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Monday, December 8, 2014

Building A Democratic party that can "be all it can be"

Lakoff identifies what is wrong

If we want our party to "be all that it can be" -- we need to recognize that party officers do not always have the same interest as party members. The Democratic party doesn't belong to the officials, if it is to be a democratic institution it has to belong to US.

To move the conversation forward we have to start with the recognition that our own leadership has been failing us. They've been doing so for some very understandable reasons. Some of this is articulated in an article by George Lakoff that someone shared with me last night/this morning, but that I've noticed myself. He at least puts it into a list of bullet points.[]

Lakoff writes:

"It is time to shine a light on the perpetually losing strategies used by Democrats, and particularly on the Democratic infrastructure that promotes those strategies. []

Then he goes on:

I am asking whether the old strategies can be separated from the community of strategists, so that new strategies can be adopted by that community that are authentic, moral, and fully general.[]

I'd suggest we'll have to work outside many from the community of strategists, because many of them go to the same schools, share the same prejudices and are as cynical as their republican counterparts. Firing them won't be easy. Lakoff goes on:

The strategists form an infrastructure that all Democrats have come to depend on—candidates, elected officials, Democrats in government, and citizens who align, or might align, either morally or practically with progressive policies. This well-funded, and well-connected strategic infrastructure includes public relations firms, pollsters, consultants, researchers, trainers, communication specialists, speechwriters, and their funders.[]

This infrastructure often has motives and agenda that are not only at odds with rank and file Democrats but inimical to the moral purpose of the Democratic party and ultimately to the success of the party as a whole. Despite that, Lakoff notes:

Democrats depend on this expensive infrastructure. The strategists seem to assume that their strategies are natural and obvious, the best that can be done. It is time to look closely at these strategies and question them. The same mistakes, if they are mistakes, should not be repeated.[]

He then notices something I think you and I have already noticed too, these crazy "strategies during the 2014 election":

Bad Strategies and messaging

  • "Direct your strategy to the election, rather than to changing how Americans understand what Democrats are and to changing day-to-day political discourse. In reality, it is the day-to-day discourse changes that most affect elections and move our politics over time."

The reason they do this is that each of these elections is for a single candidate, or at best for a single election cycle. These marketeers have a superficial and tactical understanding of what they are doing. They are serving the selfish interests of their employers not the party or the people of this country.

  • "Use demographic categories to segment the electorate, categories from the census (race, gender, ethnicity, age, marital status, income, zip code), as well as publicly available party registration. This does not include segmentation for conservative and progressive moral worldviews, which can be done with the right questions.."
  • Thus they are applying the sometimes effective tactics of segmented marketing to selling a product, a candidate, rather than engaging in politics as a noble profession. He might as well be soap. And they try to make him seem "all things to all people" -- which only works with uninformed people and since they don't vote. Doesn't work very well.

  • "Assume uniformity across the demographic categories. Poll on which issues are “most important,” e.g., for women (or single women), for each minority group, for young people, and so on. This separates the issues from one another and creates “issue silos.” In reality, issues are systemically related via moral worldviews."
  • Lakoff is observing that politics is not only about the moment, single issues or electing one candidate.

  • "Assume language is neutral and that the same poll questions will have the same meaning for everyone polled. In reality, language is defined relative to conceptual frames. And the same words can be “contested,” that is, they can have opposite meanings depending on one’s moral values."
  • I'd say that the teaching in political marketing courses has gone downhill or these pollsters and operatives would know better. But Lakoff is observing the "naive realism" of our professional political class, who are often personally incredibly cynical.

  • "Assume that people vote on the basis of material self-interest. Design different messages to appeal to different demographic groups. In reality, poor conservatives, as well as rich liberals, will vote against their material interests when they identify with a candidate and his or her values. Values trump issues."
  • Many political operatives ASSUME that everyone thinks the way they do. For them politics is a game played for the payoff on Friday or in the form of revolving doors and sinecures. They assume everyone else is motivated by self-interest alone. Cons at least know that their voters can be swayed with false moral claims as well as fear. But for some of these 'po'fessionals' it's football. It's all a game. And if they get a chance they'll jump sides like Dick Morris did after he left Bill Clinton's team.

