Liberals Have to Get Better At This

by: Daniel De Groot

Wed Nov 05, 2008 at 22:54

The Onion makes a really good point with jokes:

Nation Finally Shitty Enough To Make Social Progress
"Today Americans have grudgingly taken a giant leap forward," Williams continued. "And all it took was severe economic downturn, a bloody and unjust war in Iraq, terrorist attacks on lower Manhattan, nearly 2,000 deaths in New Orleans, and more than three centuries of frequently violent racial turmoil."

It shouldn't be this hard.

Daniel De Groot :: Liberals Have to Get Better At This

"If Obama learned one thing from his predecessors, it's that timing means everything," said Dr. James Pung, a professor of political science at Princeton University. "Less than a decade ago, Al Gore made the crucial mistake of suggesting we should care about preserving the environment before it became unavoidably clear that global warming would kill us all, and in 2004, John Kerry cost himself the presidency by criticizing Bush's disastrous Iraq policy before everyone realized our invasion had become a complete and total quagmire."

"Obama had the foresight to run for president at a time when being an African-American was not as important to Americans as, say, the ability to clothe and feed their children," Pung continued. "An election like this only comes once, maybe twice, in a lifetime."

And it was hard, remember him?

Al Gore Swearing the Oath as Vice-President in 1992

Ask him about the difficulties of winning an election during good times.  The fear I have right now is that the last two Democrats to win the Presidency have been simply brilliant in terms of charisma and dynamism.  Both were elected at least partly due to massive problems gripping the nation.  Carter, while not a Clinton or Obama in terms of political presence, had the Watergate wind at his back.  We can go back to FDR too, which only reinforces the Onion's point of Democrats winning in times of economic catastrophe.

As leshrac55 notes in quick hits, ideological self ID apparently did not change (though I will await for the GSS 2008 data for confirmation).  While Paul and myself have noted numerous times that the GSS data shows that Americans are quite liberal when it comes to their opinions on issues, it would still be better if they were willing to think of themselves as such.

Partly this means Democrats haven't been able to win on having the better ideas and plan, but usually they need the vastly superior candidate too.  Most people reading this site would have supported any half-decent Democrat in the General because we know that policy generally matters more than personality, but as a former Edwards supporter, I do shudder to think he could easily have lost this election because of his personal sex-scandal.  Meanwhile, Republicans are able to get a convicted felon re-elected to the Senate.  

I have been thinking about the New Deal, and how FDR was able to take a liberal plurality and form an overwhelming electoral mandate.  However he couldn't tackle race, and when (as Paul Krugman convincingly argues in Conscience of a Liberal) the policies of the New Deal eventually created circumstances which simply compelled the Democrats to deal with race, the resulting policies of the Great Society generated a backlash which put liberalism out of power for 40 years.  I detailed the backlash here at Liberals were never a majority.

So we have to get better at winning elections with people who aren't outstanding public speakers with really cool life stories during tough economic times when the Republicans have imploded.  We need to be able to win with Adlai Stevenson and Michael Dukakis too.  The Republicans have been able to win with some pretty sorry characters like Nixon and both Bushes (and Palin is not unique in being a GOP VP nominee who hurts the ticket on election day), and we have to be ready for the fact that another Obama/Bill Clinton level +106 charisma character might not appear for 2016.  

We have to get better at fighting and winning these ideological fights without the benefit of everyone seeing the other side's policy results splattered all over the road.  They really suck at governing but memories fade, and new talking points will again make irresponsible tax-cuts, reckless deregulation and heartless social cuts seem appealing again to a content, idle and distracted populace.

Hopefully, this is 1932 again, and Obama can usher in a New New Deal.  Just leave some thought to preventing another 1968 or 1994.  Our ideas work better, but sometimes that isn't enough.

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My Joe the Plumber was a nurse in Conn. (4.00 / 3)
While Paul and myself have noted numerous times that the GSS data shows that Americans are quite liberal when it comes to their opinions on issues, it would still be better if they were willing to think of themselves as such.

I was canvassing for Ned Lamont. We met a nurse near Lamont's Meridien HQ., who was happily supporting Lamont.  She said she always thought she was a conservative, at least that's how she had always chaacterized herself.  But she took a quiz, and found like much of the American public, that her views on issues were liberal. Her worldview was she decided that given that she had to support Ned Lamont.

