Republished with permission from PleaseCutTheCrap.Typepad.com.
One of the keys to our overall strategy of turning the United States into a progressive nation has to do with our understanding that we are being dominated by a group that represents a significant minority of the American population. The far right in this country represents about 25% of its inhabitants, at most. Yet, for 32 years — an entire generation — they’ve been running the government, and we’ve been increasingly locked out of the government altogether. We even have the most progressive president in the modern era and the single best pure politician in the last 50 years lashing out at “the professional left.”
And before you professional lefties start laughing at me, consider this; Barack Obama got a black man elected president of the United States, and you think the surest way to a progressive majority is by replacing “Blue Dogs” with teabaggers. We’ve been in the wilderness for 40 years; how much longer do we shoot ourselves in the foot before we figure out to aim the gun elsewhere?
If we’re so great at politics, how is it that a distinct minority of the population can come to dominate the policymaking apparatus in a democratic republic for an entire generation?
The answer is, we help them. We actually do more to damage our own prospects than they do. They don’t win, we lose.
Once again, let me explain how we help them.
1. We Help Them Depress Turnout
I know many of you think the top strategy for any democratic minority should be to align themselves with another group to give themselves a majority. But there are actually two ways to turn your minority into a majority. That is one of them. But the other is to reduce turnout to such a degree that their merry band of rabid followers seems like it’s far bigger than it is.
Since the early 1970s, the Republican Party has been anti-everything. Do you really think they’re still winning converts with their riffs on God, guns and gays after 40 years? Do you really think that many people are concerned about tax rates being too high? Of course they aren’t.
Unfortunately, we help them depress turnout. In other words, we help ourselves lose.
I can’t tell you how many liberals have duped themselves into believing that “negative campaigning works.” So many self-described “smart people” will sit there and swear that negative campaigning leads the right-wing to a win every time. Okay, if it works so well, please explain why turnout numbers are so historically low? People are NOT motivated by negative campaigns, they’re DE-motivated by them. Negative campaigning works for them and against us.
Most voters don’t decide who to vote for, as much as they decide whether or not to vote. They don’t sit there with a Ben Franklin list for each candidate and decide the pros and cons of each; they go with their gut, and their gut is greatly influenced by the overall meme. They hate the right-wing’s negativity, but the lack of an alternative message makes the negativity dominant, and they’re motivated to stay home.
The reason Democrats lost so badly in 2010 was because the message coming from both sides was “Democrats are wimps!” and “Democrats suck!” Now, if swing voters hate the right’s message, but there is no alternative to “Democrats suck!” out there, where is their motivation to run to their local precinct on a cold November morning and support Democrats? You know the far right will show up in droves to support their favorite cranks, because they love negativity and they love pissing off liberals.
Which leads us our other problem…
Our Messaging is Scattered and Too Often Mirrors and Amplifies the Right’s Rhetoric
Liberals really suck at messaging. In fact, the end result of our messaging machine is that we send no message at all.
Part of the problem is that the loudest contingent of liberals thinks our message has to counter the right’s message, when all it has to be is different, meaning positive. People need an alternative to the right’s message; something that will give them a reason to bother to vote.
When we counter everything the right puts out there, it causes several problems. The most obvious problem is that it amplifies the right’s message. The right’s propaganda machine counts on us to restate their message before we snipe, “That’s a lie” and then give a long, drawn-out response that no one will actually even hear. Think about it; when someone’s ranting, how long before you shut them out and turn your thoughts elsewhere?
Another problem is, it makes us look as if we’re fighting with them, which is exactly what the GOP leadership is hoping for, because in-fighting and negativity depresses turnout. The real reason President Obama pushes so hard to seem bipartisan isn’t because he’s stupid, and thinks he can reach Republicans. It’s because he knows most voters want compromise and harmony. They want us all to work together. He did his job in 2010; why didn’t we do ours?
Most of the messages we send seem to gleefully help the right depress turnout. Sit back and consider the rhetoric coming from the left regarding voter ID laws. If you read/listen to the “professional left” on this issue, the meme is downright apocalyptic.You’d think the entire democratic system was crashing down around us, when in fact the solution to all of this lies in the democratic system. Yes, they’re bad laws, but what the hell did you think two years of screaming “Democrats suck!” would lead to? Republicans are in charge; you can expect Republican-style bad laws! Why do so many liberals seem shocked when we help Republicans win, and they do exactly what they said they would do? The key has to be to stop allowing them to be in charge in the first place.
