One of the reasons the left doesn’t do better is because it tends to view the right’s transgressions as a moral issue rather than as a pragmatic problem as, for example, a baseball coach would do if the Tea Party were the other team.
In fact, calling someone a racist is not a particularly useful political move whereas figuring out why they’re getting to first base all the time, and you’re not, is.
Here, for example, are three ways the right’s political strategy varies from the left’s:
– The right keeps it simple. It speaks United States, not bland abstractions devised by some third rate branding coach. There is hardly anyone in the country who doesn’t know the right opposes gay marriage, abortion and illegal immigration. Now try describing three primary goals of liberals or the left and you see the problem. This not only works on the voters, it works with the media, which finds its difficult to deal with more than three concepts at a time.
– The right keeps its eye on issues rather than icons. Liberals just become indentured servants of an Obama or Clinton and let the wars and the Wall Street bailouts go on unimpeded. The GOP doesn’t even have a leading candidate for 2012, but it’s already controlling the issues.
– The right knows how to scare the shit out of liberals and politicians like Obama, whereas the right doesn’t even get scared at the thought of destroying the planet.
The right has become so powerful for the same reason that Bernie Madoff was so wealthy: by conning people. But we didn’t send people to prison for being fooled by Madoff and we shouldn’t send voters to purgatory for being fooled by the GOP. Instead, we need to rethink the whole game, including figuring out how to turn the rightwing’s victims into a progressive constituency.
So here are three good places to start changing the left’s own politics: speak United States, deal with issues and let the politicians fend for themselves, and start scaring the shit out of the powers that be.
And here’s one way it could happen.
The Tea Party, according to recent polling, is supported by about 18% of the American public. On the other hand, there is a potential constituency of 28% of the American public that could have a huge impact on our politics, but doesn’t, in no small part because political mythology has it that its components parts can’t get on well enough together.
This is a familiar story in American politics: after all southern racism was built in no small part on elite whites convincing less wealthy whites that their real enemies were poor blacks. Similarly today, the media and political establishment tell us that the 28% of the country comprised of blacks and latinos just can’t come together enough to make an effective coalition.
Yes, there are conflicts such as immigration. But consider that the whole illegal immigration matter involves only about 5% of the workforce, that the illegal immigrant and black workforces tend to be geographically separated, that no illegal immigrant is known to have outsourced any meaningful number of jobs or slashed public employment, and the mythological aspect of the black-latino conflict over immigration becomes clear. It is mainly useful as a tool to keep the two ethnic groups apart.
Now it’s true that a group of black, latino, labor and other progressive groups are planning a joint demonstration in October, as the Washington Post has described:
In an effort to replicate the tea party’s success, 170 liberal and civil rights groups are forming a coalition that they hope will match the movement’s political energy and influence. They promise to "counter the tea party narrative" and help the progressive movement find its voice again after 18 months of floundering.
The large-scale attempt at liberal unity, dubbed "One Nation," will try to revive themes that energized the progressive grassroots two years ago. In a repurposing of Barack Obama’s old campaign slogan, organizers are demanding "all the change" they voted for — a poke at the White House.
But the liberal groups have long had a kind of sibling rivalry, jostling over competing agendas and seeking to influence some of the same lawmakers. In forming the coalition, the groups struggled to settle on a name. Even now, two of the major players disagree about who came up with the idea of holding a march this fall. . .
The groups involved represent the core of the first-time voters who backed President Obama — including the National Council of La Raza, NAACP, AFL-CIO, SEIU and the United States Student Association. . .
Their aha moment happened after the health-care overhaul passed this spring. Liberal groups, who focused their collective strength to push the bill against heavy resistance, felt relevant and effective for the first time in a long while. That health-care coalition — composed of civil rights groups, student activists and labor leaders — liked the winning feeling.
Unfortunately the initial noise from the effort has very much the traditional sound of much liberal organizing: mushy, middle of the road and tied to winning some seats in Congress rather than really changing the politics of those who win. And the thought of the lousy healthcare bill being considered an aha moment is not reassuring. We’ve already been through this fantasy once with the supposed black Jesus, Obama. Putting our faith in one more congressional election may just be the Democrat’s Last Supper.
But here is what could really change American politics:
– Top black and latino groups come together to find out what they agree on. Anything they disagree about is put in the later file.
– The list, no more than ten issues, should primarily deal with matters that affect not only blacks and latinos but broad segments of white America. The one way that minorities truly do well politically in this country is when they lead the majority. If they do, then their more ethnic concerns benefit as well. That should be the goal in this case.
– The list should be specific with no abstractions.
– The coalition should announce it will not endorse any candidates (that would be up to the member organizations of the group) but will be publishing a score card on all candidates based on these issues.
The consensus issues should be heavily centered on economics such as Social Security, foreclosures, and credit care usury. Ending the war in Afghanistan and single payer would be other examples. In each case, a position stated in no longer than one line or a tweet.
If you have any doubts of the power of these issues, consider the following from a recent Time poll:
86% oppose reducing spending on Social Security
82% oppose reducing spending on Medicare.
55% would reduce spending on the war in Afghanistan
63% would not reduce spending on unemployment compensation
68% would not reduce spending on healthare.
After the black and latino groups have drafted their policy, they could invite others – such as labor and student groups – to join them, but the key point would remain: American politics will never be the same because blacks and latinos have come together and another political myth has been shattered.
SAM SMITH is the editor of the Progressive Review, where this column originally appeared.