Thursday, July 29, 2004

In the last half of the Harper's forum "Liberalism Regained:  Building the Next Progressive Majority", Daniels, Foner, Nader, Phillips, and Piven focus on what holds the factions of conservatism together and what new strategies liberals need to employ.  (See yesterday's blog for the first half of the article.) 
Harper's editor Lewis Lapham points out that:
The reactionary right isn't afflicted with the disease of cognitive dissonance.  It enjoys the services of a propaganda ministry funded over the last thirty years by romantic billionaires who believe that they are rescuing the country from godless liberalism.
Yes indeed, but the question is how they have held together such disparate factions.  As Piven notes:
They're the rifle people, the Christian right and the pro-life people, and the anti-tax people.  They're funded by corporations like Pfizer and Philip Morris.  But nothing seems to hold these groups together, other than that they all want to keep the Bushies in power.
But Lapham thinks he knows what the glue is:
What holds the factions together--the Christian and neoconservative  right, the racists and the homophobes--is their common tendency to believe in such a thing as absolute truth, the bright transcendent line between good and evil, right and wrong.  The religious rather than the secular habit of mind.
Nader has an additional idea:
Now, what is it that binds the conservatives together?  Why does Tom DeLay have six times the energy of Tom Daschle? ... Liberals.  The common enemy.  Conservatives of all denominations want to crush, smash, and vaporize liberals and liberalism in America.  They can't even say the words without a snarl.
Nader feels that:
our message is also missing something else:  the emotional content, in the best sense of the phrase.  One of the reasons is that liberals aren't good haters.  Whereas the agents and apostles of the right, they really are haters.
So.  What should liberals be doing?  For starters, we need to talk to each other and put together a methodical, relentless message that should include emotion--positive emotion.  The Democrats, I notice, have been providing that emotion at the convention this week with statements like "We're all in this together" and "There aren't two countries (red and blue) but one United States."  I'll have more to say on the subject of "our message" in my next posting.  But we cannot expect any message, no matter how consistent, to change the mood overnight.  Successful political movements usually need a lengthy period of gestation.  We do have some means to get that message out, though.  The right has its think tanks and propaganda machines.  Piven says:
All the left has are its social movements.  But they have tremendous communicative power.  Think of the abolitionists, the labor movement, the civil rights movement.  These kinds of movements get a lot of people on the street.  They disrupt things.  And that attracts a lot of attention.
Movements like those need lots of grass roots support.  The Democrats have forgotten the importance of having lots of boots on the ground--and not just during election cycles..  Nader asks:
In 1993, how many full-time organizers did the Clinton-Gore forces have on the ground behind their so-called national health-care plan?  I never counted more than twenty-five, and most of them were on leave from labor unions and citizen groups. ... The Democrats need a whole new generation of people.  There has to be a rupture, in effect, a takeover at the precinct level.  Which is where the party can be captured, because there's so much apathy at the precinct level.
Finally, the participants note that presently no kind of exterior force exists--think tank, social movement, grassroots political campaign--for attracting disaffected Republicans.  I think of that observation as an implicit homework assignment for Change for Missouri and Democracy for America



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