Saying something makes it so. Make people realize that their viewpoints actually match the way libreals look at the world. And then we will have an accurate view of the political breakdown in this country  

"Incrementalism isn't a different path to the same place, it could be a different path to a different place"

How do we make it "patriotic" to be a liberal? (4.00 / 4)
I don't mean tolerance or acceptance of different views,

I mean, how do we show liberal views as the way to a stronger America?

How can we show that taking care of people's needs lead to lower crime?

How can we show that national health care will really lead to lower costs (without sounding like geeks)?

How can we show that a progressive tax system is essential to fuel our economy?

How can we show that a liberal foreign policy makes America stronger, by making us the shining light on the hill?

How can we show that more regulation protects people from the excesses of the greedy?

How can we show that liberal policies for the military actually makes us safer?

We need some simple slogans for all of this, something that can roll off the tongue as naturally as we breathe. That's how Rethugs have pounded on us year after year for the past couple of decades - and we have to know how to respond without sounding like elites.

"sounding like elites" (0.00 / 0)
Being clear and concise is not the opposite of "sounding like elites." Being clear and concise is simply effective communication. Conservatives spend billions on think tanks to come up with their slogans. There's probably not much more to it than that. That and the fact that conservatives realize and embrace the obvious fact that promoting conservatism helps their brand and helps them at the ballot box. Who the hell is going to embrace the liberal label if Democrats run and hide from it. If you want the public to embrace a world view, it helps to give them a word to attach to the concept.

I can easily convert all of your questions into persuasive statements. All it takes is the intention to promote liberalism. You'd think it's a no brainer, but Democrats don't do it.

Liberal views are the way to a stronger America, because they aren't based on fear.

Taking care of people's needs leads to lower crime. Duh!

Nations with national health care have much lower costs than us.

A progressive tax system is essential to fuel our economy. A first world economy requires first world infrastructure and education. These things don't pay for themselves.

A liberal foreign policy makes America stronger, by making us the shining light on the hill.

More regulation protects people from the excesses of the greedy.

Liberal policies for the military make us safer, because that is their sole focus. When your military is used for empire, that is what you get; not safety. it's not rocket science.

[ Parent ]
I would start with (4.00 / 2)
"Real Americans Pay Taxes."

Or maybe "Regulate Banks, Not Bedrooms."

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
slogans (0.00 / 0)
I like both of those, Sadie Baker! Thanks.

[ Parent ]
How about by (4.00 / 1)
running decent campaigns more often?

Gore should have won. He did win. But he let the election get stolen from him and he let the election get to the point where it could be stolen from him.

I think the Obama campaign contained some important guides for future campaigns.

1. Stick to a message. Obama's been about the same thing for the last two years. Change. He's stuck with that consistently. Hope, change, grassroots action, unity, optimism. He stuck with that the entire time and hammered it home at every point. He has a clear reason to pick him in the primary (Change from the past, a new way of doing things) and the exact same message for the general (Bush = Bad, McCain = Bush. Obama = Change). McCain, Clinton and Edwards all never developed a clear message, although Edwards came close.

2. Empower people. Obama's campaign was committed to a strong grassroots people-powered campaign from the very start. It built a movement (dare I say) and invested heavily in a field operation that empowered people. Not the traditional campaign model of centralized massive phone banks, random canvassing by hardcore volunteers and paid canvassers and callers. But a community based Team structure that empowered individual people and gave them responsibility in return for hard work.

3. No bullshit. Unlike the Gore campaign, the Clinton campaign, the Kerry campaign and most major campaigns the Obama campaign got along. He settled on a team and stuck with it. His team liked each other and trusted each other, they debated and when they reached a decision that was the end of it. That's critically important.

Of course, there is a lot more and even running a flawless campaign doesn't mean you win. But it's a start for sure. I think if Kerry and Gore had run better campaigns they would have won.

I also think having a contested primary really helped, looking back at it. It tested the candidates and made them fight for it. Biden has made it clear he's done after VP which is good, hopefully we'll have another healthy primary fight in 2016.

