Liberalism’s Self-Conidence Problems Are Deeper Than Mere Marketing Can Fix.
Every once in a while—especially after a confounding electoral loss—a series of experts with the right credentials circulates on the right forums advising Democrats and liberals that their message is actually popular, they just aren’t using the right terms to sell it. Whether it’s Berekely professor George Lakoff or radio host talking about psychology or radio host Thom Hartmann peddling pseudo-scientific “neurolinguistic programming,” the idea is that if you lead the horse to water, it will drink.
That anyone would even make this diagnosis shows how out of touch they are. The problem is not with the Democratic Party’s branding, it’s with the brand. It’s not with the policies, but with the perception of where and what those policies point to. Changing those names won’t fix that.
So, even while majorities favor things like abortion rights, progressive taxation, and any other number of policy pillars of the party, the problem is that the sum total of these policies would drag us towards a sort of vapid social democracy that bleaches away all of our traditions. This is hyperbolic, but not entirely wrong.
The Republican party was seen as greedy, incompetent, war-mongering, and mean when the Democrats swept Congress in 2006. That perception never really went away, and Trump exploited it by sifting some of the pieces out to sound mean, yes, but not as greedy (what a joke), competent (the art of the deal! we’re going to start winning!) and initially less warmongering (many people believed that “globalist” Hillary would be more likely to get us into a war).
The flaw in Hillary’s campaign and the genius of her husband’s entire political career, with the exception of the period right after his first election as President, was that he made sure to do something to defy that easy categorization from time to time. Something that really stood out. In the 1992 campaign, it was the in/famous “Sister Souljah” moment. Later it was school uniforms and parental controls on TV.
Obama’s biggest transgression in this regard was saying one nice thing about Ronald Reagan during the 2008 primary. Other than that, he didn’t really need to buck the party line because that election was more of a referendum on Republicans than Democrats. In 2016, it was the opposite. We had 8 hard years—not hard because of Obama—of milquetoast recovery and government tension. Hillary did not deviate. And Bernie simply turned into the skid and said, yes, fine, we want a vapid social democracy. Learn how to queue.
I think the main reason we don’t analyze this underlying problem is that we simply dismiss it. It’s not true, we think. We would not create a vapid social democracy. I doubt it would be so vapid. Crossing the political schwerpunkt of Democratic Party policy would leave us with something like Canada and still far to the right of Europe. Anyone who has spent any time in Canada could hardly object to that.
But, there doesn’t have to be a 1:1 connection between perception and fact. Things happen. Race riots happen mere months after Civil Rights legislation. The optics are awful. What’s the result? Bad perceptions.
So, dismiss it all you want, but the fear of many voters is that Democrats hate religion, dislike the military and police, will ban guns for the sake of banning them instead of solving problems, will raise taxes to pay fix problems for people who don’t deserve the help [more than I do], will twist themselves into pretzels to defend people who attack us even when those ideals flatly contradict the strict political editorial standards they demand of us here, and seem to not only not be patriotic, but have an allergy to it.
Whether or not that outnumbers the things they are popular for: health care, education, and workplace issues, depends on the mood the voters are in.
To be crystal clear: I’m not even saying it’s necessary to change these views. I don’t share those views or think they are even typical of most liberals. All I’m saying is, someone needs to do something to dash that perception. How about a Democratic candidate runs on a tax cut and adding bodies instead of hardware to the military? Something.
It needs to be something confident and positive that doesn’t sound like it’s a drag to stand for the national anthem. (Old Glory needs our good vibes more than ever now, right?)
Do you have an idea? Let me know.