Friday, July 02, 2004

Three point strategy for the Left?

Emma has posted a three-point strategy for the left to retake political power. I think it's problematic.

You can see the full strategy here.

Point one: Win Back Political Morality

The Democrats were defeated in the rhetorical battle over political morality. They didn't "lose" their political morality, as Emma suggests. It was taken from them by careful Right strategy which emphasized individualism, small government, and the free market as solutions to America's problems.

It is true that the Left will have to reforge some notion of political morality that breaks the Right's iron triangle of values. Emma's plan doesn't propose how to do this. Perhaps this is because she believes the Left merely "lost" something that they can again find. I would argue that the Left will have to wage a rhetorical war using its own values.

Point Two: Lead with Positives.

Certainly, it is good to be positive and provide a vision of a better future. It is vital, in fact. But it is not enough; the Left won't convince anyone if we don't also refute Right arguments about our Vision. This leads to

Point Three: Craft a coherent platform that always underscores the first two points.
For a platform to cohere, it needs to have as first principles more than "be positive" and "reclaim political morality." A coherent Left platform will have its own triangle or square of values that directly counteract the iron triangle.

Specifically, the "bootstrap individualism" meme needs to be neutralized with a "community obligations" argument. We all benefit from a society that has genuine social and economic justice, and when society helps us succeed, we owe some of our success to the community.

The "small government" meme needs to be countered with an argument about "stewardship." Stewardship was the conception of the government during the New Deal; the government was of the people, for the people, and it cared for their interests. That means regulating food and drugs, pollution, and so on. Emma is quite right that the environmental argument must be reframed so that it encompasses many of those who currently oppose it.

The problem with reframing in the way Emma suggests is that the Left still cedes vast rhetorical advantages if it attempts to reframe each issue on an ad hoc basis. Instead, the Left must follow the right in creating a framework from which all issues can be reframed. This allows people all across the Left to reframe an issue for themselves by the simple reference to the Left Worldview.

Finally, the "private markets are best" meme needs to be countered. This one is harder to counteract with a single idea, possibly requiring two ideas in concert. First, we must emphasize the way that a purely private market crushes individual rights; collectively-wielded economic power will always outstrip individual power. The only entity that can answer corporate power to protect the individual is the state. This is "social/economic justice." Unchecked corporate power decreases freedom. Second, certain commodities are not best delivered in a for-profit system. Among them, I would count electricity, clean water, health care, and education. A for-profit system invariably creates unequal access to goods and services that are basic necessities. This is the expanded notion of "basic human rights."

Emma reiterates her point that Democrats shouldn't even bother arguing with Republicans, opting instead for a direct to the people message of hopeful liberalism. I like the way this sounds, but I think it is a recipe for defeat. We simply cannot cede the terms of the debate to the Republicans. They will say that any government program that provides universal health care is socialism, that any modicum of taxation is theft, and people will believe them, because these are easy ideas to grasp and very powerful when stacked against complex plans to improve the future. To be effective, Democrats must package their "hopeful liberalism" in little chewable rhetorical tablets if they want them to compete. They have to be good at naming things and summarizing their vision in a few words.

That's where they can use Community, Stewardship, Social/Economic Justice, and Basic Human Rights.


Blogger ryan bradley said...

You make some excellent points.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Thank you.

6:14 PM  

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