Conservatism Is Our Enemy

In all of my post-election analysis, when all of the tactical ideas are put aside, I keep coming back to a single, basic idea: conservatives are the enemy, and conservatism as an ideology is our main roadblock to electoral success.

We have long since left the era when the two parties could accurately be considered regional and ethnic coalitions rather than ideological coalitions. There are no longer any more conservative Democrats than there are liberal Republicans. A few of each kind manage to hang on, but the ideological vote in this election was clear:

	     Bush  Kerry  Margin
Conservative  84    15	 69
Liberal       13    85	 72
For that matter, the ideological vote was also clear in 2000:
	     Bush   Gore   Margin
Conservative  81     17      64
Liberal       13     80      67
In both cases, the overwhelming majority of liberals voted for the Democrat, while the overwhelming majority of conservatives voted for the Republican. The 2000 and 2004 margins are almost identical, with the reduction of third-party votes accounting for almost the entire difference between the two elections. Liberals and conservatives are very nearly block voting groups, and they are mirror opposites of one another.

The main reason Kerry lost was because in this election, 34% of the electorate self-identified as conservative, while 21% of the electorate self-identified as liberal. In 2000, 29% of the electorate self-identified as conservative and 20% self-identified as liberal. Gore and Kerry had almost identical margins of +8 and +9 among self-identifying moderates, but Gore did 3.59% better in the popular vote. Apart from electoral tactics, apart from vote counting, apart from making harsher ad buys, the primary cause for Kerry's defeat and for our defeats in Congress wes that the conservative advantage over liberals in the electorate increased from +9 to +13. In this situation, it should also be no surprise that the Democratic advantage in Party self-identification dropped from +4 to zero. It should also be no surprise that our margin in the popular vote slipped by roughly four points. Conservatism gained four points, and that meant that we lost four points.

The parties are now ideological coalitions, and our ideology is smaller. In fact, as the growing gap from 2000 to 2004 shows, the situation is becoming worse. Whatever other tactics and strategies we engage in, these tactics must be coupled with what is our only long-term path toward national electoral improvement: closing, and one day eliminating, the national self-identification gap between liberals and conservatives. Our ground game in 2004 was amazing. We lost the election from 2001-2003, as conservatism grew at a faster rate than liberalism.

This is why I have begun a campaign to tarnish conservatism itself. For me, this is not difficult. I have never considered myself a conservative anything, and I despise pretty much everything conservative (the exceptions are my conservative relatives who I love deeply). However, when I think back at Howard Dean's campaign, and how all along we Deaniacs kept ramming home the idea of being fiscally conservative as a positive--arrgggghhh!!! What were we thinking? We helped reinforce the national frame where being conservative is good, and thereby helped grow conservatism itself. By helping to grow conservatism, we helped the national decline of Democrats. What we should have been pointing out is that Dean was fiscally responsible, whereas conservatives quite clearly are fiscally childish and irresponsible. Dean was not a fiscal conservative--fiscal conservatives run up enormous debts and deficits!

For a long time I have not considered myself a liberal, because my academic mind despises the historical connection that word has to laissez-faire regulatory, economic, and trade policies. What was I thinking? I know just as well from my studies on language that usage determines grammar, and those historical denotations have little substance in contemporary usage. I should have happily identified myself as a liberal, as part of a larger effort to increase liberalism in this country.

Well, starting today, those days are over. I am a liberal and proud of it. Also, I know my enemy: conservatism. The fight begins now.

Tags: Ideology (all tags)



Take no prisoners
Feed conservatism to our new propaganda machine.
by demomatt 2004-11-08 11:31AM | 0 recs
A Good Resource, IMHO
I'd like to recommend an excellent essay to support this effort. I wanted to do a diary on it when it was first put out in August, but I never found the time to do it properly. Now, I'll just quote the beginning and link to it.
What Is Conservatism and What Is Wrong with It?
Philip E. Agre

August 2004

Liberals in the United States have been losing political debates to conservatives for a quarter century. In order to start winning again, liberals must answer two simple questions: what is conservatism, and what is wrong with it? As it happens, the answers to these questions are also simple:

Q: What is conservatism?
A: Conservatism is the domination of society by an aristocracy.

Q: What is wrong with conservatism?
A: Conservatism is incompatible with democracy, prosperity, and civilization in general. It is a destructive system of inequality and prejudice that is founded on deception and has no place in the modern world.

Full text here.

by Paul Rosenberg 2004-11-08 11:34AM | 0 recs
Re: A Good Resource, IMHO
Agre uses a term that sounds like a useful start in reframing...

Economic Democracy

I'm not so sure how to work it, but it would be a hard one for the Repubs to turn around on us.

Refer to "economic democracy" instead of "free market capitalism"

by gina 2004-11-08 12:57PM | 0 recs
There is no doubt in my mind that the only way to change the situation is to change the debate.  They have dominated it for 20+ years.

Rockridge has an excellent article which relates to this.  

Must read!

by 2manyids 2004-11-08 11:36AM | 0 recs
Rules for Radicals
If you have not read Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, then you MUST.  

Saul Alinsky spent his life fighting for the poor and downtrodden.  This book, his last, is a primer for how those without power can use the powers of numbers and organization to beat those in power.  It is full of examples from his life, and tremendously entertaining.  (Example -- He once planned a "shit-in" at O'Hare airport -- during which all stalls would be occupied all day by people from the slums of Chicago.  The mere threat of this event caused the city to meet their demands.)

Unfortunately, his "Rules for Radicals" apply equally well to all sides of any issue.  Today it is the conservatives who use these tactics with pride while liberals shy away from them.  Which is why liberals need to re-learn them.

