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Sometimes Obvious Is Not Always So

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[P]rototypical liberals, or progressives, in contrast to conservatives, seem to derive their sense of self from a moral wellspring within themselves that connects them fundamentally to other human beings and all of the natural creation.

What are the chances that a dyed-in-the-wool, true-blue conservative  thinks that of liberals? Deconstructed, it's actually both a very interesting and accurate observation about how we on the left view life! 

We're different.... In a time when political animosity directed toward those on the "other side" of public policy and cultural debates seems to know few if any limits, stating the obvious is not exactly an earth-shattering revelation.

But I'm not sure just how much we appreciate the differences, although I am certain those of us on the left have far too little understanding and appreciation for the values and beliefs that drive conservative action. There is just as little doubt that those on the right are largely clueless about the values and motivations that drive the progressive train.

In their (very limited) defense, however, conservatives don't understand liberal values because we don't always do a very good job of both defining those values and agreeing what they are to begin with! Adopting some consistency in both the principles that motivate our public actions and in the priorities that guide our policy preferences does challenge even the best puzzle-makers. That shortcoming is on us.

The consequence we progressives give too little consideration to is that our failure to advance a consistent message allows others to define us. As evidenced by the powerful and influential right-wing media machine, the highly inaccurate portrait they've created of left-leaning policy objectives is getting more firmly anchored by the day. We've got our work cut out for us.

Taking a chance by speaking for the great majority of liberals and progressives in America, we actually do love this country. We are not the spawns of Satan, either.

"The left is out to destroy America!" That's a very nice, concise statement of our motives and goals. If it weren't for the fact that it creates all by itself a new category of "wildly--insanely--inaccurate," we might appreciate its influence a wee bit more than we do.

The more we clarify not so much what we advocate--that's not exactly a state secret--but why we do, why we're motivated to promote not just a single cluster of policies (likewise not one of life's great mysteries), but what overall principles and ideas serve as the framework for our advocacy, the sooner we might create a crack or two in the wall that now divides us.

Far too many progressives still focus on speaking to a consensus-seeking policy elite -- one that privileges objectivity, data, and argument -- instead of pushing their ideas out to a divided public that responds to values, images, and stories....
More than that, progressives cede the cultural terrain, allowing conservatives to shape the narrative. When election season rolls around, they spend huge amounts of money trying to change it. Progressives correctly lament that conservative stories -- like outlandish speculations about Obama's citizenship -- often have no basis in facts. But facts are useless without a story.

We want many of the same things that conservatives profess. The key for us is to make that clear ... after we are in agreement as to our primary objectives (and why they are priorities). Clues are everywhere, and they are both noble and worthy. Our job is to acknowledge those motivations and purposes, and then piece it all together. Sooner would be a good time.

(Adapted from a recent blog post of mine)


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Looking Left and Right: Inspiring Different Ideas, Envisioning Better Tomorrows I remain a firm believer in late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone's observation that "We all do better when we all do better." That objective might be worth pursuing (more...)

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