How to argue over the Chanukah table

Posted on December 5, 2018

In the same spirit as our last blog, here are three more examples of how to argue progressive positions using the basic rules of persuasion described in our book, Voicing Our Values. Those rules are:

(1) Begin in agreement. You cannot win an argument by convincing listeners that they are wrong. Make it clear that they are right; that you agree with them about problems and goals. Only then can you provide a persuasive bridge from their preconceptions to your policy solutions.

(2) Use progressive values. In politics, values are ideals that describe the kind of society that we are trying to build. When you use broadly-shared values, you stay in agreement with your audience. Such values include: freedom, privacy, opportunity, justice, fair share, level playing field, security, safety, and quality of life.

(3) Show listeners how they benefit. The progressive base may be persuaded by appeals to the common good. But most Americans want to know how a policy affects themselves, their family, and their friends. Tell people how they benefit either directly or indirectly. Show that you are on their side.

Here the rules are applied:


Values to use: Opportunity, equal opportunity, fairness, level playing field, fair share, opportunity for each and every child

Messaging strategy: Focus on your listeners’ own children and local schools rather than education in the abstract. Push back on standardization by pointing out what parents know—that every child is different and requires individualized attention. And change the narrative based on standardized test scores to one based on how well schools provide every student the opportunity to learn and excel.

Sample narrative:

Public schools serving our families and our communities must provide each and every child the opportunity to reach their fullest potential in life. There are no standardized children; every child has different strengths and weaknesses. That’s why we need to offer a complete curriculum provided by professional teachers who have the training to give the individualized attention that every child needs.


Values to use: Security, safety, health, protection, responsibility, quality of life

Messaging strategy: Americans are more worried about the environment than ever before, and overwhelmingly, they believe in climate change. Nevertheless, most people are focused on how environmental issues affect them directly. So, personalize your language. Talk about the air “we” breathe, the water “we” drink, and the health and safety of “our” children.

Sample narrative:

We’ve got to protect our community’s health and safety, and our quality of life. We understand that includes keeping our rivers and streams clean. The [Big Bend Project] would eliminate a great deal of our pollution problem. This is the time for our city to take the responsibility to preserve the quality of life here, not just for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren.


Values to use: Opportunity, equal opportunity, justice, fairness, fair share, fair rules, level playing field

Messaging strategy: While Americans don’t like government in the abstract, they very much like what it does. So, focus on tangible benefits of government: providing health care, environmental safety, education, infrastructure, and much more. In fact, polls show that Americans want stronger enforcement of rules and regulations to make the rich and powerful follow the same fair rules as everyone else.

Sample narrative:

We need to ensure that everyone plays by the same fair set of rules. But today, the system is often rigged to favor the wealthy and powerful over ordinary Americans. Whether it’s stopping prescription drug companies from overcharging patients, prohibiting hidden credit card fees, or eliminating tax dodges for special interests—we need stronger enforcement to ensure that you and I are treated fairly.