Here is a link describing the rules:

Here is a link about Saul, with some terrific quotations:

Here is a money quote from 40 years ago, which totally applies to U.S. politics today:

"Liberals in their meetings utter bold works; they strut, grimace belligerently, and then issue a weasel-worded statement 'which has tremendous implications, if read between the lines.' They sit calmly, dispassionately, studying the issue; judging both sides; they sit and still sit."

by AmberChaos 2004-11-08 11:38AM | 0 recs
Re: Rules for Radicals
Gotta love Arlinsky!  I was fortunate enough to meet him during the early 1970s, when he came to visit our college campus.  The man was an amazing tactician!
by BillCat 2004-11-08 12:34PM | 0 recs
Conservative Politicians are...
...ones who "con" the American people and "serve" themselves.
by LooterScibby 2004-11-08 11:38AM | 0 recs
I never considered myself a liberal
Before this election I would have proclaimed myself a moderate. But frankly moderation is overrated. I'm liberal and proud of it.

What's interesting though is that most liberals think of social issues (social justice, getting the government out of our bedrooms, etc) most self-proclaimed conservative I run across always run to financial/economics first.

It always reminds me of my mom's comment this election: "Republicans are cheap. They'll give up everything -- good education, healthcare, whatever -- just to keep two extra dollars in their pockets."

by cfr 2004-11-08 11:39AM | 0 recs
Re: I never considered myself a liberal
That many self-described liberals don't care about economic issues or at best have them as a secondary concern is why we lose.    The Republicans have  a very clear economic agenda that anyone can understand, less government interference in our lives and lower taxes.  Our concern with economics or lack thereof shows too.  When we talk about pocket book issues it sounds like a grab bag of programs rather than showing a consistent message.  Only Edwards really articulated a more coherent message behind the programs.  We need someone like him who can speak the language of populism once again.  If we don't we'll become Eisenhower Republicans and remember the socially liberal and economically conservative Republicans won only two elections between 32 and 68.
by slduncan79 2004-11-08 12:48PM | 0 recs
Conservatism Is Our Enemy
I'm not on board with this analysis.  

Ignorance is our enemy.  What's our long-term strategy to educate our population?

In the short-term, populism trumps "moral values".  I agree with Thomas Frank, author of "What's the Matter with Kansas?", when he suggests we need candidates like Paul Wellstone.  The opposition will scream "Class warfare!", which should be encouraged as it'll expose voters to the idea that they're getting screwed.

by Zappini 2004-11-08 11:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Conservatism Is Our Enemy
"I'm not on board with this analysis.  Ignorance is our enemy."

But conservatism is a machine for manufacturing ignorance. (WMDs anyone?) You've got to go to the source.

by Paul Rosenberg 2004-11-08 11:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Conservatism Is Our Enemy
But conservatism is a machine for manufacturing ignorance.

And corporations are the sponsors of ignorance.  They are the source of our woes.  

"Conservatism" is an idea.  I'm not sure, but I think attacking an idea is like trying to unlearn a habit: it doesn't work.  The only way to change a habit is to replace it with a new habit.  I suspect the same is true for ideas.

Hence my support for populism.

by Zappini 2004-11-08 12:42PM | 0 recs
Re: Conservatism Is Our Enemy
Populism comes in many forms, some of them quite reactionary. We're also talking about promoting liberalism, which is fundamentally anti-reactionary.
by Paul Rosenberg 2004-11-08 01:29PM | 0 recs
Re: Conservatism Is Our Enemy
"The opposition will scream "Class warfare!", which should be encouraged as it'll expose voters to the idea that they're getting screwed."

I agree. Surveys make it excruciatingly clear that economic issues (jobs, health insurance) are stressing a lot of people. We need to hammer home the connection between working folks' trip to hell in a handbasket and the Republican policies that are taking them there.

by bit shifter 2004-11-08 03:31PM | 0 recs
Re-framing Dean
He isn't fiscally conservative. He is fiscally responsible.

Do it that way and you can still push Dean AND denigrate conservatism!

by Chris Andersen 2004-11-08 11:48AM | 0 recs
Re: Re-framing Dean
I totally agree Chris.  By calling Dean "fiscally conservative" you are only re-enforcing the frame that fiscal conservatives are fiscally responsible.  The fact is, nowadays "fiscally conservative" means you cut taxes without any consideration of short and long term fiscal damage.  Fiscal conservatives are fiscally irresponsible and deficit-accumulaters.
by 2manyids 2004-11-08 11:53AM | 0 recs
Why are we letting them steal the election?
These all might be valid reason the election was close - but Bush did not win.  There is a lot of evidence that it was stolen.  We should keep Kerry up on his bargain to make sure every vote counts!  Write Kerry and the DNC on their sites and site this article if you think its valid:

by CaseyK24 2004-11-08 11:52AM | 0 recs
Socially Liberal Fiscally Conservative
This title says it all.  Although the Republicans love to paint the democrats as tax and spend, the reality is the Republicans simply love to spend.

The Democrats have a real opportunity to split the Republicans in two by targeting the fiscally conservative moderates.  Although it appears from the election statistics moderates do not exist, I believe this is a fallacy.  Most people I know fall into this category.  They want to help people so long as the help does not run into huge deficits or destroy personal responsibility.

by Bonddad 2004-11-08 11:52AM | 0 recs
Now that we have a solution
I've been trying to figure out how we are going to let rural conservatives know about our new and improved ideas. They certainly aren't going to hear about it on network television or cable. They aren't going to read about it in their small town newspaper.

