Tuesday, October 19, 2004
For those of you are interested in such things :) Kerry has retaken the lead in the electoral college and Bush's weekend mini-surge is apparently over. If it ever existed. The sky is not falling after all.
To return to my topic of the last few days.......
Yesterday I spoke in some vague generalities about how to cope with neo-fascism/Calhounism in the South. Today I want to get into specifics. In the past Democrats have relied on positioning in an attempt to move from social to economic issues. I think this approach failed because we failed to craft an overarching message that was compelling to working class Southerners. Issue statements are stale, dead things. It is necessary to animate those issues with a moving spirit- with a unifying set of themes.
I have argued that we should tar Bush and his cronies as un-American. Americans do not smear each other's reputations, impose their religious beliefs on others, shout down people who disagree with them, suppress the vote, throw people in jail without a trial, invade other countries, or deliberately wreck people's middle class aspirations. We do not stomp on the poor or unlucky or unpopular. I think most Americans, even our opponents, would concur with these basic sentiments. we have not always lived up to that noble vision of ourselves, but we have always pursued that vision. It is the America that we want to be, which in many ways is more important than any America that is.
How is it the Calhounites have made so much progress in the face of their underlying unpopularity? The biggest reason is that they 1) distract the voters and 2)misrepresent their and our positions. Everyone should have heard by now how uninformed most voters are about where the 2 candidates really stand. I think another method is that the Calhounites have simply mis-labelled themselves. The modern right calls itself conservative, when it is anything but. What is conservative about big deficits and imperialism? By claiming the name "conservative," the right has laid claim to an important and valuable American political tradition. We should strip them of that title- we should never, ever call them conservatives. I will try not to do so myself.
By basic argument is that we as liberal Democrats need to tie ourselves to the elements of U.S. history worth claiming. We need to rhetorically isolate our enemies. Hamilton & Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, the Roosevelts...these leaders are all ours. We will leave them with the racists and demagogues that they have emulated. We need to speak in very specific terms about where they intend to take the country. We must identify the America their policies are going to create- we must unmask them. Their vision of the future is so repugnant that I think most Americans will recoil in horror.
This strategy is targetted at the one part of the country that has always been the most benighted and poorly led, the South. We must go South, not at the head of armies, but armed with a message of renewal. White southerners have for far too long been deceived and impoverished. But this also means that we must take seriously the cultural values of Southerners- small towns, tradition, faith. Is there anything really wrong with these things? What is wrong with creating a space in America for this sort of life, as long as doing so does not compromise other visions?
My approach is partly substantive- Democrats need to reconsider our adherence to federal government bureaucracies, and treat small businesses with more consideration. But the main thrust is rhetorical. Democrats have failed to define ourselves or our opponents, so the right has done so for us. Liberals have to construct a narrative which speaks to the very real concerns of working class Americans, North and South.