  • "In polling, apply statistical methods to the answers given in each demographic group. This will impose a “bell curve” in the results. The bell curve will impose a “middle” in each case. The middle may well be illusory, given the wide separation in worldviews. This is shown in biconceptualism research."
  • Bell curves are dangerous because politics like human beings is chaotic. There are more than three variables. And there are power curves. These curves have "fat tails" -- it's not a bell curve and politics involves both negative and positive feedback loops.

  • "Assume that most voters are in the middle imposed by the bell curve. Suggest that candidates and elected officials move to the middle. If their beliefs are on the left of the “middle,” they should still move to the right to be where the bell curve claims that most voters are. This will be helping conservatives, by supporting their beliefs. And your candidate may be saying things Democrats don’t believe. Your candidate will become Republican-lite. Voters at least some conservative values will go for real Republicans, not Republicans-lite."
  • I don't know how often I've tried to warn Democratic candidates of this. We Dems have lost one "con" democratic after another thanks to this effort to be "republican lite" rather than have integrity. Genuine people win in "red" districts.

  • "Check the polls to see how popular the present Democratic president is; if he is not popular, design your message to dissociate your candidate from the president. This will reinforce the unpopularity of the president. When members of his own party disown him, voters will come to think he should be disowned and so should the party he leads."
  • Voters appreciate genuineness. They don't appreciate falsehood. They also don't appreciate cowards.

  • "Attack your opponents as being “extremists” when they hold views typical of the far right. If voters happen to share any of those views, you will be attacking those voters as extremists, even if that are partly progressive. Your opponents will be seen as courageous, standing up for what they believe. You will be helping your opponents."
  • Attack them as liars, cheats, corrupt, thieves, hypocrites not extremists. And have facts that show why this hurts. Extremism is in the eyes of the beholders. The Republicans use us Democrats as tools to mainstream their craziest ideas. They've been doing this since Ronald Reagan's handlers learned how to play us in the late 60's.

  • "Attack your candidate’s opponent for getting money from rich corporations or individuals. This will help your opponent among Republicans (and some Democrats) who respect the values of the wealthy and successful."
  • That might work in primaries against our own people. But Lakoff is right -- it's useless against cons.

  • "Argue against your opponents by quoting them, using their language and negating that language. In reality, negating a frame reinforces the frame, as in the sentence “Don’t think of an elephant!” This practice will mostly reinforce the views of your opponent."
  • [ Lakoff Article ]

    One of the biggest mistakes we've been doing is to use the language and newspeak of the opposition. When we deny "death taxes", praise "Obamacare" or use the word "entitlements" to talk about Social Security or Medicare, we are not only falling into Conservative rebranding, we are aiding and validating their propaganda. We are also being reactive rather than proactive. Thus, as Lakoff notes:

    "Such strategies miss the opportunity to present an overriding moral stand that fits the individual issues, while saying clearly what ideals Democrats stand for as Democrats. There happens to be such an overriding ideal that most Democrats authentically believe in." [ Lakoff Article ]

    He then asks the analysts first question: "Why is this important?"

    Why is this Important

    "First: Because all politics is moral. Voters vote for what they see as right. Conservatives and progressives have almost opposite ideas as to what is right. In candidates, voters look for people who have what they see as the right character, people who will do, and stand up for, what they see as right." [ Lakoff Article ]

    Unfortunately many of our operatives and "po'fessionals" are amoral. They think that they can woo Conservatives to vote for progressives by making Democrats say conservative things. But it's not that simple. There is this little thing of integrity. And if it's missing no one is going to change their mind. But voters will change their minds sometimes because while Lakoff is right about the Cons. Voters have certain core values about what is right and wrong and those are mostly gut values. In real life most of us have a mix of "conservative" and "progressive" values. And as polls have shown, often salt of the earth folks are actually more progressive than what is billed as "conservative." And that despite years of Faux propaganda.

    "Second: Progressive and conservatives have very different understandings of democracy. For progressives empathy is at the center of the very idea of democracy. Democracy is a governing system in which citizens care about their fellow citizens and work through their government to provide public resources for all. In short, in a democracy, the private depends on the public." [ Lakoff Article ]

    Alternative Progressive Messaging

    And yet many ordinary people understand Democracy in a more progressive fashion than the conservatives do. Which is why conservatives depend on sophism and sleight of hand to scare ordinary folks and fear to shut down the empathy ordinary folks would otherwise fear. We combat this conservative generating fear with positive messages:

    "Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) says it out loud. If you have a business it depends on public resources: roads, bridges, the Interstate highway system, sewers, a water supply, airports and air traffic control, the Federal Reserve, a patent office, public education for your employees, public health, the electric grid, the satellite communications, the Internet, and more. You can’t run a business without these. Say it out loud: The private depends on the public." [ Lakoff Article ]

    Infrastructure is a bedrock shared value. It used to be a place where conservatives and democrats made common ground.