John McCain: Beacuse lobbyists should have more power

Gore contended with many factors (4.00 / 5)
not of his own making. Clinton's scandals hobbled him significantly even before the race began. After eight years out of power, the Republicans had built up a powerful electoral machine and were hungry to win. Gore was outspent by over fifty percent, had to contend with a highly successful third-party candidacy, and a truly, truly hostile media that called him a liar every time he opened his mouth, while fawning over Bush. And the Internet, which Gore had done so much to help develop and nurture, was not mature enough to serve as a campaign tool.

Despite trailing by 10-15 points in the polls before the race even began, he managed to close the gap and prevail.

The establishment clearly feared him, because they had to resort to the extraordinary measure of performing a coup to tear from his hands the office he had rightly won.

By contrast, Obama came along at exactly the right time. Social networking and the Internet were well-developed enough to allow the kind of remarkable organization and coordination his campaign demonstrated.

People were so desperate for change that they were willing to donate their hard-earned dollars to an attractive, eloquent candidate who presented himself as a grassroots underdog, making his fundraising efforts exceptionally successful.

Thanks to eight years of the worst president in American history, the Republican brand was completely trashed with the public. People were furious and ready for a change of leadership. It was the Democrats who were hungry and energized and ready to win, and the Republicans were demoralized and confused.

And despite all that, Obama might well have lost, had the media not sided with him. The establishment had to choose on the spot between McCain (who had never been the darling of Wall Street) and Obama, who was much smoother and ready to demonstrate his willingness to go along (as with FISA and the bailout). It was an easy choice.

Had the Republicans had another faux-populist plutocrat like Bush, the media would have fawned all over him and ripped into Obama, calling him a radical Islamic terrorist. Just like they Swift-Boated Kerry.

Obama's candidacy was a perfect storm, and it is hard to see how it can serve as a model for future candidacies, beyond generalities like "hire a good team."

The problem is that so much of it was based on Obama's personality and charisma. "Hope", "change", "belief"--those aren't things you can run on every time or with every candidate. In the context of 2000, talking about "the audacity of hope" would have sounded ludicrous.

Even much of the social networking only worked because of Obama's rock-star qualities--his personal attractiveness and eloquence, that allowed him to turn campaign rallies into rock concerts.

One thing that can be taken away from the Obama campaign is the extraordinary effort they took to identify new demographic groups--like Hispanics--and integrate them into the Democratic party.

The task now is to identify the issues that are most important to those groups, and weld them into a long-lasting coalition. It remains to be seen if Obama is up to that.

[ Parent ]
"Hire a team" (0.00 / 0)
May be a generality. But Gore hired a terrible team. He had what, three different campaign heads? His recount team was a total failure and only at the end did he find the right message.  

John McCain: Beacuse lobbyists should have more power

[ Parent ]
what Gore could have done (0.00 / 0)
Bill Clinton was popular in 2000, with everybody except the Beltway bunch (who always disliked him). I voted for Perot twice, and even I was a Clinton supporter by 2000 out of sympathy for what he'd been through.

But Gore didn't have Clinton out campaigning for him. I don't know whether that shunning was Gore's idea or the campaign's, but all Gore needed was one more state.

[ Parent ]
the truth is more complicated (0.00 / 0)
People loved Clinton's job performance. They hated his inability to keep it in his pants.

See this Pew Center study on how Clinton's scandals hurt Gore.

While Gore does benefit from Clinton's robust job approval ratings, he is clearly being hurt by weariness with problems of the Clinton administration. An overwhelming majority (74%) of Americans agree with the statement, "I am tired of all the problems associated with the Clinton administration." This view is held by 77% of Independents and 64% of Democrats. Among those who express fatigue, 60% say they would vote for Bush over Gore in a two-way 2000 match-up; only 35% pick Gore.

It was not for nothing that Bush ran on "restoring honor and dignity to the White House." He was saying, "You're not going to catch me in flagrante with any White House interns."

Gore faced the impossible task of running on the Clinton administration's record, while having to distance himself from Bill Clinton's personal scandals.

He threaded the needle as best he could. And it was still enough to win. Even though the Supreme Court decided otherwise.