Is there any way to reach our target audience?

by Gary Boatwright 2004-11-08 11:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Now that we have a solution
Advertise heavily on the Jerry Springer show. =)
by liberalintexas 2004-11-09 06:45AM | 0 recs
Great post
I mean that.  After reading for a while I just started a blog (which I will refrain from plugging) for this purpose.  As you already pointed out conservatives stand for many  things directly in opposition to what they like to tout as their values.  We do need to point this out as well as demonstrate how beholden they are to the Religious Right.  In my own writings, I have begun to use the phrases religious right and conservative interchangeably.  To Middle America, the association between the two must be clear.
by up2date 2004-11-08 12:01PM | 0 recs
I perfer the term progressive because it clearly states we are not only changing the world, but moving it forward in the correct direction!
by pghProgressive 2004-11-08 12:04PM | 0 recs
Re: Progressive...
Perhaps we should start equating conservatism with REGRESSIVE values?  Start calling them the regressive-conservatives?  A "splendid regression" to the 1890s?
by BillCat 2004-11-08 12:37PM | 0 recs
I don't think we should try to match the Rights denigration of Liberals by trying to attack Conservatives.  Trying to stoop to their level will only make things uglier than they are now.  We need  to show how Bush is a social Conservative and not a fiscal Conservative.  We can bring fiscal Conservatives into our camp without giving up on our core principles of Liberalism.  We need to make friends, not enemies.  If we show fiscal Conservatives that Bush is not a fiscal conservative (The Economist and Financial Times endorsed Kerry) and that his Conservatism is based on religious intolerance, we can get them to jump ship.  

We need to cut the Republicans down, but attacking the concept of Conservatism broadly is a failed strategy, if you ask me.

by rollins 2004-11-08 12:06PM | 0 recs
It doesn't get uglier...
than one side getting beat up because they refuse to punch back.

Start punching back.

by Teaser 2004-11-08 12:11PM | 0 recs
Liberal is a demonized word.
Like it or not (I don't) the conservatives have demonized the word liberal and I don't see that changing anytime soon.
Words are powerful things, they are the building blocks of ideas.
The meaning of words can be changed by other people.
I have nothing against the rights of homosexuals, but I do resent the fact the word gay use to mean 'happy' to nearly everyone.
Nowdays if you use the word gay the first thing most people will think of is a homosexual.
The point is a group of people are able to change the meaning of words and that everyone else most conform to the meaning of its usage to be clearly understood.

On most issues I consider myself a liberal.
But as we have seen in this past election the conservatives have changed the meaning to one who supports gay rights and abortions and other things they think you should be against.
I have considered myself a progressive since before the 2000 election. The conservatives have not demonized this word yet and should not be allowed to.
Progressives want to see this country move forward, not backwards.  There many programs of reform that most Americans support, but they get drowned out when they are supported by people that have been called 'liberal'.

Liberal was once a very honorable word, it is not now, perhaps someday it shall again.
For now democrats should promote a progressive image and not a liberal one.

If it means dropping support for gay and abortion rights then the Democratic party should drop them as issues of importance.
Once we have regain control of the White House and both sides of Congress then the issues that are out of favor now can be brought forward again.
Prohibition has shown you can not legislate morality. You can teach people to more moral in their behavior but you can not force them. Some people rebel just because they are forced to do something.  

It is my hope (faith if you will) that someday the most basic of progressive ideas (like fair and democratic elections)will become a reality in this country.

by WAProgressive 2004-11-08 12:09PM | 0 recs
Re: Liberal is a demonized word.
I couldn't disagree more. Several points.

  1. Drop support for gay and abortion rights, then what? Drop civil rights? Drop our support for a social net? We move further and further to the center until old union dems like my Dad say, "You know what? Theres' no difference between the Dems and Repubs, I'm looking at third parties." This is a DIE-HARD UNION DEM looking at the Greens. Unbelievable. So no, we are...

  2. LIBERAL. Why? Because we have to have this slug-fest. No matter how far center we try to move, they will continue to slam us with this word, with regionalism, with stereotypes, with lies and slanders.

I used to hate the word liberal too, until I realized what it means. I take pride in the fact I have a gay, veteran sister. I take pride in the fact I support a woman's right to choose. I take pride in the fact I didn't support a rush to war.

Think about it: a move to the center is a victory for the radical right. We'll always be marginalized until we stand up for our positive values.

by Green Irishboy 2004-11-08 12:26PM | 0 recs
Re: Liberal is a demonized word.
Being a progressive should not be seen something left or right, tho many want to think that.
The democrats already occupy the center for the most part. A move that would encompass issues (or no longer support) that those to the right of center support should not be considered something to the detriment of those on the left.

Issues should be considered American issues, not left issues or right issues, conservative, liberal or progressive issues. Rights for gays should be seen in the context of human rights for all Americans not just for one segement of the population or another.

Sorry to the liberals out there, there are many so called conservative (moral) issues that I support that many/most liberals would not, which is why I consider myself a progressive.

As stated earlier you can not and will never be able to legislate morality.  The position convervatives used to have is the government has no right to be involved in personal/privacy issues.
That seems to have changed and the Democrats should take a hold of this and run with it.

The money your earn is something to hold dear.
Every household needs to keep a balance budget or will sooner or later will need to declare backruptcy.  The Democrats should point out how the current Republican administration has taken their hard earned money and thrown it away on tax breaks for the wealthy, and other wastefull programs. Unless you are one of the wealthy this is something all Americans should support.

Have social programs without the finacial ability to pay for them is folly. The socialist countries of Europe have had to scale back their cradle to grave social support because they can no longer pay for them.  The idea of free health care for all is a great idea, but how do you pay for it.  Same with No Child Left Behind, the Republicans passed this without enough money to properly support it.

In the idea of going or not going to war should be an easy decision for anyone who truly considers themselves Christian. No !!!!!!
Christ said to turn the other cheek. I don't remember George W. Bush doing this. The conservatives being for the Iraq war and then claiming to be the party to support morality is a cruel joke when one of the most basic of Christian beliefs is not upheld.
It may be considered to be unrealistic to be against all wars, but I would think this is want Christ meant. Love thy neighbor as thy self.
This I'm afraid got lost amoungst all the Bush haters.  They seemed to express more hate for Bush than the love for this country and trying to improve it, perhaps thats why we lost.
A bit more love next time could do a tremendous amount of good.

To quote the political ads. "I support this message".

by WAProgressive 2004-11-08 02:09PM | 0 recs
Re: Liberal is a demonized word.
You suggested and also reassert without strong supporting evidence here, that we need to ditch the Liberal label, embrace the Progressive label, and possibly downplay championing gay and abortion rights. On that point, I still couldn't disagree more. I don't mean to be contentious, but I'll clarify.

