Friday, January 21, 2005

What Do We Stand For?

Today, Kos posted the following bit from The American Prospect:
We believe in freedom and liberty, and we're for low taxes, less government, traditional values, and a strong national defense.
Say what you want about the honesty of it, but that’s the “elevator pitch” for the GOP. The challenge was to come up with a similar pitch for the Democratic party.

What ensued was 536 comments listing ideas of what we as a party stood for. They ranged from the poetic to the banal, the trite to the insightful, the short to the too damn long.

And you know what the common thread was? We don’t share a vocabulary. We know what we stand for. We just can’t tell you.

As I was reading through, browser chugging along under the weight of all those comments, I came upon this one, part of which seemed to sum up the frustration I was feeling:
…Seriously, folks, there is no consensus among progressives sufficient to enable an elevator speech. This is wishful thinking. We have to do the groundwork first, and we haven't.
Since I was stupid enough to volunteer to pull this thread’s comments together, and too honor bound to walk away from such a pledge (although I thought about it), I’d like to start some of that groundwork here if you’ll indulge the length of it.

Rational:
First, I believe that we can’t just come up with an elevator pitch that sounds good, or even one like the GOP model. What we need is to define what a Democrat stands for, but also contrast ourselves to the GOP.

Secondly, as noted in the comments, the GOP model was something anyone, even our side, would agree with. Seriously, who is against freedom and liberty? Who doesn’t like low taxes and less government? Who wants a weak defense? So whatever we come up with needs to be equally palatable to all Americans. After all, elevator pitches are made to convert, not to the choir.

Finally, this GOP pitch uses language that is easily understandable, but generic. You don’t need a PhD or a background in philosophy to understand it. Whatever we embrace needs to be just as accessible to fit into our sound bite worldview.

So I’m starting by breaking the GOP model into its two part, General Belief and What We're For:

Part 1: General Belief:
We believe in freedom and liberty, and we're for low taxes, less government, traditional values, and a strong national defense.
They believe in freedom and liberty. Duh. Who doesn’t. But this ties nicely into Bush’s talk of spreading freedom throughout the world and many other of their talking points.

In the comments, freedom and liberty were often listed. But, in order to contrast who we are, I think we need to find some other general principals that say “Democrat” loudly. This doesn’t mean we don’t believe in freedom or liberty. Everyone does. Instead, what has our party stood for, espoused, and fights for?

In the comments the terms that kept coming up were a combination of individual freedoms and shared responsibilities. Think of the four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. These are the bedrock of who we are as a party, and provide a rich heritage we should draw upon. But none of them exist in a vacuum. They only exist when we share responsibility for them. To the GOP, freedom is individual. It exists in a vacuum in which individual liberty trumps the good of group. There are winners and losers. Defining freedom as based in sharing responsibilities is a key contrast between us and the GOP.

Part 2: What We’re For
A: Tax Policy:
We believe in freedom and liberty, and we're for low taxes, less government, traditional values, and a strong national defense.
In the comments, taxes were directly talked about the least. I think that is because as a party we tend to look at things from a group perspective, rather than through an individual perspective like the GOP. To us, taxes are a shared responsibility the group needs to protect and promote individual freedoms. To the GOP they are an affliction visited upon the individual. At their root they deal with money.

The terms “fairness” and “responsibility” were used repeatedly in place of the tax line. These concepts were often tied to “fiscal responsibility” through “reduced deficits” or “balanced budgets”. Again these provide an opportunity to contrast the GOP’s individualist focus on money to the Democratic value of taxes as dues paid on the behalf of America.

Part 2: What We’re For
B: Government View:
We believe in freedom and liberty, and we're for low taxes, less government, traditional values, and a strong national defense.
Here the GOP cloaks their “starve the beast” mentality with the simple idea that government is bad. Democrats do not see government necessarily as bad, but as something that needs to serve the group.

The words used in place or conjunction with the description of government were “open” “honest” “transparent” “effective” “accountable” and the like. These terms were aimed as describing a government that serves the people, rather than one who afflicts the individual through taxes.

Part 2: What We’re For
C: Value Beliefs:
We believe in freedom and liberty, and we're for low taxes, less government, traditional values, and a strong national defense.
The GOP cloak their right wing views in terms like “traditional” when describing their values. Who’s traditions are we talking about here? The first generation immigrant who tries to retain his culture here in America? Nope. I don’t think so.

In my mind this is a huge opportunity to undermine the GOP, and especially the Right’s talking points. Many value systems were named in the comment section, but the one that stuck out took a page out of Obama’s speech notes. Where the GOP stands for their conservative Christian idea of “traditional”, Democrats stand for American values. The contrast could not be clearer.

Part 2: What We’re For
D: National Defense:
We believe in freedom and liberty, and we're for low taxes, less government, traditional values, and a strong national defense.
Naturally, the last one was the hardest. Of course the GOP, having the individual centered, fear based value system, would require an outward show of strength. They need to be strong to stand alone as individuals. Only the weak need others to help them along.

This area was probably where our vocabulary took the largest diversity. There were those who wanted to globalize our role through a healthy environment. Others wanted to be just as strong as the GOP in defense. Some wanted philosophical differences based on reason and rational arguments. Many argued peace and tolerance.

In the end, for me at least, the comments that seemed to cover all of these aspects focused on leadership. Unlike the GOP which focused on our individual strength as a nation, the idea that Democrats believe in leadership through example seemed to me the best contrast that we could draw, and one that fits well with our would view. We do not wish to be strong to mold others to our would view, but instead desire to be strong leaders in the world community.

*****************************************************************

So there you have it. If I ever volunteer to sum up a post with over 500 comments again, please super troll rate me out of existence so that I may come to my senses. In the end, this entire summary reflects what I thought to be the common values within the comments made in attempts at an elevator pitch for Democrats. I’m sure some word smithing and debate will remain and be healthy for this goal. But in the end, I’ve tried to boil down 536 comments into 30 words. So, here goes:

We believe in:
We believe in individual freedom and shared responsibility, and we're for fiscal responsibility, a government of, by and for the people, American values, and our strength as leader among nations.


They believe in:
They believe in freedom and liberty, and they're for low taxes, less government, traditional values, and a strong national defense.