    "The same holds true of individuals, who depend on public resources like clean air, clean water, safe food and products, public safety, access to education and health care, housing, employment — as well as everything listed above." [ Lakoff Article ]

    And ordinary conservatives, who the movement conservatives are trying to con are still progressive on "freedom issues" that provide "public resources" for providing "necessary freedoms" such as:

    • Voting: Without the ability to vote in free elections, you are not free.
    • Health: If you get sick and don’t have health care, you are not free.
    • Education: Without education, you lack the knowledge and skills to earn a decent living or be aware of the possibilities of life, and are therefore not free.
    • Women: If you are denied control over your body, you are not free.
    • Marriage: If you are in love and denied the ability to marry publicly, you are not free.
    • Vast income inequality: When most economic gains go to the wealthiest of the wealthy, and not those who did the work, then most working people are not free.
    • Race: When you are treated with suspicion and disdain, you are not free.
    • Corporate Control: When corporations control your life for their benefit, you are not free.
    • Global Warming: As the glaciers melt, the rivers go dry, the seas rise up, the fish die, and you are overwhelmed by drought, violent storms, floods, heat waves and freezes, you are not free.
    • But we have to communicate this or we are sunk. It's not just a matter of messaging, but messaging is important.

      And Lakoff also notes the need to combat fear, which played an important role in the 2014 election:

    • Fear: When you are emotionally gripped by whipped-up unreal fear, you are not free.
    "As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pointed out, freedom from fear is a vital freedom."

    But fear is a powerful tool of the Right Wing. They have psychological data that shows that fear paralyzes progressive impulses and is one reason why people vote for conservatives and fear-mongering politicians. And he notes how:

    "In the 2014 election, conservatives played on fear—of ISIS and Ebola."

    We got trammeled because instead of channeling Roosevelt and saying "We have naught to fear but fear itself" our politicians played right into the fear mongering of Republican Governors and scoundrel Hospital managers (such as Dallas Presbyterian) who used fear of Ebola to scare the bejeezies out of people all over the country and blame the "scary black man" for their mismanagement and recklessness.

    Lakoff notes that we

    "Progressives instinctively know all this, but few say it. Instead, they follow the old strategies and talk issue-by-issue, interest group by interest group, about isolated facts, policies, and programs." [ Lakoff Article ]

    In short we are using bad strategy and doubling down when the strategy fails. Lakoff then says something I'm planning to seguey off of:

    "Imagine if Americans understood instinctively that Democrats stand for the most basic of freedoms, that those freedoms arise from public resources provided by citizens like themselves who care about their fellow Americans as well as themselves. In my experience, that is overwhelmingly true. Why not say it? Proudly. Over and over." [ Lakoff Article ]

    We conservative Americans want to conserve the real values our country stands for!

    "And why not train ordinary progressive citizens who want to be spokespeople to speak out in their communities. The conservatives have been doing this for decades, throughout the US and in 15 other countries, with scary success. They need to be countered." [ Lakoff Article ]

    But I'd go further than to talk about "training ordinary people to be spokespeople." We need to organize and train ordinary people to run the Democratic party and the progressive movement from bottom up, in every county, town, city, neighborhood where local government is hurting and where such efforts can result in better government. The Cons are doing this. They run conservatives for posts from county commissioner to dog catcher and these people get trained in retail politics, taking care of constituents and how to be a representative through this experience. They don't depend on fearless leaders so much this way. Though because their ideology is so fracked they wind up developing a deep bench of nutcases. Those nutcases get elected because they seem genuine and do the basics of retail politics. Howard Dean advocated a 50 State Strategy years ago. Our po'fessional politicans won't do it. It's our job to move in and "help them" and maybe help some of them to find another line of work.

    And it starts with putting together a list of Demands, similar to Bernie Sander's list:

    Bernie Sanders' 12 points

    Bernie Sander's proposals make a good starting point for a generalized plank.

