May 6, 2006
-- by Dave Johnson
I left a comment to this post at MyDD: Where's Our Fox News? and it makes a good blog post. So here it is: (edited to make me look good)
In response to this comment:
What I'd like to know is why every time there's any hint of an issue, the GOP has 17 people on every talk show all on point, making their points quickly, with good on-camera presence. Meanwhile, Dems have few on the talkshows, and the ones on are all over the place on message, and I and half the Blogosphere could make their arguments better. The GOP must be putting resources into media training and staffing a rapid response for cable news that we aren't. My question is why?
Let me nitpick on language a bit here, because it affects how we think about solving this.
It is not (necessarily) "the GOP" that has all those people on the shows. It's the "conservative movement" infrastructure -- the Heritage Foundation, and about 400 other similar organizations. They are called "think tanks" but they are really ideological advocacy/communications/marketing organizations. (A side note - They are "501c3" charitable organizations - which means taxpayer subsidized - but operate illegaly as partisan supportive arms of the Republican Party.)
This is such an important distinction. The problem is not that "the Democrats" aren't getting people onto the shows, etc, to match the right. As Jonathan wrote, the problem is that Progressives don't have the kinds of organizations in place that put those people on the shows. The reason this is such an important distinction is because it tells us that to fight back we need to build organizations that reach out to the general public promoting the BENEFITS of Progressive values - democracy, community - and a Progressive approach to issues - the common good - over and over, day after day, until the public understands and starts to support Progressive candidates and legislation. THIS is how the Right did it. This is how the Right took over the Republican Party and persuaded so many people to support them. (Of course, we do it legally, and our organizations must be honest and ethical. But then, ours CAN be - unlike the Right's organizations, they aren't trying to convince blue collar workers to give up pensions and health care so some rich fuck can buy a bigger private jet.)
It's just basic marketing. For 30 years we have been hearing that conservatives are good and liberals are bad and stupid and corrupt and "against God" and all the rest but we have not been hearing anything to counter that! After 30 years of this OF COURSE this is what a lot of people think! DUH!
This relates to the "issue group" argument. INSTEAD of organizations that tell the public that Progressive approaches are better, we have issue groups, and most Progressive money goes to these groups. But these groups do not reach out to the general public and do not tell them that Progressives are better and Progressive ideas are better. And the result is that the underpinnings - support for basic Progressive ideals - of these groups erodes. If environmental groups, for example, spent their money telling the public that Progressives are better, then the public would elect Progressives, and environment-friendly laws and regulations would be put in place to protect the environment...
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If we want to talk strategy, we need to look at this from a historical standpoint. We HAVE HAD very strong organizations and voices, and we need to examine what's happened to them. Here's a brief look at some issues we tend to forget:
Strong voice #1: The Unions. I think we have a pretty good idea what's happened to their power. But Union people fought and died for progressive social causes.
Voice #2: The Protestant Churches, and the Social Gospel. I'm not kidding, and they're still active, but modern Progressives isolate and marginalize them. The Quakers are considered dangerous, subversive enemies by the Republicans, who spy on them using the Bush illegal spy system. The majority of the evangelical churches, considered a bunch of crazies by most progressives, are fighting loud and hard. The mainstream churches are as devoted to Social Gospel causes as they ever were. Anyone old enough to remember the 60s should be aware that they were in the forefront of the peace movement, the Civil Rights movement, abortion rights, prison reform, the environmental movement, and just about everything else we believe in. Where do you think progressive ideas came from in the first place? They came right out of the Social Gospel, the belief that humans have a responsibility to be stewards of the earth and to treat each other decently. And no, I'm not trying to convert anybody. I'm not a Christian either.
The Religious Right has kidnapped a large portion of the Republican party, and members of their organizations tend to run the think tanks Dave is talking about. The complexities involved are much too extensive for a comment, but in the mind of the public they now represent Christianity, and nothing could be farther from the truth. They do not believe in the Social Gospel and are doing everything they can to destroy the fruits of several hundred years of social progress. We're involved in a theological battle and we don't even know it.
What secularism has managed to come up with so far is, as Dave describes it, "issue groups." The political problem is that these groups, important as they are, are not united. And, since secularists look down on their Christian counterparts, the Democratic party is, at this point, hopelessly divided and just drifting so far as expressing its goals and ideals goes.
And, since secularists look down on their Christian counterparts.
This is simply false. False, false, false. It's a Republican / Sullivan / Scheiber / Lerner talking point, and is grounded in absolutely nothing.
How many secularists (by which you apparently mean non-Christians and presumably non-Jews) are in leadership positions in the Democratic Party? How many have run for national office? Hell, how many have a nationally syndicated column where they inveigh against the perfidy of liberal Christians and other religious people?
