Monday, November 15, 2004The final discussion of Agre's essay on the nature of conservatism focuses on the appropriate response by liberals. Agre articulates a series of strategies the left can employ in challenging the ascendent right. They include:
Engaging in rational and systematic debate with conservative arguments
Responding to and imitating the Wall Journal's editorial page, which Agre describes as the conservative "war room." It sets the tenor for the rest of the movement.
Cultivating a left-leaning punditry who will aggressive challenge their conservative counterparts
Be more creative with liberal arguments (and presumably, liberal policy proposals)
Take logical argument seriously
Demonize the conservative brand in the same way they have done to liberalism
Work out a more systematic liberal worldview at the theoretical level
Develop a natural American idiom for liberalism. No more techno-speak.
Pay attention to the use of language
Stop paying homage to Hollywood
Assess the 60's, both good and bad
Articulate the rationale and moral force of non-violence
Expose conservative use of the federal budget
Find more liberal patrons like George Soros
Develop liberal institutions, particularly the Democratic Party
These are perfectly sensible proposals, although I might quibble with some of the details. I think we can distill what is a very long list down to a pretty basic strategy: work through a new set of proposals to the problems facing America, and then develop a liberal rhetorical strategy and left-wing political institutions to implement them. The fact that many people have suggested these approaches (myself included) does not make them trivial. It is because they are so obvious that many of us are so frustrated. Why have these strategies not been implemented years ago?
It appears that there is now a consensus on the left that we need to refine our message and that liberals need to enunciate a more compelling political narrative. Even James Carville has said as much. I also think that the last election demonstrated a resurgence of liberal organizational activism. What concerns me is that most of this work has been anti-conservative or anti-Bush. To the extent that our opposition gives us insights into what we are for, and teaches us how we can pursue our aims more effectively, that is all to the good. But I fear that our motivation is defining us. We are beginning to absorb the mind-set of an opposition party, which is to become a minority party.
So let's continue to dissect and rebut conservatism. But let's not forget that our real interest is in advancing liberalism.