated to making sure we are in fact the greatest nation on the planet, and that it is not just a platitude uttered to garner favor.
And this is a message that can attract our current opponents without alienating our base.
A hunter celebrates the biggest buck just as an environmental lawyer celebrates a case won defending a unique ecosystem.
A gay man celebrates his newly won right to marry just as a college football fan celebrates his team's national championship. [I wouldn't normally compare the two, but I live in SEC country, so if you don't understand how religious that is down here, you probably don't realize there's a little truth in what is otherwise hyperbole for most people.]
The point is: Americans with diverse political and social interests can be united under the banner of our competitive spirit to work hard and be the best.
We just need to funnel those competitive drives almost emblematic of Americans into the will to work and stand united to make American #1, and we will steer America into a more progressive future. The political climate is so polarized now (and will probably only become more so if President Obama is reelected in November), it would be an extremely difficult fight to make the progressive case solely in terms of a stark contrast between the parties. Instead, where "economic populism" might not be as effective, i.e. where the Republican mindset is so entrenched in the populace that "good government" and "the 99%" are messages that won't resonate, it is especially important to peel off voters with a message that can appeal to them: The notion that America can and should be #1 in the world.
I do feel the need to finish with a few caveats: Ultimately, I believe in the concept of one world united and the ultimate unification of mankind as one people. Although, again, I think it would be wrong to think of my proposal as antithetical to this, I think that even if this were the case, it will ultimately prove a faster and more effective process in shifting to a more community-based, freedom-loving, progress world society. Think of it as sort of a arc from the first quadrant of the political compass into the second quadrant of the political compass, then finally down to the third quadrant where the debate ranges around the area much more closely surrounding the area around the red dot below:
However, I believe that although the arc motion is a longer linear distance than a straight line down through the center to where the dot is from where a so-called "moderate" would be now between the Democratic and Republican establishments, the battle we will fight will be more easily won by implementing progressive policies and ideals into society through a broad, sweeping conversion of the populace such as I am proposing rather than a truly divisive head-on with-us-or-against-us mindset that the "shortest distance between two points" straight line would be, and would therefore actually be the slower, more difficult route.
My other caveat that I feel is important to mention is that I believe serious and active nuclear disarmament and destruction of the military industrial war machine must be implemented simultaneously, so as to not risk becoming so nationalistic from all parties as to become jingoistic and degrade to fascism. This platform addition is also clearly a reflection of the many other virtues and noble threads in the fabric of the complex progressive moral platform, one which can win the public over by taking back from the Republicans mantras of national pride and a demand for excellence that they allege to hold but do not actually defend or put into practice.
Although I really feel as though I could go on and on (about the positive effect this mindset could have on education, crime, civic participation, and so many more), I will leave you to discuss and share your ideas. Thanks for your thoughts. :)
Update 1: Perhaps "nationalism" is not the best word to describe what I'm looking for. It does have negative connotations, and as griffin459 points out, "Progressive Nationalism" and the "National Socialist Party" (of Germany) certainly sound a bit too similar for comfort. In my defense, I was exhausted when I wrote this last night, so I didn't really consider the implications and baggage that the word carries.
I am open to suggestions, though, of what this tactic could be called instead. I honestly think that this can be spun in a very positive way to get real progressive ideas into the conversation and policy in places and among voters where "the usual messages" don't really hold much sway, especially in areas more typical of Blue Dogs, because the only way we can have the best health care, happiness, et cetera is to implement progressive policies through good government. Thanks for your input!