This originally was going to be a response to an ongoing exchange, but it got a little long. I also happen to believe that this is an important question that non-Republicans face now, so I'm bumping it up here.
Some people, despairing at the apparent solidarity and message discipline of the Republicans, say that we should be more like them. Some might say that party loyalty trumps all else. I may just be too much the independent-minded American clichÃ©, but I just cannot just go along with that.
Before going on, I should say that I'm not a Democrat. I have no party loyalty. To me politics is not like a football game where you battle it out, take your penalties, win some and lose some, and drive around with bumper stickers framing your tailpipe. If the Republicans suddenly lost the callouses covering their hearts and started backing progressive causes, I'd be voting for them. I don't think that's too likely, though. These days Republicans are more likely to honor Coolidge and Harding than Teddy Roosevelt. Still, I'm writing as someone who is dedicated to moral values that are at the heart of progressive thought. Anyway....
I question that the lesson the Democrats should learn from the Republicans is that everyone should shut up and get in line. It's true, they are very good at that. But the thing is that they respond well to authoritarian ways of thinking. It's part of their culture: "Do as you're told!" The regimented approach works for them simply because they work well in a regimented system. It suits them -- and it suits their authoritarian message.
And so we see them come out every now and then -- all of the sudden -- with new talking points, new fictions, new spam with which to assault our sensibilities. They made their plans, then attacked on the specified date with the specified lingo.
Now I may be wrong, but I don't think that theory can work with progressives and liberals. We're just too independent-minded. We think for ourselves. We don't follow orders unless we know what the reasons behind them are. It's a problem of which most progressive leaders are aware, and there are efforts to change that, to try to build a more cohesive collective effort. I'm a part of a couple of such endeavors, and framing is topic #1.
But I and the people I've spoken with are under no illusions that we can just expect to set the drum beat and have everyone start marching. Who would want that, anyway?
So what unites progressives? Values. Morality. Justice. Many of us cannot really articulate it, we just know. We know it's wrong for the powerful to screw over the powerless. We know it's wrong to treat people struggling to make ends meet as problems to be dispensed with. We know it's wrong to use people's misfortunes in health, work and home against them. But it seems like we cannot find ways to say these things. We don't have the vocabulary. We're out of practice.
And it sure doesn't help when the purported progressive "leaders" refuse to stand up for these things, and constantly and repeatedly bow to pressure, appease opposition and yes, take the money. It's not even a working "strategy": the Democrats have gotten their asses handed to them time and time again. Meanwhile, by not standing up and fighting for what's right, they devalue their own message, and their silence lends credence to those on the other side.
"What does John Kerry stand for?" was the big question in the last election. Even his supporters couldn't answer. It was "anybody but Bush," and if Kerry won everyone just sort of hoped he would back their own perspective. Meanwhile he said virtually nothing, tried to bargain his way around issues (perhaps the most pronounced regarding gay marriage) and not offend anybody. It didn't work. As bad as W is, it didn't work.
In the '80s, Reagan's big victory was playing the leading man in the conservatives' big stage play that twisted progressive liberal values into something to be ashamed of. "Liberal!" cried the conservatives, and the Democrats ran away as if they'd said "leper!" Since then the Democrats have still been scrambling, trying to find a way out of the Republicans' framing of the issues. Some, but not all, are starting to see that there is no escape from the Republican frame. It's the Republicans' frame! Of course the Democrats can't get any footing there. It's designed that way. Until the Democrats break that paradigm, I see no result other than more of the same.
I offer this as a another way to look at things:
A Declaration of Progressive Principles
Drafted online by the members of The Principles Project and adopted March 1, 2005
We believe in America's historic promise of liberty, justice and the expansion of opportunity for all people. These commitments to fundamental human dignity and a better nation for all animate the American spirit and give us a sense of common purpose. We honor these commitments by recognizing that with the great freedoms afforded us comes an even greater responsibility to see that those freedoms are extended to all people in all places.
We believe that this sense of shared responsibility -- for our families, our communities, our nation and our world -- strengthens our country and secures our future.
We believe in defending dignity:
â€œAll people are created equalâ€? is not just a fact -- it is a call to action. Either we create justice for all or we have justice for none.
All people have the right to lead their personal lives in accordance with their own beliefs, free from imposition or monitoring by others.
All people have a right to the basic necessities required to lead dignified lives and to pursue happiness.
We believe in strengthening democracy:
It is the shared responsibility of a nation to ensure each citizenâ€™s freedom, security and equality. Through government, we honor our responsibility to promote the common good.
Government must be transparent, accessible and open to all citizens who wish to oversee its workings and share in its benefits.
America must work to enhance the democratic process by ensuring an educated citizenry, equal opportunity for influence, honest public debate, competitive elections and robust civic participation.
A healthy democracy requires tireless vigilance against corruption and abuses of power, and a government that is accountable to its people.
We believe in promoting progress:
We must promote innovation and entrepreneurship, cultivate the arts and sciences, and ensure a quality education for everyone. When we invest in individual potential, the benefits are shared by all.
America must continue to be a welcoming home to all people. We believe that diversity of faith, culture and perspective enriches our nation.
America must keep a watchful eye on the economy to ensure fairness, transparency and genuine opportunity for all.
Each generation has a duty to protect and improve those resources we hold in common -- our community spaces, our public institutions and our natural environment.
We believe in embracing leadership:
Americaâ€™s security requires an effective military and a commitment to enduring alliances, but we must remember that Americaâ€™s true power is found in its wisdom as well as its strength.
Our security and prosperity rely on the security and prosperity of people throughout the world. By helping others, we will help ourselves.
America must join with other nations to build global institutions that protect the vulnerable, promote democratic self-government, and improve the health and welfare of all people throughout the world.
America must never suspend its belief in democracy and human rights in the pursuit of its global objectives. Noble ends require nothing short of noble means.
As progressives, these are our guiding principles -- to defend dignity, to strengthen democracy, to promote progress and to embrace leadership. We believe that our country must always be looking toward a better and brighter future for all people, and in this pursuit we pledge to come forward and work with whomever we can. We will fight for these principles in every community, every forum and every office of government, because the struggles of this new century will not only be about preserving the freedoms we already enjoy -- they will be about expanding those freedoms for all people.
-A Declaration of Progressive Principles, by The Principles Project
It's a sad testament that, most likely, all of the Democratic Senators would probably pay lip service to these moral values, while so often they turn and take the money so they can run again and take the money again. When does it stop? When do Democrats who do as Republicans do get measured by the same yardstick?