Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Progressives Need to Build a Political Identity

Paul Waldman, senior fellow at Media Matters for America, just published his latest book, Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn from Conservative Success, and writes about it today in his article “The Progressive Identity Complex”, at TomPaine.org.

He very much agrees with the idea put forward by Tomasky and Halpin/Teixeira (see below) that progressives need to put 'the common good' at the core of their identity.

While he substantively agrees with them, he emphasizes that progressives' main problem is how they present themselves, and he offers some advice on how to improve their presentation, and on how to better connect their agenda with their identity:

It isn’t enough to put a big idea before the American people; contrary to what the press corps would have people believe, the left has plenty of ideas. Progressives’ problem has been how they present themselves. In other words, their key challenge is to forge an identity the public understands and is attracted to.

So when progressives articulate their fundamental beliefs, they have to present a coin with two sides: the positive things they want people to believe about them, and the negative things they want people to believe about conservatives.

This is why I offer a variant of the “common good” idea, one that is likely to perform its political function more effectively. The answer to the question, “What do progressives believe at their core?” is this: Progressives believe we’re all in it together. (his emphasis)

Which brings us to the final benefit of having “We’re all in it together” as the core statement of progressive identity: it is, in fact, what progressives actually believe. (his emphasis)

He concludes:

In order for a fundamental statement of belief to do its political work, it has to be stated with conviction. When you stand up for what you believe in without fear and show how you’re different from your opponents, Americans come to see you as principled and strong. That’s what conservatives have been doing for decades, and as a result they’ve achieved success after success at the ballot box despite the fact that the public has been opposed to most of the policies they want to enact. If progressives can join their popular agenda to an identity based in courage, conviction and contrast with conservatives, there are few limits to what they can accomplish.

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