Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Developing a New Progressive Message

Legal Fiction has been writing an excellent series of posts in an attempt to articulate a new progressive message to counter the tide of conservative messages that crested during the Reagan administration.

His post on using Economic Self-Interest is particularly good, but I perceive a small problem with it, which may be a result of his desire for Third Way centrism versus my old-school liberalism.

Some Progressive messages, unlike almost all Conservative messages, have to marry self-interest to a basic sense of community or fairness to be acceptable. While I agree that over time, messages about targeted tax cuts or spending that actually saves the taxpayer money could be effective, you still have to counter a perception problem that attends programs like National Health Care. To wit: even though 44 million Americans lack health insurance, that number means little to many who have health insurance. Although it is tempting to only try to counter Conservative rhetoric with that of financial self-interest, that strategy ignores several other aspects of conservative rhetoric that are quite powerful: small government (typified by less intrusion), privatization, and bootstrap individualism ("I have health care, and those people can get it too if they just work for it.").

I don't deny that Economic Self-Interest is the most powerful message on both sides of the aisle, but Progressives need a set of easy to grasp ideas to augment the Economic narrative if they want to break the Reagan idea-hegemony of public discourse. Among these should be notions of Community, Justice, and Fairness (which flow nicely from publius' broad progressive "empathy").

As Paul Wellstone said, "We all do better when we all do better."


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