As an English major and professional writer, I agree that words are powerful and have different connotations. Here's the thing; for better or worse the Democratic party will always be associated with Liberalism, at least, for our lifetimes. That association will continue to be used to our detrminent so long as an election can be partially decided by constantly referring to a good, honest, hard-working politician as nothing more than a "Massachusettes liberal", and "the most liberal member of congress".

I argue that being the most liberal member of congress and a Massachusettes liberal should be a good thing. Liberal values are good values. They stand for, as I've often repeated here, freedom of speech, the American way (as it should be), justice and most of all equality.

You seem to be someone who sees the middle road on many issues. I argue that while I'd like to see the issues as American issues, we won't wrest control of this country from the radical extremists of the Republican party until we take pride in being on the right side of the issues. If we support gay rights, let's take the moral ownership over that issue. Equality is an American value. It also happens to be a Liberal value.

You mentioned the economic social net associated with socialist European governments. I don't know about you, but I'd kind of like to have some kind of social safety net in this country. Making sure that no one is left behind in this country requires a commitment to putting a little of your income aside to help your fellow American. Christians get this concept of charity, but as a country we resent using an enforced bureacracy to do so. My response is, we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater and again we associate being a Liberal with caring about your neighbor. The conservatives don't want a social net. Period. It's evident in their actions and attitudes. Frankly, I consider that heartless and selfish. Where is their love?

A final thought. A Liberal doesn't hate his country, no matter what Ann Coulter or Karl Rove would like us to believe. We hate what the radical right is doing to it. The repression, the rush to war, the destruction of the environment, the dismantling of our social net, the personal, petty hatreds and divisions in this country are sown and owned by the party headed by one man; President George W. Bush. I'm a patriot and a Liberal and I show my love for my country by defending it's values. I'm taking a stand.

John Kerry and Howard Dean haven't gone running from this fight. We shouldn't either.

by Green Irishboy 2004-11-09 03:54AM | 0 recs
This sounds like a disaster...
...I'm pushing as hard as anyone I know for more backbone in the democratic party, but turning things into "liberalism" vs. conservatism is a loser.

Me - I'm a liberal and I'm conservative. I'm into conserving all sorts things - the environment, the economy, the separation between church and state, the list goes on and on. Let's make the "neo-conservative" leaders answer for defiling their own values, as so much convient hoo-haw which they use to manipulate  good natured folks who really do believe in conserving things.

Being angry - cool. Making political strategies when angry - not cool, or productive.

I'm a liberal-conservative and my name is fill-in-the-blank...

Welcome to conservative haters anonymous fill-in-the-blank!
by cgilbert01 2004-11-08 12:12PM | 0 recs
Re: This sounds like World Culture War III
We didn't invent the manichean dichotomy "you're either with us or against us." It was Rush Limbaugh that said "compromise is another word for date rape." It wasn't a liberal that said Senator Leahy was a "hater of God's people". We weren't the ones who put out the swiftboat vet ads. It's not our fault that negative advertising works.

Call it strategy or tactics, name your poison. The war has already been declared and we are the only ones taking casualties. The evil Empire struck back. It's time for the good guys to take up arms and return fire.

by Gary Boatwright 2004-11-08 12:22PM | 0 recs
Re: This sounds like World Culture War III
Totally agree. That's all I have to add. :)
by Green Irishboy 2004-11-09 03:57AM | 0 recs
Your point is taken with a but
I agree an angry assault on conservatism will likely feed into to "angry, condescending, elitist, yada yada" label conservatives have tried to hang on us.  If you read Chris' earlier post on real conservative values I think the strategy is clear. Conservatism as practiced by Bush and co does not resemble what many conservatives think.  Pointing this out (sans ranting anger) can only help.  That, and a reminder of the close ties between the Religious Right and the Bush administration can tarnish how Bush's brand of conservatism is viewed.
by up2date 2004-11-08 12:33PM | 0 recs
Well put up2date
JollyBuddah, I don't have a problem with negative advertising at all - it just needs to be focused on the GOP leadership itself and their bastardization of values, morals, economic solvency, etc and not on attacking the word "conservative" itself.

We shouldn't care right now if people want to identify themselves as conservative, or most other things for that matter, as long as they're voting for the dems in '06 and '08.

My biggest worry is that we're all doing much more thinking here than dem leadership is. If they come out and try to give some stiff BS focus-group-morals-appeal it could be really, really bad. As someone today mentioned, we need speakers with a true fire and passion in their belly for the fact that WE ARE THE PARTY OF MORALITY AND FAMILY-VALUES!
by cgilbert01 2004-11-08 01:06PM | 0 recs
Re: Well put up2date
At what point, considering conservatives, have been doing this  Liberals have no morals, Liberals are lazy, welfare queens, etc) for 25 years- at what point with all of this are we suppose to actually act like we've got a backbone? You couldn't even get Kerry say that he is liberal b/c "it's just a label." No, it's a fear that being called liberal will bring up all the negative branding by the right of the last 25 years. This sort of conversation seems to happen in vacuum as though there is no context. They did this over 25 years. We aren't (and this my prediction) going to take over anything for several election cycles until this sinks into the mindset that always asks for caution. We need to brand the very idea of being conservative as something that is bad. If we don't it will continue to be an acceptable alternative. If it is an acceptable alternative, while all things labeled liberal are not, it means we continue to lose not just for the next election cycles but may face what the Republicans faced from 1950 until 1994 (my years are off slightly). Below, I discuss the need for a backbone on the side of the Dems, and this is the reason why- if we aren't willing to take even the smallest risks- such as calling a duck, a duck, how can we move forward?
by bruh21 2004-11-08 01:28PM | 0 recs
Ok here's your context - this is an article, An open letter to the democratic party in which I am basically SCREAMING at dem leadership to quit being cowards. IMHO, you're right about everything except for the action part. What is setting the GOP leadership up for a fall more than any other thing is their nastiness/darkness/and divisiness. It's a house of cards that looks real good until it all collapses under its own weight. By ALL MEANS we need to start sticking our chests out in pride over being called liberals (perhaps  your best point), but leave the word "conservatism" alone or claim it as our own (I'm a liberal-conservative).