I think the answer is ZERO. ZERO. All I've ever heard on this point is that the commenters at DKos are rude, and that sometimes people at dinner parties are rude, but nobody ever names names of anyone with even a sliver of power, because those names don't exist.
In fact, this talking point is what's driving the wedge in, not any real hostility to religion among "secularists".
I didn't say the secularists are hostile to religion -- and I was referring strictly to a certain kind of Christianity. I said they ignore it; "but modern Progressives isolate and marginalize them" is exactly what I said, referring to the churches that follow the Social Gospel -- in stark contrast to the Religious Right. Since the media also ignore the mainstream churches, favoring the Religious Right as the real voice of modern Christianity, the other churches appear to have lost all power, although they represent millions of (progressive) people.
So far as the media is concerned, the Religious Right, with their spurious issues like "right to life," and homophobia, have captured the high moral ground. The result is that when Democrats say "me too" and insist that they do so go to church, the public smiles and says, yeah, sure, and then you vote for gay rights and free choice, considering them hypocrites, That's what the Republican talking points have managed to achieve.
So, what I was trying to point out is that the labor movement, represented by the Unions, has at least temporarily been stripped of power and marginalized, and so has the voice of the progressive church. Both were originally very strong voices for progressive ideals. That's just two of the accomplishments of the right wing think tanks Dave has been researching. To the extent that secularism also ignores and marginalizes the input from the churches, they're playing right into the hands of the Republicans.
MJ, I am hearing nothing from you that I haven't heard a couple zillion times from people like Amy Sullivan and Michael Lerner. And I NEVER see any documentation. It's always stated as simple fact: OF COURSE modern progressives ignore and marginalize the social gospel. WHO DOESN'T know that?
But I don't know that. I see a Democratic party and a polity generally with a political litmus test requiring at least nominal Judaism or Christianity. I see a lot of people who want more God-talk getting a lot of attention, and not many (any) people who want less God-talk.
Whatever. I think this belief that you have about the hostility of the non-religious progressive to religion is basically evidence-proof. I really don't see much evidence, except the constantly repeated statement of fact and occasional cites of rude blog commenters.
For what it is worth, I tend to agree with MJ above about Progressives failing to recognize that the mainline denominations are Christians on their side (being as how I am one and all.)
But that is not what I want to comment about. On the right, foundations created by nutcase rightwing rich men (Scaife, Olin, Coors, etc.) got the conservative movement institutions off the ground. On the progressive side, the "respectable" foundations like Ford, CS Mott, etc. have insisted on draining ideology and fight out of our institutions, sanitizing programs, and making them compete over crumbs. Now I know Ford took a hit for financing voter registration in the South during the civil rights movement, but for the last 30 years philanthropy has been used to contain and constrain the left. We suffer for this.
Posted by: janinsanfran at May 6, 2006 11:51 PM
One of the most active and outspoken precinct captains I know, and every bit a progressive, is a devout Episcopalian. Another local activist I know is a Quaker. I don't see either of them being marginalized, rejected by other progressives, or remember a single occasion, ever, when this even came up as an issue that bothered anyone. If you talk to them for a while, know them at all, they clearly go to church. But they don't spend all their damn time talking about it like some tacky Falwell zombie, though sometimes they throw out a religious perspective, and that generally seems to be fine with people.
The difference between progressive Christians and far right fundamentalists is that they don't try to convert everyone in earshot 24/7, so maybe they're just EVERYWHERE and you *might not even know it.*
Posted by: natasha at May 7, 2006 1:29 AM
I really have to agree with Bruce Webb on MyDD's comments about our special interest fractures and that we should all get back to basic common good.
The fact that MJ, and Paperwight can both be correct and arguing about it only illustrates what Dave and janisfran said about their infrastructure creating a false impression based soley on the fact that faith on the left does not have the monolithic power of the right wing mega churches because as Natasha said, when people are living their faith as opposed to spending it trying to convert you, they blend in.
Posted by: grannyinsanity at May 7, 2006 3:04 AM
Paperweight has a talent for misquoting. I did NOT say that. "MJ, I am hearing nothing from you that I haven't heard a couple zillion times from people like Amy Sullivan and Michael Lerner. And I NEVER see any documentation. It's always stated as simple fact: OF COURSE modern progressives ignore and marginalize the social gospel. WHO DOESN'T know that?"
My point is that the roots of the progressive movement IS the Social Gospel, like it or not. I'm having trouble thinking of a single progressive issue that didn't originate, and isn't still promoted by, the Social Gospel and the churches that believe in it. It might be a good idea to find out what the Social Gospel is, always has been, and continues to be. I'm not going to try to enlighten you -- look it up.