In reality, most voter ID laws won’t really affect that many voters, and if we could manage to win enough elections, we wouldn’t have to worry about the courts, either. Crying and screaming and demanding change from the very politicians who passed them in the first place probably won’t work. In the meantime, instead of fretting over these laws and feeding the negative right-wing meme, why don’t we take a positive approach to the issue that makes people feel hopeful that things will change? Why do we always have to push gloom and doom on everything?
In this case, we should advocate for running as many of these people to Motor Vehicles or wherever, to get an ID card, and collecting money to pay for those who can’t afford the fee. You know, solving the problem, rather than wallowing in it. Instead of keeping the negativity meme and the fighting going, why don’t we turn it around to our benefit? Instead of screaming and implying that the votes of many won’t count, take on the hero role, and let everyone know we will do everything we can to make sure their vote counts. THAT is how you turn the bad guys into bad guys, not pointing and screaming “bad guy bad guy!” You take video of yourself driving people to the DMV and making sure they get an ID card and throw it up on YouTube, and you let the viewers look at that and ask themselves, “Why should anyone have to do that?” Even if they don’t think that, you project the images of the “good guys.”
We need to be the “good guys,” not just point out the “bad guys.” Liberals are supposed to be Dudley Do-Right and ride in on the white steed and save the day. Instead, we stand beside the railroad tracks, watch Snidely Whiplash tie Nell to them and wait for someone else to come to her rescue. Of course, then we scream at everyone else for not saving Nell before the train got there.
Most voters are not motivated to vote based on anger. And why would you expect them to? They don’t sit there buried in the news all day like many of you do, and they don’t fret over every single issue the way some liberals do. When I look at my email inbox and my Twitter feed sometimes, the number of issues I’m supposed to be “outraged” about is mesmerizing.
Someone recently asked me to support some cause having to do with keeping all of those facing foreclosure in their homes. Really? It’s that simple? We just forgive their entire debt and burn the mortgage? Imagine I’m the head of a family that is living on $3000 per month. A few years back, I was sold a home by a fraudulent mortgage broker who promised me the moon. Even after adjusting the value of my home, my payments are still $1500 a month; is it really worth keeping me in my home, or should I just be allowed to walk away? Whether I walk away or you reduce my payments somehow, where does that money come from?
This is where we screw up BIG TIME. We focus on individual issues, which is already silly, since “the economy” means different things to different people. But we also tend to “simplify issues” because we think people are too dumb to understand the “complexity.” It hurts us in several ways; sometimes a complex issue can’t be simplified. For example, there IS no “one size fits all” solution to the mortgage mess. It took nine years to build, and it won’t be fixed with one magical solution. That money you’re talking about “forgiving” is actually OUR money and the swing voters’ money. We put that money into the banks as deposits. When we “forgive” these debts, the money has to come from somewhere. Are you willing to get a letter from the bank telling you they had to confiscate 30% of your bank account to cover those mortgages? I didn’t think so.
Swing voters understand most issues more than many liberals think, but it’s more in the abstract. They don’t care about individual issues, because they don’t have the time to delve into them, and they want to elect someone who will take the time they can’t to understand what the issues are and act on them in a competent way. Competence is far more important to most voters than a politician’s stance on any single issue.
We Spend too Much Time on Problems, Not Enough on Solutions.
Like I said, the solution to Voter ID laws is to get as many people registered and compliant with the law as possible, and get everyone to vote en masse for people who will strike them down. Likewise, nothing is going to happen to Citizens United until we replace the Supreme Court Justices who voted for it. But until then, we need to replace the Republican majority in Congress with a supermajority of Democrats. And if we have to elect a smattering of Blue Dogs to reach the numbers, we should welcome them with open arms. You can be as pissed off as you want, but nothing will change as long as the wrong people have a majority and are making policy.
Too much of the liberal meme is based on outrage, and frankly, most voters are on outrage overload, and they’re tired of being told they should be outraged about every single thing. And make no mistake; to the average voter, liberal outrage sounds the same as right-wing outrage.
Most voters want to look at the future and see hope. The real reason voter turnout is depressed over the last 40 years, and the reason we can’t seem to string together two elections in a row, is because we’re too obsessed with seeing the worst aspects of politics, and we think we’re doing the Lord’s work by pointing out every single problem to everyone we come in contact with. The one problem with social media is, you can’t see us rolling our eyes every time a new petition comes along, or when I’m told with as much earnestness as possible that I’m supposed to be really pissed off at something a politician has done.
