NJ For Change

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

We're All In It Together

I read this article today by Paul Waldman, the author of the book, Being Right Is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success. He posits the problem with progressives is that they don't know how to present themselves in a way” the public understands and is attracted to”.

Waldman says that if you ask ordinary citizens what conservatives stand for, chances are they’ll give you some version of “small government, low taxes, strong defense and traditional values.” In a nutshell that sounds about right to me, although there is much more to the conservative (Republican) philosophy than those four sound bites.

He also says if you ask people what liberals stand for, chances are they’ll say “big government, high taxes, weak defense, and moral relativism.” That sounds like it neatly sums up the left wing of the Democratic Party. But again, I know there is much more to the liberal philosophy than these four basic points convey.

To counter this negative stereotype, Waldman suggests progressives use "a variant of the common good” and recommends “Progressives believe we’re all in it together”. Supposedly, this formulation has the benefit of implying the flip side, “conservatives believe we’re all on our own and we’re all out for ourselves”.

He also prefers “the idea that we’re all in it together” because the phrase “doesn’t necessarily imply personal sacrifice for others’ sake—that you have to give something up to benefit the common good.” Although, it the progressives’ call for even greater sacrifice that is the very core belief Waldman is trying to downplay with the bland “we’re all in it together.” He writes, “If I’m selling Americans’ altruistic instincts a little short in arguing that a more direct appeal to sacrifice has political limitations, so be it.”

In other words, if progressives openly and honestly explained their how-to plans people would be turned off - so it’s best to hide behind a truism that gives no hint as to how the greater good is to be accomplished. I believe both sides agree on the goal, but disagree on how best to make it happen.

This leads us right back to the general understanding of how each side proposes to achieve the greater good. Therein lies the progressives’ real problem – the majority of American people are fully aware of how liberals propose achieving the greater good - big government, high taxes, weak defense, moral relativism - and have rejected those ideas. Americans also know they make personal sacrifices for the sake of others in countless ways and object to the progressive implication they’ve somehow let the team down.

Proclaiming “I’m for” is not enough, what progressives must learn from conservative success is that ‘how to’ plans matter – they actually have to create the greater good. Perhaps that is the biggest distinction of all – conservatives believe you have to create, progressives believe you have to take.

Update: Here’s the chairman of the Democratic Party, Howard Dean’s take on the difference

"I was recently asked about the difference between the Democratic and Republican parties. When it comes right down to it, the essential difference is that the Democrats fundamentally believe it is important to make sure that American Jews feel comfortable being American Jews."
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