Open Letter to Democrats

I usually don’t get overly partisan when it comes to politics. But I’ve been upset for a long time about the inability of the left and center left to effectively articulate their message. Pundits, the press and plenty of people accost them for not having a clear message. They actually do have one but always seem to get in the way of making it understandable.

I think Democrats get off track when we start talking about policy. The political  right occupys the high ground, when it comes to how they have used framing to get people to support their policies. Taking back the high ground isn’t easy. Many of the values and concepts they use to make people think their policies are better are contested concepts. The other side has done a better job of selling their definitions of concepts such as liberty and freedom, opportunity and fairness, equality and prosperity. Selling our understanding of these concepts, based on our values, communicates underneath the surface noise of their definitions of words and their policies, where persuasion is possible, nigh probable. But we’ve done a piss poor job of communicating.

By closing the sale we could get voters to accept our definitions, which they already believe in, but have been suppressed. Showing people that they, too, share our values makes it easier for them to want to be in our group. This begs the question, what makes our group worth joining? What are our base values and how do we communicate them in a way that resonates with a person’s intuitive response, which is immediate, and not their measured response, which takes time and thought. In other words we need to make sure in the political Occam’s Razor the simplest answer is our answer.

Voters want to belong. They choose the group they think is best to belong to, who they think are the winners. We have more diversity in our group than in theirs. Our coalition, our group, will be, in time, the true winners, but that is not now readily apparent to the average they. Unfortunately we concentrate more on trying to convince them that our diversity is good. Instead we should show them how and where they can fit in to our diverse universe with their self respect and individuality intact. We need to tell them WHY a rising tide lifts all boats instead of only saying it and assuming people will accept it, just because it makes sense to us.

Progressives have a tendency to look down on people who don’t support their policies, considering them stupid. In our minds anyone who doesn’t accept our policies has to be stupid, because we know our policies are so superior that anyone with half a brain should be able to see that they are superior. The vast majority of these people are not stupid. It is extremely important that we stop this kind of arrogance. These people have been manipulated and are not worthy of scorn. They are sure smart enough to be aware that we ridicule and belittle them. This attitude is obviously is not helpful if we have any hope of persuading people that their vision is really our vision.

Rather, we need to welcome the people we disagree with on some several things. First we need to identify those folks whose views we will never change, about 30 to 35% of all people. Then we need to identify those we can persuade, listen to them, and assure them that we CARE about their families and their concerns. We can’t simply tell them what’s good for them and then assume they will accept our truth and vote for us. We assume that truth is absolute when it is in fact relative. We don’t understand their truth. For one they hate that we tell them what is good for them. It validates their feelings that we don’t care about them. The other side is better at convincing people that they care for them more than we do. That they are able to do this without any concrete evidence is as much about our failure as their competence.

For example the right has made such inroads with white male union members because they have been better at convincing them that they CARE more about them and their families than we do. They have put lots of energy into destroying unions because unions showed workers that Democrats truly cared about their jobs and their lives. We did this by supporting their united solidarity in meeting management from a position of power. But the right has been able to erode this solidarity with appeals to individual greed and fear. I don’t think we have helped much. We have created messaging specifically for unions that contradicts much of what we say to other demographics, which only legitimizes the doubt that is sown among them from being constantly told we lie to them.

This sort of thing makes me think we spend too much time, energy, and resources crafting messaging for each individual demographic. We complain that it’s so hard to keep our coalition united when we ourselves have divided them. Targeting a particular demographic can easily cause us to lose focus and alienate other specific demographics. Instead we should marshall our resources, develop and disseminate a strong, cogent, cohesive and persuasive message that appeals to all Americans. We need to touch a common nerve of the public.

Pretty much everybody know what the common theme is that motivates the modern voter. We virtually all think government is impotent and needs major change. Both Trump and Sanders have tapped in to this angst. Why do they both resonate with people, even though they are very much different? Because they have both said, vociferously, that they will bring about that change. The problem with each is that Sanders immediately goes into policy, which excites the faithful and worries the skeptics. The skeptics know Sanders can’t come through on his promises. And I think there are more skeptics among persuadable voters than there are socialist faithful. Trump on the other hand also makes promises he can’t keep. He is better able to sell his charisma without a shred of policy, but I feel a majority of persuadable voters fear him. And he is terribly dangerous, as is Cruz and the other two remaining Republican contenders. They are good at hiding the danger in their policies. They can make the scary seem logical, even desirable.

We are currently faced with a two pronged challenge. Get out a message that will give a Democratic President a congressional majority, and also put into motion a long term, visionary plan to change the political dialogue, perhaps for a long time. The clash between the authoritarian, fascist leaning right and the progressive, socialist leaning left is reaching an apex. One group will emerge. But the real battle is in preventing the plutocrats from controlling the leaders of either of those eventualities.

This is why it’s important that we activate the only people who can successfully oppose the plutocrats, a united citizenry. To do this the validity of our language must match the validity of our values, and thus our policy, assuming we advocate policy that speaks to the real needs of the people. A government of, by and for the people is better than a de facto dictatorship. That is our goal. This could be risky. It could lead to the plutocrats responding violently, in order to maintain power. That’s a frightening thought.

Now this is where I rub shoulders with the paranoid conspiracy buffs. Now I don’t think I cast irrational blame, or advocate extreme solutions, but I do think a violent result is not out of the question. The United States has been fortunate that we have only experienced one major internal violent clash. We have had peaceful transfer of power since our inception. But we are seeing public behavior previously unheard of. I have been bullish on America for a long time. I have believed in the future. But can the millennials I see as powerful agents of positive change move America into an evolutionary renaissance? I pray they can and will.

Why do I do what I do? I need to tell my story so that even one soul can see the world from a stance next to mine. I have finally discovered what I do well. I can see some things clearly and can communicate that vision. And you are reading what I see. It’s meant to resonate with you.

Please let me know if it doesn’t. It’s that important.

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