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Why Republicans Are Winning & We’re All Losing

2011 March 25

I’ve had a life-long love of politics.  I love debating, I love learning about law and policy and how it is made, how it is shaped.  I love talking about law and policy with people who disagree with me, and who can articulate their beliefs without screaming vitriol.  But now, I am thinking about breaking up with politics.  I just can’t take it anymore.

If you are a friend of mineor have read some of my articles for The Busy Signalyou probably know I’m no fan of the Republican Party or of social conservatives.  So, most people assume I’m a Democrat.  I’m not.  I remember looking at my voter registration card  when I was 18 and deciding what party I should register with.  I registered as an Independent, because while the Republican Party’s politics disgust and disturb me, I find the anemic responses of the Democrats equally repulsive.

While I despise the tactics used by the Republican Party to manipulate voters and their emotions, the Republicans have something the Democrats lack completely: chutzpah.  Guts, balls, moxie.  The Democrats act like wet rags while the Republican apparatus effectively runs national policy.  There’s this line from the T.V. series The West Wing which addresses this point: “The American people like guts… and Republicans have got ’em.”  Those of us on the left of the political spectrum thought a new day had dawned with the ascent of Barack Obama to the national political stage, and the groundswell of his election to the presidency.  But that momentum seems to have quickly deflated under the weight of two wars, a shitty economy, the BP oil spill, unrelenting attacks by conservatives, and the tendency of Democrats to eat their own young with constant in-fighting.

Like their politics or not, people know what the Republican Party stands for, and they know Republicans aren’t afraid to state and stick by their beliefsnot always to their benefit. If Democrats, or Progressives, or whatever you want to call the “liberals” want to win back the American public, they have to actually be liberals and stop running towards the political center.  To quote a particularly aggravated commenter on the Daily Kos: “The Democrats don’t give a flying fuck about their base, and will do anything to convince the American public that they will abandon their base to pacify the American public.  Unfortunately, the Democrats believe that the American world looks every bit like the world of the Republicans, but they are JUST FUCKING WRONG.  The American public looks JUST like the Democratic party.”

Republicans are so successful at asserting their positions and manipulating American politics because they frame their political beliefs on the basis of their version of morality.  Republicans and conservatives know how to exploit voters’ emotions when it comes to hot-button issues, especially those that pertain to religion and morals like abortion, gay marriage, womens’ rights, gay rights, labor movements, education, and taxation.  The Republicans have managed to position themselves as the moral compass of the country, whilst the Democrats have essentially ceded that position by not fighting back or just giving up without even bothering to contest it.  Republicans are successful because they manage to frame every single issue within a moral framework, one that positions them as being on the “right” side of history, religion, and morality.

Part of the reason why Republicans are so successful at this is because they know how to exploit issues and language to play on peoples’ fears and emotional responses.  University of California Berkeley Professor George Lakoff explained this in his book Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservative Think, which is one of my favorite books on politics.  Lakoff explains how the stances of Republicans and Democrats on seemingly unrelated issues stem from vastly differing “conceptions of morality and ideal family life”.  Lakoff argues that the diametrically opposed concepts of the family and morality are largely responsible for the conflicts between conservatives and liberals: “The link between family-based morality and politics comes from one of the most common ways we have of conceptualizing what a nation is, namely, as a family.  It is the common, unconscious, and automatic metaphor of the Nation-as-Family that produces contemporary conservatism from Strict Father morality and contemporary liberalism from Nurturant Parent morality.”  Lakoff continues:

Conservatives know that politics is not just about policy and interest groups and issue-by-issue debate.  They have learned that politics is about family and morality, about myth and metaphor and emotional identification.  They have, over twenty-five years, managed to forge conceptual links in the voters’ minds between morality and public policy.  They have done this by carefully working out their values, comprehending their myths, and designing a language to fit those values and myths so that they can evoke them with powerful slogans, repeated over and over again, that reinforce those family-morality-policy links, until the connections have come to seem natural to many Americans, including many in the media.  As long as liberals ignore the moral, mythic, and emotional dimension of politics, as long as they stick to policy and interest groups and issue-by-issue debate, they will have no hope of understanding the nature of the political transformation that has overtaken this country and they will have no hope of changing it.

Liberals—and Democrats—fundamentally do not understand the “family-morality-policy” link, and have succeeded in achieving a massive failure to communicate their beliefs—and the reasoning and justifications behind it—to the public.  The Republicans and conservatives have created a successful, simple to understand, cohesive ideology and narrative which they are highly effective at using to attack progressive causes and ideals.  There is a reason why President Reagan was called “The Great Communicator” and all Republicans seem to worship at his altar: he created a captivating, conservative narrative linking the great, mythic ideals of American life with Republican politics and policy.  Republicans often claim that Democrats don’t get it, and they’re right, Democrats don’t get it.  As Lakoff puts it:

Because conservatives understand the moral dimension of our politics better than liberals do, they have been able not only to gain the political victories but to use politics in the service a much larger moral and cultural agenda for America, an agenda that if carried out would, I believe, destroy much of the moral progress made in the twentieth century.  Liberals have been helpless to stop them, largely, I think, because they don’t understand the conservative worldview and the role of moral idealism and the family within it.

The consequences of the liberals’ failure to communicate is—and will be—dire.  We are already seeing it in the aftermath of the November Congressional elections with the organized, coordinated efforts of the Republican National Committee (RNC) to destroy and dismantle labor rights, women’s and reproductive rights, environmental regulations, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  Meanwhile, Democrats and liberals have little to no organized response.

The Democrats, Progressives, and liberals of this country need to learn how to better communicate their ideals and positions, because right now were are being decimated by Republicans, Conservatives, and Tea-Partiers.  Liberalism is a cohesive ideology, it does make sense, and those who are left-of-center are not immoral deviants dragging this country to Sodom and Gomorrah.  Liberalism is built around the idea of a national family, because it is about people.  Liberals stand for humanity, for compassion, and for equality.  These are ideals a vast majority of Americans admire and aspire to.  They just don’t identify Liberalism and Democrats with those ideals.  Until the Democrats learn how to communicate those principles to the American public, they will keep losing elections, and Republicans will succeed in re-making American into their ideal.  Do we want to go back to an America without civil rights, labor rights, and environmental protections?  To an America where two people of different races couldn’t marry?  To an America that denied women the right to manage their own reproductive care and make the decision that is right for them when planning their families?  To an America where migrant workers had no rights and labor unions were illegal?  To an America that valued corporations more than people?  The answer should be no.  We can’t let that happen.  But we are.  Democrats, it’s time to get off the bench.

2 Responses
  1. Hello permalink
    April 6, 2011

    republicans are winning the budget 2011

  2. Hello permalink
    April 6, 2011

    sorry to say I’m not buying those books you mentioned but I will agree with you.if I chose to vote independent I could chose what I want to vote in any party. I could vote any thing I want that I think is good. if vote for non popular party I could be giving my vote to the person who don’t like in republican or you think America is ready for new party,well so far the new party have not campaigned hard enough.Ralf Nader was one of the few that did better the others but did not have as much money. it amazes me the only way you can win is buy having money spending 100s of billions campaigning to win the states. you would have to travel all 50 states to win that state. its too bad only wealthy people can run for president.I wish middle class person could run for president. the wealthy rich who these corporations ,this mean Ralf Nader needs more money given to him if hes going to run.the republicans are winning. the democrats need to fight back so they look better in the house. knock on food

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