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April 2, 2009

We Need To Tell The Public, Too

-- by Dave Johnson

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

Here is something that you and I know to be true: progressive values and policies are better for people than conservative values and policies.

Progressives believe that we're all in this together and the community taking care of each other ends up working out better for everyone. History also shows that this is how it turns out, every time. Conservatives believe people should be on their own, in constant dog-eat-dog competition, with everyone looking out for themselves and only themselves. History shows that this approach leads to disaster, every time.

You and I know this. But the pubic-at-large doesn't know our side of this argument, because we aren't telling them. While conservatives market their philosophy through every conceivable information channel there is very little outreach explaining the progressive side. When you turn on the radio or the TV or read the newspapers you just don't see or hear about the benefits of a progressive approach. So the public-at-large is only hearing one side of the story -- the conservative side -- and they are hearing that side loudly and often.

It so happens that marketing works, and polls show that the conservative marketing campaign brings results. A 2007 Rasmussen poll, for example found that "41% of the voters think of themselves as conservative when it comes to the issues of taxes, government spending and the regulation of private business while 41% consider themselves to be moderates and 12% say they are liberal." A 2008 Battleground poll found that 59% of Americans consider themselves to be somewhat or very conservative and 36% say they are somewhat or very liberal.

So how do we reach the public? We have to identify target audiences, build the channels that reach them, and talking the cultural language of each target group. Yes, this is marketing talk. And to accomplish this we need to build organizations that do this work. Marketing works, and marketing science has evolved to become very effective. Companies understand this and do it. Conservatives understand this and do it. Progressives need to understand this and do it.

Here is a key, key point and I want to stress it: This is not about election-oriented organizations. This is about a long-term effort to change underlying public understanding and appreciation of progressive values. This requires a different kind of approach and a different kind of organizational structure than winning each next election. Election outcomes will certainly result from such an effort. In fact, with a public that is pre-disposed to be want progressive candidates and policies instead of conservative ones, elections will be dramatically and lastingly affected. This is why conservatives have built up a network of think tanks and advocacy organizations -- hundreds of them -- designed to change underlying public attitudes. And this is why those polls I cites show they have had such great success.

At my personal blog I wrote a July, 2007 post titled, While Progressives Talk To Each Other, Conservatives Talk To The Public. That post ended with,

Progressives need to start reaching the general public with the truth as well as each other. We need to start working together to fund and build the organizational infrastructure to develop and test messaging, then coordinate the use of messaging, train speakers, employ pundits, develop media channels, etc.

Now, two years later we're still largely talking to each other, especially here in California. But there are some improvements nationally. An organizational "progressive infrastructure" is growing up a bit, with the Center for American Progress, Media Matters and other organizations starting to show some strength.

But in California very little is getting done along these lines. The Courage Campaign (go sign up) is one great organization and is gaining strength, boasting an email list of 400-700,000. But even this is only about 2% of our population, and their netroots audience is predisposed to support progressive policies. What they are doing is hugely important and a huge start. But it is one organization when we need dozens, all funded and operating as different components of a cohesive progressive infrastructure. We need think tanks employing scores of experts to conduct the necessary research and come up with and test and refine the policies, wording and strategies to take the progressive message to the rest of the state. We need to develop communication channels that reach into every single geographic and cultural community. We need to train hundreds of public speakers that talk to every single group. We need to develop relationships with interest organizations including hunting, sporting, creative arts, technology, and other kinds of clubs. We need to get the writers reaching out of the blogs and into the newspapers and magazines and on television and radio.

California Progress Report is a site that rounds up California political news, from a progressive perspective. Frank Russo left to take a staff position in the Assembly, and the site is now operated by the Consumer Federation of California Foundation. This is an important component of infrastructure, but CFC is looking for funding to maintain and expand it.

Calitics is California's premier progressive community blog -- and you should get an account there, join the community and add your two cents. And you should take note of that "Donate" button in its right column.

And, speaking of donating, please sign up for Speak Out California's e-mail list. And click here to donate and help us stay online. It is your donations that keep us and all of these organizations in operation to help reach out and work to bring progressive policies to California!

Leave a comment and let me know which organizations, etc. I missed.

California is a big, big state and changing public attitudes is a big, big job. Conservatives launched their persuasion effort almost 40 years ago. Isn't it time we got started?

Click through to Speak Out California

Posted by Dave Johnson at April 2, 2009 3:00 PM


Comments

Progressives believe that we're all in this together and the community taking care of each other ends up working out better for everyone. History also shows that this is how it turns out, every time. Conservatives believe people should be on their own, in constant dog-eat-dog competition, with everyone looking out for themselves and only themselves. History shows that this approach leads to disaster, every time.

This, of course, is a false dichotomy. Progressives believe that the government should take care of everybody and use up the people's wealth in doing so, not in community. Conservatives and Libertarians believe that people in the community should donate, volunteer, and help out if they can and without using force.

And it works, too. Americans are the most likely to volunteer and donate to charity in the world and contribute the most per person. Conservatives, being individualists with higher amounts of faith, contribute more charitable donations than Leftists.

Look at the facts. How many of Obama's picks have had tax problems which involve non-payments? Look at how the Dems define "Volunteerism" where they just passed a bill requiring all high school students to "volunteer" if they want student loans or even to be allowed to graduate. In what world is "volunteering" defined as you will not get a government service unless you work on one of Barak's community organizing programs? Doesn't sound voluntary to me, sounds like using force.

At the end of the day maybe you should not only rely on government services to take care of the guy who lost his job. But take a note from time-honored conservative values: personally go over to his house, bring him some groceries, see if he has some debts you can afford to pay, maybe help him get a new job. Relying on some jaded, overpaid, bureaucratic government employee who's not so smart and deeply cynical is not the best (or only!) way to help people out.

Posted by: Scorpius [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 2, 2009 7:23 PM

You are misrepresenting what progressives believe. We believe in contributing to public investment, but not "use up the people's wealth in doing so."

Taxes are the lifeblood of democracy, and the results are impressive. Just one example is the interstate highway system. Never mind all the jobs and companies that came out of building it, look at the return on that investment since the 1950s.

Taxes paid for that investment. And the return from that investment should be shared by the public. So we think there should be taxes on the results. And we do want high taxes on upper incomes - the beneficiaries of that public investment - so wealth is accumulated more slowly, requiring longer-term effort not quick-buck strategies. But even when taxes were 90% on top incomes people over time could become extremely wealthy. Hedge-fund managers would "only" be able to take home a few hundred million a year if taxes were 90%, but we wouldn't have these massive deficits that came from the Bush tax cuts...

In fact, when we have very very high taxes the economy does MUCH better - and the rich get ever richer from that. Look at the modest Clinton tax increases for example - the rich were the biggest beneficiaries of the 90s. And look at the growth in the economy during other periods of high taxation -- always much higher because a consumer ecoinomy deoends on working people bearing less of the burden of that investment -- the people benefitting the most from the investment can contribute more.

I agree about the tax problems of Obama's nominees -- WTF??? He is tapping into a certain corproate culture that DC ruling class Dems have become comfortable with... And progressives are working to change that.

Anyway, governemnt services -- government is US, or at least we're trying to bring it back to that. For example, you'll be able to track online every single contract awarded from the stimulus package. Compare that to how the Republicans handled Katrina contracts -- every single one went to big Republican campaign contributors. That is CHANGE happening in front of your eyes.

Posted by: Dave Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 2, 2009 8:14 PM

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