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.

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