Progressive values negate our negatives

Posted on September 11, 2019

Liberals, lefties, environmentalists, unionists, consumer advocates—all progressive types—suffer from negative stereotypes. Some of these stereotypes were invented by the right-wing messaging machine, and others are self-inflicted. By using progressive values, we address and reverse some pernicious assumptions held by persuadable Americans. When we explain that we support freedom, opportunity and security for all:

We’re patriots. The right wing has been engaged in a concerted campaign to persuade voters that progressives “hate America.” We’re the “blame America first” crowd, they say. Frankly, we often lean into that punch. We do hate injustice in America. We are eager to make our country better, and fast. But we have to make it clear that we love America—we are just as patriotic as conservatives. In fact, by wanting to preserve our nation’s freedoms and fix problems, we show that we care about America more than they do (especially Trumpites). There’s nothing more patriotic than standing up for our democracy. There’s nothing more patriotic than defending our Constitution. When we talk about freedom, opportunity and security, it demonstrates that we love America and what it stands for.

We’re for effective government. At the beginning of his famous essay On Liberty, John Stuart Mill wrote that he sought to explore “the nature and limits of power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual. Surely we can agree with Mill that government’s legitimate role is not limitless. That’s what voters want to hear from us, that although we believe government has an important role to play, there are limits to that role and we know where those limits are. We’re not for big government, we’re for smart government—the government Americans need to protect freedom, promote opportunity, and provide security—and not one bit more. When we talk about freedom, opportunity and security, it demonstrates that we know where government belongs, and where it doesn’t.

We’re for fair markets that benefit everyone. Progressives are widely considered to be anti-business. But that’s absurd. There are well over five million businesses in America. We’re against them all? We’re against the ones we work for? We’re against restaurants, bookstores, and bowling alleys? No, progressives are perceived as anti-business because we often focus on injustices between large corporations and their employees or the public at large. We need to make it much clearer that we also care about injustices between big and small businesses and between corporations and their stockholders. In other words, we favor a fair market system that promotes opportunity for all—and honest, hard-working businesspeople will benefit more than anyone from a fair system. When we talk about freedom, opportunity and security, it demonstrates that we’re actually pro-business.

We’re practical. Voters tend to believe the stereotype that progressives are unrealistically kindhearted—to the point that we coddle the undeserving poor. And the values of freedom, opportunity and security are certainly compassionate because we favor them for everyone. But voters can also support those values for selfish reasons, because they want freedom, opportunity and security for themselves, their families, and friends. When we talk about freedom, opportunity and security, we’re framing our solutions in a way that enables persuadable voters to see themselves in the picture, helping them to recognize our policies as sensible, not softhearted.

We’re confident about what we stand for. Any official who has cast a lot of votes can be painted as a flip-flopper, even when that isn’t the case. The antidote for this affliction is a clear political philosophy. There’s a related advantage. Have you ever noticed how conservatives tend to speak with a lot of confidence? They tend to know their talking points. Conservatives are like the people at a party who know the lyrics to all the songs—and we’re the ones who can only hum. That’s because they have a fairly simple philosophy, one that’s easy to memorize. When we talk about freedom, opportunity and security, we sound confident that we know what we stand for—and confidence is persuasive.

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What is message framing, anyway?

Posted on August 27, 2019

Good question! Let’s start with a little quiz specially crafted for history buffs. When were these political slogans in vogue, and what were they about? (1) Tippecanoe and Tyler Too (2) Don’t swap horses...

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It is time to ban assault weapons, again

Posted on August 15, 2019

We all know that some guns should be banned or severely restricted. Machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, silencers, grenades, and many other types of extremely dangerous weapons were essentially banned by the commonsense National Firearms Act (NFA)...

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Brand-new edition of our advocacy manual, Preparing to Win

Posted on July 31, 2019

Here is the Introduction to our brand-new Second Edition of Preparing to Win: Why an advocacy manual now? We want change; that’s why we are progressive advocates. We seek to redirect and reform public...

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Brand-new Fourth Edition of Voicing Our Values

Posted on July 17, 2019

This is the Introduction to our brand-new edition of Voicing Our Values: Politics is the art of persuasion. But persuasion is hard and getting harder. Today, facts are rationalized away and lies are ubiquitous....

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Why we celebrate the Fourth of July

Posted on July 3, 2019

This year, Donald Trump is twisting the traditional nonpartisan “Capitol Fourth” celebration in Washington, D.C. into a grotesque partisan rally featuring himself and military weaponry. This is wrong on so many levels. The Fourth...

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Avoid the passive voice

Posted on June 19, 2019

Richard Nixon and his press secretary were famously ridiculed for saying “mistakes were made.” And yet, the same phrase has been used by Democrats and Republicans ever since. To many people, the passive voice...

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Don’t repeat the opponents’ frame

Posted on June 3, 2019

In his book Don’t Think of an Elephant, Professor George Lakoff provides the most basic principle of framing: “Do not use their language. Their language picks out a frame—and it won’t be the frame...

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Please don’t reject messaging as “spin” or “manipulation”

Posted on May 22, 2019

As we go around the country giving messaging workshops, we’re nearly always asked whether our message framing is a gimmick. After all, conservatives make it seem like a cynical game. They refer to the...

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Don’t accept the normalization of hate speech

Posted on May 8, 2019

America is not really a nation of laws. Our statutes govern only the grossest of behavior. The way Americans behave toward each other day-to-day—attitude and etiquette, willingness and wariness, prejudice and tolerance—is governed mostly...

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