Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Two years to make our point

How can the emerging message from the Progressive liberal vision makers—“We are in this together”—be effectively conveyed to a public that has been under the influence of a relentless campaign to demonize the progressive agenda as tax-and- spend, soft on crime and terror, immoral and corrupt?

It seems according to recent research ("End of the end of ideology." American Psychologist , Oct 06 ) that people with a conservative political orientation score high on the variables of fear of death, fear of instability, threat and loss, and need for uncertainty avoidance, structure, order and closure.

In addition it has been found that there are differences between children which predict future political orientation far ahead of the establishment of such orientation. Preschool children described by their teachers as energetic, emotionally expressive, gregarious, self-reliant, resilient and impulsive were more likely to identify themselves as politically liberal, years later in adulthood. Children seen by teachers as inhibited, fearful, indecisive, rigid, vulnerable and over controlled went on to identify as conservative when adults. All this plus twin studies in which monozygotic twins tend to have more similar political orientations than fraternal twins indicate that these predispositions may have an significant genetic basis.

All of this suggests that significant crossection of the population—not surprisingly--is chronically frightened and in need of security assurance. Given those facts its undrestandable that terror alerts and hints that terrorists being fought in Iraq will come to our shores if we “cut and run” are effective motivators of conservative voters during elections. In fact, research further reveals that threat “precipitates” a conservative shift even among people who were not initially conservative.

It can be surmised that the shift to conservatism is an attempt to defend against insecurity. However it was shown in a longitudinal study of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack that a shift to conservatism did not bring well being but in fact increased chronic symptoms of PTSD and depression. So a shift into conservatism actually exacerbates a fearful attitude.

It is clear that the propaganda techniques of Karl Rove and the Republicans in the last years have perfected the exploitation of fear of threat, disorder, impulsive behavior and other insecurities by painting liberals as—literally—the enemy and the source of such threat. That is done by implying, or openly stating, that Democrats will coddle criminals and terrorists and let them loose on the streets, while the Protector in Chief makes assurances of unyielding defense of our security. Arguably, Bush and the Republicans are unique in their resolve to kill, prosecute, imprison, interrogate and--if needed-- torture evil doers who threaten our security. Understandably, given the fearful environment in the country, these are effective propaganda techniques.

Interestingly this view is not in total agreement with George Lakoff’s notion that the conservative presentation of the national family is that of a family headed by an authoritarian father. A protective, authoritarian father seems a more apt decsription.

The Republicans have effectively presented Democrats as willing to undermine our economic security with tax increases, erode traditional values with gay marriage and stem cell research, weaken the military and police and coddle criminals while allowing the untrammeled expansion of an inept government. Accordingly, Republican strategists sooth the fears of conservatives by promising to protect them from taxation, reducing wasteful government, maintaining a powerful military, and fighting against the "fatuous depravity of San Francisco values” by championing traditional values.

The received wisdom is that Democrats don’t have an idea or a plan. Yet one effective message is beeing developed by Democrats in recent years; the message of optimism and hope. Clinton played heavily on it and the remarkably successful Barak Obama leans on it consistently. It works because, while liberals may be energetic, emotionally expressive, gregarious, resilient and self-reliant, they are also seen as sour and remote in their attitudes. Scared people don’t want to hear elitist pessimism , doom and gloom but hope is not a plan. It is a good attitude but hope alone cannot be the message that will change American politics. A far more meaningful message is needed and that is emerging in the form of age-long progressive ideas of equality and justice recently embodied in the slogan: “We Are in This Together; Together we Win.”

How can this message of equality, justice, togetherness and hope be convincingly portrayed to the fearful voter? What could be more frightening to the average conservative than equality and freedom whether personal, economic or political? How do we persuade frightened people that security lies in equality and justice and togetherness? In fair taxes rather than no taxes, in diplomacy instead of military power, in freedom of individual expression and a large and benevolent government? Food for thought.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Big Democratic Idea: We Are in This Together

Based on the work of the Wellstone Democratic Club Vision Committee

Two years after the lowest moment in modern American history—the reelection of GWB--Democrats have recovered some ground but are in a veritable frenzy seeking a unifying, substantial, convincing, no spin message. This message needs to persuade people that our side has a viable alternative rather than merely a relentlessly critical view of the Republicans. It seems that there is a message emerging in the progressive camp, after the necessarily short lived “new direction” of this electoral campaign. The message is: “We are in this together” in contrast with, as the Republicans would have it: “Every man for himself.”

The now failed neo-conservative Project for the American Century was the global expression of that self-centered American attitude: we the beautiful, triumphant people of America, dominating all others for our own benefit and for the benefit of the world.

Merely due to the complete breakdown of the Iraq neo-con project, Democrats have won back the Congress. But the systematic defeat of the progressive propositions across the country reminds us that the electorate is still profoundly conservative. Democrats have two years to present a credible alternative to our opponent’s failed agenda. “We are in this together; together we win,” is merely a rewording of the basic liberal, progressive belief in equality and justice. But it will have to convince Americans that our egalitarian views can deliver on the promise for a “new direction” or we risk losing the gains of this election. How does the idea that we are interconnected as equals and need to cooperate personally, locally, nationally and internationally translate into bread and butter issues and subsequent legislation?