[ Parent ]
All true, but... (0.00 / 0)
Adversity begets opportunities, not guarantees. People sometimes do the right thing for the wrong reasons, or the wrong things with the best of intentions. History is messy and largely irrational. In spite of this, or because of it, we did good. Just enjoy it for for half a second, will ya? Then it's back to our semi-thankless tasks. As wiser mouths than mine have spouted:

"Progress is not an illusion, it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing. There is always a new tyrant waiting to take over from the old - generally not quite so bad, but still a tyrant....The central problem - how to prevent power from being abused - remains unsolved." - George Orwell
"Wanting to be popular, working to be popular is the only way to be serious politically." - Lina Wertmuller
"Every time the train of history rounds a curve, all the intellectuals fall off." - Marx

Hope this helps.

I think the only reason (0.00 / 0)
you wrote "Nation finally shitty enough to get better," was that you wanted to use the word shitty in a sentence.  If you want to or have the compulsion to focus on what's shitty at this moment, then all I can say is your timing is peculiar.

Did you miss it? (4.00 / 2)
The OP was quoting The Onion.

It's satire.

Karl in Drexel Hill, PA

[ Parent ]
I hear what you're saying. (4.00 / 3)
The Republicans win with sorry-ass candidates because they  have a messaging machine that builds the Conservative brand, convincing people to self-identify as Conservative even when in fact their policy preferences are Liberal. And the machine runs 24/7, 365 days a year.

Democrats can only win with rock star candidates because we do not have such a machine. We need one.

Montani semper liberi

building a Progressive message machine (4.00 / 1)
   Every progressive needs to read the Lakoff books ("Don't think of an elephant" and "thinking points").
  He makes your exact point. There are right-wing think tanks and propaganda machines that spend vast sums of money every year to build their brand. Is it any wonder that so many people that support "liberal" positions have been hoodwinked into labeling themselves as "conservative"?
  One of Lakoff's key points is that it is not enough for us to give a little bit of time or money to support a progressive candidate for 6 months of an election year. We need to build progressive infrastructure. Lakoff used to work with the Rockridge Institute... but it was recently shut down, due to a lack of funding.
  If every progressive who gave money to the Obama campaign would just identify a key piece of progressive infrastructure or two, and then donate 20 to 50 dollars per month, just think of what we could accomplish.
  I want to do that myself. I want to help build the progressive infrastructure. Any suggestions on where I can begin, and which group(s) will generate the most "bang for the buck"?

Luke 12:48 "to whom much is given, of him shall much be required". Would Jesus want progressive taxation, or regressive taxation?

[ Parent ]
I am only a foot soldier myself. (4.00 / 2)
But building a progressive infrastructure is one of the key objectives of this blog, which is why I read it obsessively.

You should ask one of the frontpagers, this is something they know about.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
List of 500 leading progressive national organizations (4.00 / 3)
I compiled a list of 500 leading progressive national organizations. Some of these are very progressive while others are hopelessly timid or incrementalist. But all of them together represent our progressive infrastructure, such as it is.

I encourage folks to choose a few of these organizations and support them.

[ Parent ]
marketing our message - top 10 infrastructure groups (0.00 / 0)
   Thanks for the list.
  I have skimmed it. Some of the groups do not focus on "building our brand" the way that the conservative think-tanks do. And a list of 500 is a somewhat large haystack within which to seek a few high-quality needles.
  Since you posted the list, would you be willing to make a recommendation or two? I would love to have a recommended list of about 10 organizations that are engaged in an ongoing, effective mission to build our brand.
  For example, I saw some environmental groups on your list of 100. How would an environmental group help to overcome racism, sexism, or homophobia? How would it help people to see what a sewer-dweller "Joe the Plumber" is, and encourage people to be proud of paying taxes to help those in need? [Please don't try to tell me that Americans are inherently selfish. Plenty of conservatives are proud of tithing at church to help the poor... but they HATE paying taxes to help the poor. How do we end that madness?]
  I want to fund some organization that spreads left-spin, to help offset the right-spin that puts people like Bush into office.

Luke 12:48 "to whom much is given, of him shall much be required". Would Jesus want progressive taxation, or regressive taxation?