Martin Luther King did not decide to help civil rights along by saying, "we need to destroy white people!", he did it by saying "that folks of creeds and colors need freedom". One gets a reactive, defensive response - the other is history...
by cgilbert01 2004-11-08 01:54PM | 0 recs
Re: This sounds like a disaster...
Why don't you check into the history of conservatism before you defend it so?
by Paul Rosenberg 2004-11-08 01:32PM | 0 recs
Tarring conservatives

A common technique in persuasion is to link the opposition to a negative, or conversely to link yourself to the perceived positive attributes of the opposition (use the opposition's language and throw it back on them).  Use the Gingrich playbook.

A few examples:

  1. liberals should start calling long-entrenced conservatives "career politicians." Or a new one: "credit-card carrying Republicans."  When they get defensive, it will make them look bad (at least no more better than how it looks when liberals get defensive).

  2. identify the conservative media hacks as "shock jocks."  That is what they are, right?  And grossly overpaid and pampered.  Talk up Sean Hannity's distaste of flying with the same common people who made him a millionaire.  Rush Limbaugh--a man of the people with a beach front mansion.  Repeat, rinse, and then repeat.
  3. if liberals truly feel that conservatives are a threat to liberty, they should paint them in the brush of history.  Use pejorative language from the past, such as "One party" or "one party state,"  "Monarchy,"  "Neo-fascism" or neo-fascist".  How about "theocracy"? Use analogous language linking the US and Latin America, such as "The United States of Argentina (reference to banana-republic like spending practices--and there are some real analogies" or "banana republic" (featuring banana keychains with names of conservatives).
  4. Northerners of all political persuasions do not like the South.  Saying that Republicans are trying to create a model of the US based on deep South political and economic structure (Alabama ("the US of Alabama", "plantation economy") is not only accurate, but if pointed out properly effective.
  5. Point out how whiny these sourpusses are.  They dominate TV and radio, yet complain about the "liberal media."  This is kind of like the pro athlete who is paid millions a year and still has to rely on the "they don't respect me" to get fired up.  Attack, and when they get defensive, point that out too.
  6. Put abstract principles in concrete form.  Complaining about the high deficit is more effective if DETAILS are given (like the per person cost of the deficit--now that sounds (and is) scary.  Potential candidates could hand out "credit cards" and "bills" for the national debt with real numbers.

Thanks for the forum--gotta go.
by Glen Bowman 2004-11-08 12:23PM | 0 recs
Re: Tarring conservatives
Yes.  And put a dollar sign on it.  A half-trillion dollar deficit means every year for every man woman and child, we're borrowing almost $1500. Every year.  For a family of four, that's $6000.  Does every family of four out there have an extra $6000 to give to our government because the Republicans don't know what a budget it?  
Does the Iraq War make you feel safer?  At about $200,000,000 now, that's almost $1000 per person, or for a family of four that's $4000.  Did you get your money's worth.  Do you feel $4000 dollars safer?
by prince myshkin 2004-11-09 05:01AM | 0 recs
Conservativism is indeed the enemy
I think there is a problem with the Democratic Party right now. That problem is that there are too many people who don't have the backbone to say and do what has to be done. More than the vision thing, more than the need to learn how to fight a guerilla battle as the loyal opposition (that's what we are), even more than learning how to frame, we need to learn how to have the backbone to define our enemies and ourself without being afraid that we have something to lose. I see this in too many statements (sometimes here), but more often on Daily Kos and when talking to people face to face. My fear, and this is the only one I have, is that I hope this lack of a backbone is not the permanent face of the Democratic Party. Conservatism is the problem. How do I define it? The party of no accountability. The party of no responsibility. There maybe other ones. But this is a start because right now Conservativism is associated with being bold. Once, we had that moniker. Until we reclaim it we will lose on the foreign policy debate. Think about how much Kerry had to defend his ability to be a good commander-n-chief. Why is that? Is it really that he was a flip-flopper? No. He as no worse than Bush. It was the brand. Yet, we didn't even have the backbone to say the brand is wrong until it was almost too late. What will it take to learn how to take risk?
by bruh21 2004-11-08 12:27PM | 0 recs
conservatism is our friend
There are plenty of "conservatives" who find themselves at odds with the radicalism of the neocons.  Borrow and spend, suppression of free speech - are not "old conservative" values.

Better that we spread dissension among the Republicans than push away those in the Republican Party who might become our allies (or at least those that might splinter the Republicans).

by mfidelman 2004-11-08 12:39PM | 0 recs
Then why not advertise this?
The GOP has been relentlessly attacking the word "liberal" for two decades now.  It has turned "liberal" into a smear word.  I don't understand why Democrats have yielded to this.

Why are there no commercials on television with ordinary Americans explaining why they are liberals?  Explaining what they stand for?

Errol Morris's "Switch" ads are the prototype.  I think the Democratic party and any 527 with some money left over from this election should get on the airwaves starting in January.  In red states, and especially in swing states.

Picture a commercial with scene after scene of ordinary Americans: a middle-aged white guy in a suit standing by his cubicle, a woman in the grocery store with a baby on her hip, the lumberjack in front of a logging truck, the grandfatherly pediatrician looking into a child's mouth, the hip Asian graphic designer, the couple standing in front of the family farm.

The scene cuts quickly between each person.  They say:

"I am a liberal."
"I am a liberal."
"I'm a liberal because I believe government should work for everyone, not just the rich."
"I'm a liberal because I want us to be respected around the world."
"I'm a liberal because I believe that hard work should be rewarded."
"...because I want everyone to have a fair shake."
"...because I don't want the government reading my e-mail."
"...because I want my children..."
" grandchildren..."
" great-grandchildren better off than I am."
"That's why..."
"That's why I am..."
"...I am..."
"...I am a liberal."
"...I am a liberal."
"That's why I'm a liberal."

