How to argue over the Christmas or Kwanzaa table

Posted on December 18, 2018

Here are three more examples of how to argue the progressive position on issues based on 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.

Below are short discussions of three issues the might come up: (1) public safety, (2) taxes, and (3) civil justice.


Values to use: Security, safety, protection, justice

Messaging strategy: Progressives usually want to open a discussion about criminal justice with the ideas of fairness and equal opportunity. But that’s the wrong direction. Americans want to know how your policies will protect them. So, focus on explaining how your progressive measures will prevent crime, reduce recidivism, and improve the quality of life for everyone.

Sample narrative:

The most fundamental job of government is to protect you from crime, to make all law-abiding people safer. That means more than punishment. It means diverting nonviolent and young offenders from future crimes. It means changing police procedures that lead authorities toward the wrong suspects. And it means using the best technology to protect the innocent while identifying the guilty. These policies make you and your families safer.


Values to use: Fairness, fair share, justice, equal opportunity, level playing field

Messaging strategy: Two-thirds of Americans believe that upper-income people and large corporations pay too little in taxes. But the desire to tax the rich is heavily influenced by partisanship. While 4/5ths of Democrats and 2/3rds of Independents would increase taxes on the wealthy, only 1/3rd of Republicans agree. Virtually everyone believes our tax system is unfair one way or another, so focus on tax fairness.

Sample narrative:

Our tax system is unfair. The tax burden on working families has increased while rich people and huge corporations have been given tax giveaways and loopholes. That’s wrong—everyone should pay their fair share. We need to change the rules to create a tax system that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few. One step is [describe your specific proposal]…


Values to use: Justice, equal justice, civil justice, equal opportunity, fairness, fair rules, fair markets, level playing field, security, safety, protection

Messaging strategy: Americans believe that everyone in the U.S. economy ought be compelled to play by the same fair rules, but nevertheless, the rich and powerful get special treatment. So, attack policies that “rig the system” to benefit the wealthy. That describes just about all types of consumer protection. Incidentally, don’t say “tort reform.” It’s not a reform, it’s a shift in wealth.

Sample narrative:

Our courts must deliver justice to all. We cannot deny people just and fair compensation for real injuries, especially when they’re taking on rich and powerful corporations. We need a level playing field. This right-wing proposal would rig the system to shift the cost of injuries from a corporation that’s at fault to the victim who is innocent. Our goal is to protect you and your families, neighbors and friends.