Progressives need a story

December 27, 2010 | By | 5 Replies More

I have previously written about the importance of storytelling. It is arguably the most effective way to make a memorable and effective argument. In the January 3, 2011 edition of The Nation, Eric Alterman argues that conservatives have a story and progressives do not.

[I]f you ask most Americans what conservatives believe will fix whatever is wrong with America at any given time, they can give you a simple, coherent response: lower taxes, less government, more “freedom.” It may be wrong. It may benefit only the rich. But it is easy to understand and repeat, particularly when billions of dollars have been invested to make it appear plausible.… Liberals do not appear to address potential solutions with anything like the far right’s aura of God-given self-confidence.

Alterman points out that the Democrats’ lack of a story lets Republicans run wild. It allows Republicans to proudly argue for “a tax ‘compromise’ with the president in which they are happy to assign more than 133 billion (out of a total of 347 billion) to fewer than five million Americans–the five million who are already lucky enough to be earning more than $250,000 per year.”


Category: Communication, Orwellian, Politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

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  1. Brian says:

    "Applied expertise."

    Liberals have certain problems as their methods diverge from what is ideal and also from what is expedient. Obama and Reid typify the weak leftist who cannot stand up for himself, and the absence of this deformity was Hilary's main appeal to me. Americans admire resolve and it is in fact more useful to be stalwart in disagreement (FDR, Reagan) than be seen as a doppelganger like Kerry and Romney.

    Republicans campaigned against the estate tax by saying it isn't fair for the same money to be taxed upon acquisition and inheritance, not by seeking compromise. The prescription is sticking to principles, principles that encourage acceptance of policies: mainly honesty and a lack of dogmatism.

    Liberals should approach issues honestly. The health care laws are either unconstitutional or represent a large theoretical expansion of government power at the expense of individuals, yet nearly identical or arguably better laws are constitutional if clearly declared "taxes". How ludicrous was it for Obama to not push what he thought was best but rather allow congress to craft what it thought it could pass? Bailouts and stimulus were not done in accordance with the best economic advice, but with the plurality of political advice. Liberals are transparently incapable of honestly asking if diversity makes for a stronger nation, if certain rates of immigration are better than others, etc. so their conclusions are untrustworthy. The military budget is obviously insane, as was degrading our capacity by supporting DADT. Liberals could spend consecutive, frenzied, sleepless freebasing years making true criticisms of themselves without mentioning Republicans at all.

    At least one political party should self-consciously try to reduce its bias whenever possible. The Democrats' strength could be deference to relevant experts, as they currently do regarding climate change.

    I don't identify with any political movement anywhere. My worthless vote is up for grabs.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Brian: I've drawn many hurt looks among those who voted for Obama (I voted for him too). People need to get over the social bonding that confuses and disorients the political process, but they can't or won't. I think we'd all be better off if we got rid of party labels and stopped identifying with movements. We have a country to run and we need to look at evidence and let the chips fall. I agree with you that climate change is an issue where the Dems turned toward the experts and listened. They screwed up Wall Street reform by listening to the same people who caused it. They are continuing to fight in Afghanistan with no meaningful military objective, even though (this is my opinion) most of the people involved think it is a total waste of money. They compromised a compromised to get a monstrous "health care reform" bill. It is so bad that a high-ranking lobbyist for the reformers told me that the bill is incomprehensible. Most of us who wanted health care reform wanted Medicare for all, which would remove private profit-making insurers from the picture. Obama failed to stand on clear principles. In fact, the main articulated reason for health care reform was rising costs. OK, I don't see my outrageously priced health care insurance going down. In fact, my employer expects it to go up again next year. Net neutrality? Now there's a line in the sand! Oooops. That line is gone. Now we're going to have another incomprehensible set of laws that will invite some degree, maybe an immense degree, of take-over of the Internet by telecoms. By all accounts, the Internet will become the next cable TV.

      The Democrats have brought this on with their abysmal track record over the last 2 years. But now they gave themselves a big Christmas present. They screwed up so royally that they lost much of their base and they are handing power back to the Republicans. Here's the present they gave themselves: Now they can CLAIM to be for all kinds of good and decent things, yet also claim that it is the big bad Republicans that are obstructing progress. That claim is not true, of course. Democrats have proven themselves to be America's second major pro-corporation party. They are willing to sell us out for big campaign contributions. Repeatedly. And when they do get up the itch to do something important, they can't aim straight and they can't pull the trigger. Shame on them, because they might not have another chance for another 10 years or more. And they don't deserve another chance.

      And I do agree with you about the value of voting, despite thinking, on an intellectual level, that voting is important.

  2. Jim Razinha says:

    I've watched for sometime at the disfunctional party of the Dems. Newt mobilized the Republicans. Obama mobilized the Republicans, though such was not his intent. And yes, the messages do not often bear up under scrutiny – sometimes needing very little scrutiny – but they are consistent rally cries that win elections and swing emotions.

    Interesting in your comment Brian, you used the term "liberal" when contrasting with "Republican". Deliberate? Democrats are simply not Republicans. As Republicans are not Democrats. And "liberals" are just "not anti-Democratic Party" (

  3. eileen evans says:

    ‘Most of us who wanted health care reform wanted Medicare for all, which would remove private profit-making insurers from the picture.’

    Single Payer (MediCare4All) advocates believe they have the only solution to our health care crisis. When I ask about the half million that insurers employ, the answer is that they can find other jobs. Pointing out that unemployment is nearly 10%, that there are 5 applicants for every opening, and if they expect an entire industry to roll over and play dead- falls on doesn't 'compute.' Someone once yelled at me for noting the variety of information systems used & the need to standardize! Note – Germany & France set the standard for quality of care & outcomes. Their systems have profit & not-for-profit INSURANCE companies whose behavior is regulated. Sound familiar?

    As for losing the base, I wonder when those who claim to be part of it will get a grip. In the meantime, the DNC’s performance under Kaine’s chairmanship has been awful! I suspect he was a concession to Hillary’s people & elements of the DLC. I hope our President’s reorganization of his Cabinet will fix its messaging disaster.

    It seems the question ‘why’ is missing from the Left’s vocabulary. Its absence induces rifts that could be averted with a bit of Googling. Ignorance among the Right can be assumed; but among Progressives, it’s irresponsible. When the G.O.P. takes over the House, we need to be prepared, not recalcitrant.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Eileen seems to think that for-profit health insurance should be maintained as a make-work program. I suppose we should also keep profiteering Wall Street banker working hard stealing tax dollars as a make-work program. And we should also keep hemorrhaging $2 B/week blowing up poor people in Afghanistan as a make-work program.

      Say, Eileen. How about, instead, putting these people to work as teachers, or to convert the country to higher energy efficiency? Or maybe we could employ them in the health care field because, believe it or not, there are a lot of people who are not getting decent health care.

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