With all this Sarah Palin business, it seems to me that we Democrats need to think about ‘energizing our base’.
Republicans take pride in being called ‘conservative’. Yet, ‘liberal’ is still a term shunned and avoided by Democrats. Barack Obama, in a speech in Austin, stridently denied that the policies he was advocating - reducing money in politics, making sure there is health care for all, treating our soldiers properly when they come home - were ‘liberal’ policies.
Listen: if we’re not liberal, what the hell are we?
Are we conservative? If so, why not just say so? Why stay in a party that does not define itself as conservative? Why not just go to where the conservatives are?
And, if we aren’t conservative, then what else would we be?
What are the values that we as Democrats claim to embrace?
We want health care for all, not just for those wealthy enough to afford it, right?
We want out of this grotesque conflict that we’ve been lied into which has claimed the lives of thousands of Americans, as well as uncountable innocent Iraqis and Afghanis, and has sullied our honor and credibility all over the world, isn’t that so?
We want a decent wage for those who work for a living, and a safety net for those who need it the most - not tax giveaways for those who are already so wealthy they don’t need it, don’t we?
We want government whose first loyalty and duty is to attend to the need of its people, not the greed of its corporations, wouldn’t you agree?
We want transparency, honesty and accountability from our elected officials, not secrecy, spying, stealing and stonewalling, don’t we?
We want all of our citizens to be treated equally under the law, with the same rights as everyone else, regardless of race, creed, gender or sexual orientation, right?
We want government to do its job - working for the interests of its citizens, and the private sector to do its job - making a profit; not the other way around, where government is expected to be a mere dollars-and-cents balance sheet, and the private sector is put in charge of meeting the needs of human beings, which may or may not be ‘profitable’.
We want our Bill of Rights, right? We want privacy in our homes and communications, the freedom to speak out and to assemble peacefully without government or police harassment, the right to face our accusers and see the evidence against us; the freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. We want a press whose only allegiance is to the public’s right to know, not to its corporate paymasters.
Then why the fuck don’t we say so?
We are missing the point here by a country mile, and wondering why this Republican freak show is kicking our ass.
If the Republican party is defining itself by its values, and giving those values a name (conservatism) and the Democratic party is merely asserting that it isn’t the Republican party (not-conservatism) instead of naming and claiming our values as liberal, then all we are doing is writing our own epitaph - as a party, and as a social idea. As Dr. George Lakoff says, to ‘not think of an elephant’ is to think of an elephant. To define ourselves as ‘not-conservative’ is to reinforce the conservative frame as the dominant frame and to define ourselves as lacking that frame.
Liberal values are American values.
And the conservative frame, the conservative philosophy and blueprint for government, have brought us the very opposite of the things we want and were promised as Americans.
In my new book, the Price of Right, I talk about why conservatism is incompatible with American values and ideals. When conservative policies are not balanced with liberal policies, we devolve into feudalism. Conservatism is not content with being part of the whole; by definition it wants to have the whole pie to itself. The goal of a 'permanent Republican majority' shows exactly what conservatives think of other points of view, and why they see compromise as weakness and surrender. And the 'base' that the Republican party is dizzy with excitement to have engaged once again with Sarah Palin, the Christian fundamentalist/evangelicals, is very clear that it will brook no other views. To them, tolerance and diversity are not American values, but Satan's trickery.
American values are liberal values.
I know that people are afraid to use the ‘L’ word. That’s all I hear, over and over. The fear of being called ‘liberal’ is enough to make the toughest newscasters and most outspoken pundits soil themselves, backing off, groveling and apologizing for the least whiff of that dreaded epithet, ‘liberal media’ (which has not existed in at least 30 years.) Yes, yes, I know. Use the ‘L’ word and you’ve lost your election. So I’ve heard. But we haven't won by not using it, that's for sure!
The right has been extremely successful in demonizing the word that describes the Democratic party’s position. The problem is, and the Republicans knew this when they started doing it in the late 60s, that when someone takes away the word that identifies you and your ideals, there is nothing to ‘hang your hat on’ in terms of party identity, and you are forced to identify your party, not on its own terms but on the terms of the other party. And I’m sorry, but when you have only two political parties and they’re both defined by one party - one is ‘for’ and the other ‘against’ - ‘for’ will beat ‘against’ every single time. A positive always beats a negative.
This has been said by a number of people - that Democrats need to say what they’re for instead of what they’re against. But it never gets past that. No one ever says exactly how that is supposed to be done.
We’ve tried to substitute the word ‘progressive’ for ‘liberal’; I use it myself. In truth, they are similar in meaning, if you’re thinking in literal terms instead of framing terms - connecting with our deepest . But it’s like substituting Sweet ‘n’ Low for sugar; it’s yet another way to say “I’m not liberal; I’m ashamed to say that word”. Not consciously, but frame-wise, it is denying our ideals. That’s why the word ‘progressive’ has not succeeded in countering ‘conservative’.
It’s too late in this particular game to expect to make the switch to naming and claiming liberal values. But I believe that’s why we have no ‘base’ to energize at this point.
How great would it be if Obama was to operate out of a position of strength, conviction and passion, instead of a position of fear - fear of being labeled ‘the Angry Black Man’, fear of looking ‘sexist’ by criticizing Sarah Palin, fear of Republican retaliation by attacking McCain hard? Fear of not being ‘nice’ and ‘above it all’? Fear of the ‘low road’?
I can assure you, Republicans are not the least bit afraid of the ‘low road’.
I believe that Democrats are waiting for someone to stand up and get mad. That’s another Luntzian trick - keeping Democrats from speaking out by calling them ‘angry’ if they object to the abuse heaped upon them and implying that it’s a bad thing to get mad when you’re stepped on. But it’s long, long overdue.
If Obama were to take a real, strong stand and show that he believes in Democratic values bad enough to fight for them, and fight for us; if he were willing to go out on a limb and say what it is that we as Democrats stand for, and give our values a name that defines them on their own, and shows that these values are American values - not by merely saying it, but thundering it - then I think we would see an outpouring of Democratic passion and excitement such as we haven’t seen in a generation - perhaps two generations. Democrats are starved for leadership, for passion, for commitment. We need to be more than ‘not conservative.’
There is a Democratic ‘base’ out there, but no one has energized it. It’s out here, just waiting to be called by its name.
It’s not too late.