Then the last person nods.

It's simple, straightforward, and cheap to produce.  And it starts defining our values (note: "our values" as opposed to "their values") right now so that two years from now, there'll be no question what we stand for.

Marketing doesn't just mean lying.  It also includes telling the truth more effectively.

by kenfair 2004-11-08 12:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Then why not advertise this?
You'll never rehabilitate the liberal label. A better strategy would be to demonize conservative. Call the conservatives "cons." This word, unlike the word liberal, has negative connotations written into its dna. (conceal, connive, convict - the noun, and the word "con" itself which means to deceive. Repeat the "con" meme early and often a la Goebels. Use it everywhere - tv, print, blogsphere - until it becomes as demonized as "libs." This will reduce the self-identification of people as conservative and engage both camps in a search for new and improved labels.
by STUBALL 2004-11-08 02:04PM | 0 recs
Conservatives need myth of liberal domination
Chris' idea is an excellent one.  I like Glen Bowman's good points above, especially # 5, conservative whining.  "Conservative" is a catchall for ideas that often conflict, especially when religion bumps up against the corporate giveaway agenda.  We're seeng the GOP fight it out right now in the religious right's attack on Arlen Specter, and in the bactracking done by GOP pundits on the influence of moral values on the election.

A case in point is a column in Saturday's NY Times by David Brooks.  Brooks offered up a familiar theme of conservative whining; i.e. liberals still dominate public opinion, even after they lose another election.  His editorial "The Values Vote Myth" pointed out that security concerns probably had more to with Mr. Bush's electoral victory than did evangelical moral values.   Instead of taking on the evangelicals who have promoted this view,Brooks argued that it was liberals who have shaped the interpretation of the 2004 election, and that they did so because of their alleged psychological need to feel "morally superior to the people who just defeated them."

If anyone should be offended by this argument it is James Dobson, head of Focus on the Fmaily, and Ralph Reed, ex-head of the Christian Coalition and the 2004 Southeast regional coordinator of the Bush campaign.  Brooks' claim discounts the hard work these guys have been doing to highlight their impact on the election.  

An intellectual conceit is at work in Brooks' editorial that runs throughout conservative commentary on American politics.  Conservatives position themselves as representatives of the majority viewpoint, yet simultaneously portray liberals as the ones who make public opinion.  

On the one hand, Brooks says that liberals have shaped the popular interpretation of the election results.  On the other, he asserts that liberal Democrats are a minority that is getting smaller, losing influence, and best compared to a "drowning man".  To call the party that garnered nearly 56 million votes a drowning man is a bit much, but Democrats definitely lost the election, and liberalism is so unpopular a word that John Kerry ducked the label.

Conservatives would love to keep having it both ways.  Liberals, in their view, are simultaneously an out-of-power and out-of-touch minority, AND they dominate public discussion of politics.  

Conservatives advance the contradiction because having it both ways absolves them of responsibility. In Brooks' rendition of American politics, conservatives speak for the majority yet are never responsible for what happens because for reasons unexplained by who controls government, who wins national elections, and who gets plenty of space on the New York Times op/ed page, conservatives do not influence public opinion.  At some point--maybe after four years of running all branches of the federal government and back-to-back wins in the presidential elections--the Republican Party will start acknowledging that it is, in fact, the party in power and that conservatives have as much, and probably more, influence in shaping public perceptions than do what Brooks calls "coastal and university town liberals".  

Such an acknowledgment is unlikely, however, because the increasingly absurd pretense of liberal domination not only excuses conservatives from accountability, it also helps suppress conflict within the Republican Party's coalition of supporters.   By calling the "values vote" a myth, Brooks bolsters the argument that Bush voters strongly supported fiscal and military policies that are not closely associated with evangelical moral values.  Again, his real argument is with Ralph Reed and Christian evangelicals.  The latter group wants Bush to give social policies top priority, and will push for judicial nominees that will not be popular with all Bush voters.  Brooks might fracture the Republican coalition by openly criticizing Reed for exaggerating the importance of moral values to GOP voters.  Much better to blame it on the liberals one more time.    

We need to call them on this gimmick, and stop letting the GOP coalition use the word liberal to paper over its internal divisions.  It is time that conservatives take responsibility for their own influence.  Brooks' real argument is with Ralph Reed, not an unnamed cabal of liberal public-opinion makers, but Brooks and other conservative pundits who don't trumpet  evangelicalism are afraid to openly disagree with the Christian right (they need only take one look at Specter to have this fear reinforced).  It would be useful to ask these folks when possible about their views on any and all Christian conservative policies.  They can either agree, squirm, or, like Specter did briefly, speak their mind.

by history prof 2004-11-08 01:01PM | 0 recs
Great Post - I agree
We really do need to take back "liberal."

My brother and I were talking about a strategy to get the meme "Jesus was a Liberal" out into the culture.  

I know people have written about this, but if the Christian Conservatives had to confront that idea enough, perhaps their own rationalizations about how they can consider themselves Christian and simultaneously propping up the corporate elitists of the GOP, their party zeal might soften a bit.

I really do like this attack, though.  We need to get people examining their own definitions of "Conservative" and "Liberal".  There's so much hypocrisy on the right, that it can't survive the light of day..

by Roadie 2004-11-08 01:07PM | 0 recs
Conservatism is our enemy
Being a liberal and proud of it is noble and fine. Unfortunately the word has been demonized and corrupted beyond recognition by endless repetions of "lib" by wrong wing pundits. We must mount a campaign to ensure that "conservative" suffers a similar fate. My suggestion: call them "cons." While liberal shares it root with positive words such as liberty and liberation, conservative has such negative cousins as conceal, connive and convict(n.). We must take back our language with the "con" meme and others. Issues are no longer relevant in political discourse; today's politics require frames, memes and language corruption, endlessly repeated. (See "death tax, partial-birth abortion, etc.)
by STUBALL 2004-11-08 01:24PM | 0 recs
No such thing as "conservatism"
Our enemy is totalitarianism, whose essence has been the same in every time and place in which it has arisen, although the terminology is local and topical.