Republicans offer as their program 1. Low taxes, 2. Traditional values, 3. Strong Military and 4. Small Government. To Low Taxes we counter: Fair Taxes, to Traditional Values we counter: Social Values to Strong Military we counter: National Security and to Small Government we counter: Efficient Government.

How can fair taxes, social values, national security and efficient government be achieved?
The answers are imbedded in the three-point statement from the Vision Committee of the Wellston Democratic Club:

1. We depend on an equitable social contract.

The Republican message is most clearly expressed in the call for lower taxes and an untrammeled market in order to assist those few individuals who are in a position to benefit from them. Winners will be rich, losers will be poor and (alas) they will always be with us. The result of the application of this clearly immoral view is becoming increasingly clear; the rich are getting shamefully richer and the poor are getting dramatically poorer, while the middle is getting hammered.

By "social contract," we mean the compromise struck between the realities of a capitalist market economy and the requirements of community life. Today, America’s social contract is unraveling. Over the past twenty-five years, conservatives have succeeded in weakening the laws and regulations that sought to make business’ goals more compatible with social ends. The rising wealth at the top and the growing insecurity of American working people is the consequence of a rogue capitalist economy untouched by social policy.

America is one of the best places in the world to succeed, largely due to the freedoms granted by our Constitution and by public investment --paid by taxes--in education, science and technology, law enforcement, and in transportation and communication infrastructure.
Conservatives belittle the role that government and public investment play in every aspect of our lives. Their tax reduction crusade has succeeded in re-distributing the national wealth in favor of the rich. The rich are spared taxation while revenues are being supplemented by local sales and payroll taxes, which fall heaviest on working people.

Investment in public education declines; the harm of racial discrimination continues. Decent paying jobs disappear while low paying service jobs proliferate. These massive problems can’t be solved through local charitable efforts but require a resolute national program that provides help and real opportunities to our fellow citizens trapped in the cycle of economic decay. Our security is threatened by the poverty of tens of millions of Americans.

All working Americans must be protected from the threat of disabling injuries, catastrophic illness and old age insecurity. These programs require fair taxation. We must restore progressive taxation so that the tax burden is larger on those who increase their wealth in our fertile, economic climate.

2. We depend on a dynamic economy.

We need to make common cause with the business world. The conservatives are correct in one point. Only a prosperous economy can generate the taxes that are needed to fulfill the social contract. For too long, progressives have been hostile to economic growth, business, and market-driven processes. Failing to present a real alternative to corporate America’s model of economic development is an unsustainable posture.

American workers are faced with gloomy realities, working longer hours in lower paying jobs while our industries go out of business or move to lower wage countries. Investment in our future—in education, science, research, infrastructure—is in sharp decline. We face irreversible environmental degradation. We are squandering our great productive potential, mortgaging our future, and failing to prepare for the challenges of the 21st century. We can only correct these trends in a partnership with American business interests.

We need to reeducate voters about taxes and the free market. Presently, our nation is under the spell of a dangerous, conservative creed about the harmful effects of taxes and any other attempt to interfere with the competitive market, which if left alone will find the best solutions to every problem. As a consequence needed market regulation is being legislated out of existence and anti-trust oversight ignored so that small numbers of huge corporations have been consolidating their control over vital sectors of our economy to the public’s detriment. Anti tax and free market views have become firmly established as received wisdom and need to be challenged.

Democrats are rightly suspected of wanting to raise taxes; only an effective government backed by sufficient taxes, representing all of us acting together, is in a position to develop a long-range strategy and invest in developing the infrastructure, science and technology that can put us on the path to healthy growth.

We need to use the economic instruments of government to re-shape and direct market mechanisms and to move development in a sustainable direction. Our future infrastructure, tax policies, business subsidies, publicly funded research, science and educational strategies, must shift towards renewable energy, and eco-friendly goods and services while we develop innovative environmental regulatory programs that are compatible with market mechanisms.

We can invigorate our economy, healing rather than amplifying humanity’s rift with nature with a crash program of public investment in eco-friendly science and technologies for transportation, land and water use, waste management and urban planning. These areas of research and development would fuel creativity and productivity and provide higher paying jobs

At the same time we need a strategy to guide America in the developing global economy. While taking action at home to insure that America can compete in the global economy, we must, at the same time, adjust to the developing world.

3. We depend on national security in a peaceful, multilateral, global community

Vital to our security is the creation of a framework that binds all nations for resolving conflicts peacefully based on diplomacy, cooperation and the rule of law.

Maintain a Secure Nation.
Replace military might with a national security regime that includes a strong, well trained military as well as alliances and diplomacy but even more importantly a well educated, economically secure and healthy citizenry to guide our government in making decisions in the nation’s interests.

Return to civility, diplomacy, and multilateralism in a law-governed world.
With the emergence of a global marketplace, the world community is developing principles and conventions to serve as a legal framework to govern the relations among states This is the best path towards a peaceful, stable and sustainable world. We must re-join the family of nations and return to methods of dialogue, diplomacy, and mutual respect with other states.

Work for a sustainable globe.
Disruptive migration, falling wages, global warming, resource depletion, pollution, and the danger of pandemic disease—can only be solved if we approach them globally. As one of the world’s great melting pots, a pioneer in constitutional and democratic government, and a leading economic power we have much to contribute to a peaceful, sustainable world.