Make no mistake, folks. Most voters understand the problems we face. Just because you study certain things and memorize data fed to you by a liberal blogger doesn’t mean you know more about an issue than the average person who has to live it. It never ceases to amuse me how many middle-to-upper-middle class white liberals actually seem to think they know more about being a poor minority than poor minorities do. That sort of arrogance works against us, and helps the right in their quest to make us look bad.
The funny thing is, our side always asks the question, “Why do (they) always vote against their own interests?” Well, if we’re smart enough to know when “they” are doing that, why don’t we seem to notice that our approach to politics has been working against everyone’s best interests for a generation? Why don’t we seem to notice that we’ve been losing elections more than we’re winning them while we employ these strategies?
We Cede the Politics to Them, Even as We Pump Up Their Status in the Body Politic.
We used to laugh at and deride the right-wing. I don’t understand why we still don’t. Their politics are laughable, and they don’t really appeal to anyone with a brain.
The far right used to be toothless, because they held distinct minorities of both parties, which served to marginalize them for a long time. During the Eisenhower era, there was the “Taft Wing” of the GOP who were social conservatives, but not full on loons. The loons were the “Dixiecrats.” After the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts passed, Republicans recruited the Dixiecrats, to make the party bigger. In the short-term, it worked, but mostly it was with our help. Unfortunately, we continue to help.
And part of the reason is, a large portion of the left is so intimidated by the right-wing, they’ve been able to hang onto power in part by exaggerating their own influence in our democracy.
First, we have a terrible habit of personalizing every issue. Many liberals think they gain points in the electorate by glomming onto a bogeyman, and slapping him or her. This helps the right-wing immensely in many ways. As I pointed out above, it helps them depress turnout. But it also amplifies their power way beyond reality. John Boehner represents one district, as does Paul Ryan. Mitch McConnell represents one state. The problem is, we concentrate on individual personalities, and often succeed in toppling many of them, but they keep being replaced by even more strident right-wingers. In replacing Dick Armey and Tom DeLay with Paul Ryan an Eric Cantor, what did we gain, exactly? And yet, that’s what we keep doing.
If we pushed a positive message as an alternative to right-wing drivel, and stopped repeating their crap to “counter” it, we would find that most of their swill would become completely discredited, and they’d have a hard time winning anything.
We could have won the reproductive rights argument years ago, if we hadn’t ceded the politics to them. The issue has never been about abortion. It’s about choice, and the far right wants to give a woman’s right to choose how or whether she decides to reproduce.
But we gave them the “abortion” argument, and let them frame it as a debate about “baby vs fetus,” when reproduction begins, and other completely irrelevant arguments. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cringed as I’ve heard liberals try to argue that a fetus is “a clump f cells” or something else equally cringe-worthy. And why do they get to be “pro-life?” Because we decided to “counter” their irrelevant arguments, that’s why.
Finally, let’s talk about the “mainstream media,” shall we? One more time, there IS no such thing anymore, if there ever really was.
The influence of Fox News does NOT come from its audience, it comes from us. Every time we repeat something from Fox and call it outrageous, we’re doing exactly what Roger Ailes wants. And when we talk about Fox as if it’s this huge propaganda organization with huge tentacles everywhere, and that millions of people make their voting decisions based on what Fox hosts say, I guarantee you, Ailes is cackling at us. It’s the same with Limbaugh (although you should still support #stoprush for other reasons), and Hannity, and Beck and all of the others.
The top-rated show on Fox is O’Reilly’s, and he barely pulls in 3 million viewers most nights. Prime time shows average 1-2 million, and most of the day, their audience is less than a million, and often around a half million or less. That’s roughly the same size audience as listen to Limbaugh and Hannity on the radio. Fox’s top rated show is dwarfed by each of the nightly network news programs, dwarfed by two of the three morning news shows in their first hour, where they actually report news, and even the third place morning news show rates higher than just about anything else on Fox. Limbaugh’s and Hannity’s ratings on the radio are actually lower than the news programs on NPR.
There’s no way 3 million people could possibly have that much influence over the body politic. And if they did, there are easily 20-30 million hardcore liberals out there. If we were doing what we should be doing, we’d have blunted their overall effect very easily. But too many of us are intimidated, and we’re too — dare I say it? — lazy to actually do the hard work necessary to create a progressive/liberal majority.
But there is no mainstream media any longer, anyway. As I explained in a previous post, most of us had access to 3-4 news sources at most 30-40 years ago, and we are inundated with news sources now. If there’s a problem, it’s that people have too much information at their disposal to bother to read any of it. That’s why the overall meme is so incredibly important, and why we should be more careful in how we promote it.