We ignore history at our peril. It doesn't make any sense to me to make a statement like "OF COURSE modern progressives ignore and marginalize the social gospel," while trying to promote exactly the same ideas. All that accomplishes is to keep us unbelievably ignorant, unable to recognize our natural allies or deal with what really are our enemies. It's not a good idea to be ignorant, no matter what one is talking about.
In other words, I'm trying to point out a tremendous STRENGTH the Democratic party isn't even aware it has. If you're not aware of something, you can't take advantage of it. The average American, even those in liberal churches, doesn't know what the Social Gospel is, that it's where the values of the vast majority of Americans come from, including their own religious values if they belong to churches that believe in the Social Gospel, the source of Liberalism, whether they're Republicans but not fundamental religious fanatics, or Democrats, and certainly don't know this if their families have given up religion and been secular for several generations -- like mine.
In other words, to win the battle, we also need to know what "fundamentalism" really means and where it comes from. That, too, requires an understanding of history. It's a 19th cent. religious battle and its roots date back to the ancient battle between "faith" vs. "good works." Genuine "fundamentalism" merely believes that "faith" is more important than "good works," i.e. more important than the Social Gospel. The large majority of "fundamentalists" don't rule out "good works," only that good works don't mean much if they're accomplished without real "faith." It's a small number of extremists, most of them from religious movements that originated very recently, who feel strongly that "faith" is all that matters and that the liberal churches are spawn of the Devil. It's these groups that have captured the Republican party. They've made terms like "liberal" and "progressive" into dirty words because they hate the liberal churches. To the extent that we progressives also marginalize the liberal churches, we're fighting their battle for them.
Since we don't know what these fanatical fundamentalist groups are really talking about or what they really believe, we don't comprehend how dangerous they are, either. To them, liberal and progressive ideals, by which they mean the Social Gospel, are truly a religious enemy to be destroyed at all costs. They also believe that the Rapture, i.e at least the end of civilization as we know it, but to them the end of the world, will be accomplished in their lifetime, and that it's their religious duty to bring this about. That's what's behind the Bush administration desire to nuke Iran; Bush himself has said that his war against terrorism is World War III.
We'd better wise up to what we're really fighting and stop excluding our natural allies.
1) You really need to read what you wrote in the last paragraph of your first comment and the first paragraph of your second comment. I did not misquote you.
2) I know what the Social Gospel is about. It's arrogant of you to presume that I don't. I know that much of what we think of today as progressivism orginated as far back as the 18th century with different Christian groups. I even know that some of the Social Gospel originated even further back with the Levellers and the Diggers in Cromwell's England.
3) I know that the Dominionists are aching for power, and I know better than most people, and I suspect most *religious* people, exactly how dangerous they are. I understand the faith / works theologicial dispute, and I understand the nasty antinomian Calvinist underpinnings of the current crop of fundamentalists. Don't think that just because I'm not religious myself that I don't have at least a top-level knowledge of these sorts of things.
4) In my writing, little of which I suspect you've read (not that I would expect otherwise -- it's just one blog among millions), I take great pains to distinguish between folks like you and janinsanfran and even Lerner and Wallis (no matter how much I disagree with them on the "secularists hate religion" point) on the one hand, and the fundamentalists on the other. I know the difference.
All I'm asking is that the progressive religious stop attacking those of us who are not religious with what is essentially a Republican talking point about how we hate religion. It's not true. Now, it may be true that many secular progressives are not aware of religious progressives among them, nor of the history of their movement. But that's not the same thing as isolating and marginalizing, now is it?
And yes, the Fundamentalists have better PR, and have seized the mantle of "religion". And so some people, who grow weary of the constant drumbeat of "you're evil" fail to distinguish between religious folks. But I really don't see those people having much power. And more, I rarely see religious progressives standing up for the right not to believe, standing up for the secularists who are attacked nonstop by the Republican party and their fundamentalist allies. That's probably a PR problem. But I'm pretty aware, and if I don't see it, I guarantee that a lot of other people don't see it either.
INSTEAD of organizations that tell the public that Progressive approaches are better, we have issue groups, and most Progressive money goes to these groups. But these groups do not reach out to the general public and do not tell them that Progressives are better and Progressive ideas are better.
Not only do issue groups not promote a general, progressive worldview, they often disparage other progressive issue groups and they often make political decisions that undermine a general, progressive agenda. See, e.g., environmental groups and abortion rights groups that endorse Republicans.
Doesn't matter. We have groups. We have spokespeople. They don't get invited onto the shows.
We've seen this complaint from a variety of people who have worked on the talk shows - they are told flat-out that they must "balance" anyone who is liberal with several conservatives, and people who don't repeat the conventional Beltway storyline or conservative talking points are considered to be "left-wing crazies" and not invited at all.
Posted by: Avedon at May 8, 2006 9:14 AM
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