It would be a serious mistake to be distracted by any of the terminology or symbolism that is specific to this time and place.  None of it matters.  There are no "issues".  The public discourse has been completely purged of content.  All that remains is the Party: you are either loyal to it or disloyal to it.  This is not our game.  The game we are good at is not being played, and, if we degrade ourselves to play this game, we will forfeit the right to exist.  Our goal must not be to win the game: it must be to stop the game.

by Frank Wilhoit 2004-11-08 02:26PM | 0 recs
Tarnishing "conservative"
I would rather have worse words to associate with "conservative", since "conservative" is occasionally a good word (like "liberal"). I would start with words like

right wing
Flat-Earth Society

use these terms to describe conservatives you dislike, and distinguish between conservative values you might like (small government, strong families [gay or straight]).

by niq 2004-11-08 02:58PM | 0 recs
It's About Our Way of Life
If you want to reverse conservatism, and promote progressivism/liberalism, you've got to help people realize that their fundamental way of life is under attack.  As FedFarmer over at AmendmentNine says and elaborates . . . our way of life is under attack, and no one in power is doing anything about it.

Over the past 30 years, liberals have become uncomfortable engaging in mass politics on that message of apocalyptic activism.  Which is truly striking, since it has never been more true that the values that have made this nation great from day one and on thousands of days since then are under attack from the corporatist republican oligarchy more than ever.  Liberals should understand that many of the values that they hold dear -- liberty, democracy, humanity -- are shared by huge numbers of people all around this country, including millions of people who vote red.  We must take the message to them that we, not the republican overlords, represent their values and will fight to protect the values that they cherish.  We will never turn the tide until we make this our battle cry.

by WSW 2004-11-08 04:37PM | 0 recs
Sounds to me like trying to be Republican...
Trying to demonize the word 'conservative' seems like the tried and true democratic response to any failure...try to replicate what the right-wingers have done.

I can only imagine Karl Rove laughing his a$% off.  

We need to find a better way and realize (and believe) that our message is fundamentally better than that of the right wing.

by pkelly 2004-11-08 05:04PM | 0 recs
It's Not Either/Or My Friend
Nor is it like the conservatives. They demonize liberalism by misrepresenting it, often by projection of their own dark side. What Chris is talking about is simply telling the truth--and doing it forcefully, without apology.
by Paul Rosenberg 2004-11-08 05:42PM | 0 recs
Re: It's Not Either/Or My Friend
"This is why I have begun a campaign to tarnish conservatism itself" couldn't be more clear. It's what the wingnuts do in a different package.

Speaking honestly and forcefully about what liberalism means (does anyone still know/agree?) would be a different tactic vs. the run/hide that most left- or left-leaning politicians do.  This could be effective.

My point is that we need new tactics that seize the initiative.  Just like in any sport, it's important to control the tempo.  You don't do that by copying your opponents tactics.

by pkelly 2004-11-08 07:34PM | 0 recs
Re: It's Not Either/Or My Friend
"You don't do that by copying your opponents tactics."

So if they run TV ads, we don't run TV ads, and if they write books, we don't write books?  I don't think so.

Of course we should strive to seize the initiative, and that's why I'm a big promoter of Lakoff's work, among other things. But that doesn't preclude us mounting a systematic critique of conservatism, nor does it stop us from presenting this critique sharply and repeatedly.  Conservatives have gotten a free pass from liberals for far too long, covering themselves in unearned, unjustified accolades. It's time we took that advantage away from them.

by Paul Rosenberg 2004-11-09 04:11AM | 0 recs
Re: It's Not Either/Or My Friend
Thank you for saying this. I think a lot of liberals suffers from what my friend calls Americanitis- black/white or yes/no analysis. It maybe that is part of being partisan. But, I do agree that these questions: do we attack conservatism or build of liberalism are false choices. The answer is we must both definite liberalism positively, and destroy conservatism as a positive.
by bruh21 2004-11-09 05:31AM | 0 recs
Kerry was the real "conservative"
Firstly, I would like to say that the level of discourse on this board is really heartening. It is obvious why smart people tend to vote "liberal". When you know things, when you have the facts, you tend to vote a certain way. When you are an ignoramus who goes by his "gut instinct" you vote for Bush and "values".

In the campaign, John Kerry ran as a conservative. He wanted to balance the budget, he wanted to preserve our Cold War alliances, he wanted, quite frankly, to "conserve" the welfare state that has existed in America since the Great Depression. It is important to realize that, rationally speaking, the welfare state has coincided not with American decline, but with American dominance over the past 70 years. Tampering with the welfare state sounds good in the economic textbooks of academe, but when people realize that the welfare state wasn't protecting unwed black mothers driving cadillacs, it was protecting the white middle class, they will be singing a tune familiar to their grandparents, and great grandparents.

But liberalism is so much more than a welfare state. Hitler believed in social security too! Liberalism is an attitude towards life that isn't miserly. For instance. If I have millions of dollars in the bank I don't begrudge that my tax dollars go to the needy. It means an interest in the prosperity of all, not resentment if the other guy does good too, even if I'm down on my luck. It is a belief that life is wonderful and the universe, a gift, is governed by a divine economy, not an economy of scarcity and deprivation. One might say that the liberal's attitude towards God is that of a friend, not a fearful servant.

Is that the vibe you get from the religious right? It is as if they forgot half of religion (the best half) so they can focus on how Ragnarok will bring justice to their enemies!

We need to get one thing clear: there is a disease at large in the populous that is the fountainhead of fascism. If you want insight into America's "Red States" look at Vichy France or Nazi Germany. I encourage everyone to study the works of famed psychologist Wilhelm Reich, especially the "Mass-Psychology of Fascism". I say this because we might be dealing with a elemental force that will not respond to reason. Look at the voting patterns. Not much changed in 4 years DESPITE Bush having a dubious track record. If people don't think, democracy will die and fascism will take its place.