[ Parent ]
what's are the messages? (4.00 / 1)
or range of messages? :)

anyway, i think that's happening already - msnbc is on the air all the time isn't it? :) i expect more than that.

personally, i don't care if people identify as conservative if they think that single payer health care is conservative.  what i do care is the extent to which they're willing to use government or society to screw over people who are already disempoered - i.e. the extent to which they actually ARE "conservative." (or we might just say "assholes").

[ Parent ]
the gop is able (0.00 / 0)
to win most elections because the vast majority of the electorate are prejudiced in one way or another, and intolerance is an easy sell as previous elections have shown us time and again.

Actually none of that matters (0.00 / 0)
Getting the right people in charge is the only thing that will ever matter.

Here's the thing.  A great idea executed by someone incompetent will turn out terribly.  An idea is never enough and you should never think that it is enough.  

Thats why Republicans just lost.  And they lost their ideological edge with that loss.


One thing to add (0.00 / 0)
The Republicans just lost everything by large margins.

Trying to replicate their strategies is not what you should be doing.


[ Parent ]
It's the media, Silly (4.00 / 1)
As Paul Jay of has pointed out, there was enough solid information available by the time of Powel's infamous presentation to the UN for the media to cast doubt on what he was saying. He also points out that the main stream media fail to provide historical context, which makes it harder for the public to "connect the dots". To quote Bart Simpson, the public "ain't not genius", anyway, to they are often unable to connect the dots, themselves.

The real news funding model is real simple - subscriptions yes, corporate advertising and government grants no. Unfortunately, they've taken a hit due to the economic mess. Please check them out, and consider supporting them (they ask for a whopping contribution of $10/month) to help them not only survive, but to create a television network. (I look at their newscast online; not sure if they are on TV, anywhere.)

Until Americans have the same easy access to news of the sort that the real news can provide, in the comfort of their living rooms, which they can turn to as easily as they can flip the channel to CNN, it's going to remain much harder than it should be to get decent people into office. It'd be nice if all Americans read blogs like, but I don't see that happening. Americans aren't readers, and I sometimes wonder if were not the least intellectual 'advanced' nation, in the world.

I've been thinking of writing about my idea for a que-able gift subscription plan, which I came up with for my own proposal for a media replacement (called 'Putting the NY Times Out of Business'). That idea should be almost as applicable for a media vehicle where the subscription fee is strictly voluntary, like When I do, I'll cross post it here, as could benefit (I believe) by doing something similar.

435 Dem Primaries 2012
Coffee Party Usa

a second (0.00 / 0)
I catch it most days because my husband is a huge fan, and he blogs about it, too. They have great stuff you won't see anywhere else.

[ Parent ]
cobbling coalitions (0.00 / 0)
we Dems always have to pull together coalitions out of vastly disparate groups, united in 2008 by what, exactly?

A: Economic fear plus a charismatic candidate (as noted above)

As a gay Democratic proud Obama supporter, voter & volunteer, I feel personally betrayed by the passage of Prop 8 (and its monstrous cousins) with the strong support of AA and Latino voters. So the marvelous coalition could disintegrate apart for me, a mere two days after the election, UNLESS I WORK HARD AT RESISTING.  Social conservatism in our coalition partners needs to STOP now.  

There are other things that unite us than fear, aren't there? Hope?  Hope for Change? Change for WHOM, exactly?

Our common interests will only be met when we finally wake up to the fact that our interests are, DUH, COMMON: health care, civil rights, caring for the planet, food, education, shelter, economic opportunity, national and global security, caring communities. We all win together, or we all lose separately. And yeah, this applies across nations too. Let's just call it Universal. Or basic human dignity, respect, kindness and compassion. Toward all.  It's mind numbingly simple.

The fears that drive wedges between us have got to die now.

Liberals (0.00 / 0)
Sorry, but the Onion comment, sharp as it is, also smacks of smugness, as if the evil can never be shared.  That in fact often happens in that periodical.

As for liberals, if they had only appealed to both the working-class and the racial minorities-such as Truman, Robert Kennedy, and Hubert Humphrey did-they would have won.  It is the obsessive focus upon the minorities at the expense of everything else, such as building a mixed economy and a welfare state, that has ruined things for so long.    

White straight men are only about 20% of the population. (4.00 / 1)
Tell me again about what happens when you focus on minorities?

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]

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