    1. Rebuilding Our Roads

    "We need a major investment to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure: roads, bridges, water systems, waste water plants, airports, railroads and schools. It has been estimated that the cost of the Bush-Cheney Iraq War, a war we should never have waged, will total $3 trillion by the time the last veteran receives needed care. A $1 trillion investment in infrastructure could create 13 million decent paying jobs and make this country more efficient and productive. We need to invest in infrastructure, not more war. []

    2. Reversing Climate Change

    "The United States must lead the world in reversing climate change and make certain that this planet is habitable for our children and grandchildren. We must transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and sustainable energies. Millions of homes and buildings need to be weatherized, our transportation system needs to be energy efficient and we need to greatly accelerate the progress we are already seeing in wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and other forms of sustainable energy. Transforming our energy system will not only protect the environment, it will create good paying jobs.[Bernie Sanders' 12 Point plan]

    3. Creating Jobs

    "We need to develop new economic models to increase job creation and productivity. Instead of giving huge tax breaks to corporations which ship our jobs to China and other low-wage countries, we need to provide assistance to workers who want to purchase their own businesses by establishing worker-owned cooperatives. Study after study shows that when workers have an ownership stake in the businesses they work for, productivity goes up, absenteeism goes down and employees are much more satisfied with their jobs.[Bernie Sanders' 12 Point plan]

    4. Protecting Unions

    "Union workers who are able to collectively bargain for higher wages and benefits earn substantially more than non-union workers. Today, corporate opposition to union organizing makes it extremely difficult for workers to join a union. We need legislation which makes it clear that when a majority of workers sign cards in support of a union, they can form a union[Bernie Sanders' 12 Point plan]

    5. Raising the Wage

    "The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage. We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. No one in this country who works 40 hours a week should live in poverty.[Bernie Sanders' 12 Point plan]

    6. Pay Equity

    "Women workers today earn 78 percent of what their male counterparts make. We need pay equity in our country -- equal pay for equal work.

    7. Making Trade Work for Workers

    "Since 2001 we have lost more than 60,000 factories in this country, and more than 4.9 million decent-paying manufacturing jobs. We must end our disastrous trade policies (NAFTA, CAFTA, PNTR with China, etc.) which enable corporate America to shut down plants in this country and move to China and other low-wage countries. We need to end the race to the bottom and develop trade policies which demand that American corporations create jobs here, and not abroad.[Bernie Sanders' 12 Point plan]

    8. Cutting College Costs

    "In today's highly competitive global economy, millions of Americans are unable to afford the higher education they need in order to get good-paying jobs. Further, with both parents now often at work, most working-class families can't locate the high-quality and affordable child care they need for their kids. Quality education in America, from child care to higher education, must be affordable for all. Without a high-quality and affordable educational system, we will be unable to compete globally and our standard of living will continue to decline.[Bernie Sanders' 12 Point plan]

    9. Breaking Up Big Banks

    "The function of banking is to facilitate the flow of capital into productive and job-creating activities. Financial institutions cannot be an island unto themselves, standing as huge profit centers outside of the real economy. Today, six huge Wall Street financial institutions have assets equivalent to 61 percent of our gross domestic product - over $9.8 trillion. These institutions underwrite more than half the mortgages in this country and more than two-thirds of the credit cards. The greed, recklessness and illegal behavior of major Wall Street firms plunged this country into the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. They are too powerful to be reformed. They must be broken up.[Bernie Sanders' 12 Point plan]

    10. Bringing Health Care to All

    "The United States must join the rest of the industrialized world and recognize that health care is a right of all, and not a privilege. Despite the fact that more than 40 million Americans have no health insurance, we spend almost twice as much per capita on health care as any other nation. We need to establish a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system.[Bernie Sanders' 12 Point plan]

    11. Ending Poverty

    "Millions of seniors live in poverty and we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country. We must strengthen the social safety net, not weaken it. Instead of cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and nutrition programs, we should be expanding these programs.[Bernie Sanders' 12 Point plan]

    12. Stopping Tax Dodging Corporations

    "At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, we need a progressive tax system in this country which is based on ability to pay. It is not acceptable that major profitable corporations have paid nothing in federal income taxes, and that corporate CEOs in this country often enjoy an effective tax rate which is lower than their secretaries. It is absurd that we lose over $100 billion a year in revenue because corporations and the wealthy stash their cash in offshore tax havens around the world. The time is long overdue for real tax reform. []

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