I would also recommend studying the works of Emile Durkheim, who pointed out that the Enlightenment view that society is held together by bonds of rational self-interest are false. If I am rational, then I cannot be trusted, because you can presume that the moment I calculate that it is in my interest to stab you in the back, I will do so. Only guilt-ridden, and hence irrational animals, can be trusted to any degree. Even when the opportunity arises for me to capitalize on your temporary vulnerability, I will balk. I may rationalize my hesitation afterwards but that act of balking is irrational.

How can I know that the people around me are safely irrational? Every society has certain totems or symbols which command the emotions of the people within, and command indifference to all others. When others react in an emotional way to these totems, you know that their loyalty and commitment to you are more than skin deep. They are part of the tribe. And this is the key. When others are not irrationally moved by these symbols they cant be trusted! They aren't part of the tribe.

This is at the heart of the "divide" in America. It is also why I look askance on efforts to "win over" the Red States to "liberalism". Liberals and socialists in Nazi Germany were dumbstruck at how the masses rejected them in favor of people who would enslave them and send them off to innumerable wars. It may be hard to comprehend, but it is the nature of the beast. When you hear the drumbeat against "New York Liberals" ie. blacks and Jews, and you see the non-urban states coalescing into an unstoppable voting majority unconcerned with reality then its not hard to see the writing on the wall.

Is there a solution? Do you forsee the rural way of life returning a middle class income anytime soon? Do you see people who believe in Creationism thriving in a globalized knowledge economy? Do you see the black, brown, and yellow skinned people of the world backing off of their steady march to parity with the west anytime soon? If you do, please tell me because I would like to see it.

by Paul Goodman 2004-11-08 06:48PM | 0 recs
Re: Kerry was the real "conservative"
This is a very interesting post. The idea that liberals are the real conservatives, along the lines you stated re Kerry, was floated back in the 1950s, and makes a certain degree of sense. Except that most conservatives aren't interested in conserving just anything, they're interested in conserving hierarchical structures of power. David Souter is the sort of conservative you're talking about, and he is considered part of the Court's more liberal wing.

But what I find much more interesting is your use of Durkheim. I will forgoe the easy response that the Scottish Enlightment put forth a very different view, relying not on rational self-interest, but on the positive moral sentiment of benevolence, rather than the negative sentiments of shame and guilt.

Instead, I'll focus on the present. We now have a much more sophistaced approach to such matters. For example, we have the notion of "normed rationality," which is what impels us to vote, despite the fact that here in California Kerry's election was a foregone cojnclusion, and the cost of standing in line for 40 minutes was certainly higher than any personal benefit I could have received. Liberalism is very much dependent on, and involved in the creation, nurturance and expansion of such norms.  

Conventional liberal political theory doesn't support this, of course (which is one of the reasons that Lakoff is so important), but liberal social movements always have, and Rawls did make a move part-way in this direction with his "veil of ignorance" argument.

We also have a more sophisticated understanding of the tribalism you point to, specifically in ALtemeyer's work on rightwing authoritarianism (RWA), in Sidanius and Pratto's work on social dominance orientation (SDO), both of which are anti-democratic value orientations strongly correlated with political conservatism.  

This is further enhanced by Kegan's extension of Paiget & Kohlberg's work on cognitive development, which identifies the first stage of adult development as being constructed out of social roles, while the second stage functions by taking them as objects.

Together, these theoretical approaches teach us that conservative forces are strongly grounded in human nature--but so are liberal ones. They also help us to begin understanding how to move people in a more progressive direction. Lakoff's work on framing, and how to ground it in a nurturant parent morality is the most well-developed work of this sort, but it is indicative of a broader fact-based approach that needs far more attention in the future if we are to make the sorts of changes that will save us from self-destruction via imperial overstretch, resource depletion, global warming, etc.

by Paul Rosenberg 2004-11-09 04:45AM | 0 recs
I Am A Liberal
Here is something I invite you to use in your fight for liberalism.  It reclaims the word "liberal" from the lexicon of insult.  I wrote it, but I'm proud for anyone to use it, with or without attribution:


The Oxford English Dictionary lists the following among its definitions of the word "liberal":

*    Free in bestowing; bountiful, generous, open-hearted.

*    Free in speech or action.

*    Free from narrow prejudice; open-minded, candid.

*    Free from bigotry or unreasonable prejudice in favor of traditional opinions or established institutions; open to the reception of new ideas or proposals of reform.

*    Favorable to constitutional changes and legal or administrative reforms tending in the direction of freedom or democracy.

"Liberal" comes from the Latin meaning "free."  When you call me liberal, you say that I am generous, open-hearted, open-minded, and above all, free.

You may try to turn the word "liberal" into something hateful.  You may intend to attack me with this word; you may mean to say that I am irresponsible.  You may try to turn "liberal" into an insult, but I proudly embrace it.

I AM a liberal.

by DavidS 2004-11-08 08:19PM | 0 recs
Re: I Am A Liberal
Excellent post.
by Green Irishboy 2004-11-09 04:05AM | 0 recs
Building on "Liberal"
I agree with those who suggest that "liberal" has been unduly compromised by relentless attacks over the years, including endless "tax and spend" references.  The aim should be to express the IDEALS of liberalism into a new term, that also encompasses the policies we want to promote.  Perhaps that term  is "Progressive", maybe a new term.

Some examples:

Ideal: Economic progress  Policy: Fair taxation levels, that don't burden lower income Americans.

Ideal: Economic progress  Policy:  A living minimum wage level.

Ideal: Economic progress  Policy: The goal of a balanced budget, which does not rack up debt that our children and grandchildren must eventually deal with.

This would allow a shift in the dynamic when the word liberal is used, without having to be overly defensive.  

by stuw 2004-11-09 12:56PM | 0 recs


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