Our first mission is to understand
the core principles that we need to advance. Our second mission is to articulate
those ideas in the most effective ways. Whether we Progressives think of ourselves as a party, as a political movement, or as a cultural force (and I think we must aspire towards being all of those things), we must identify at least some
shared principles -- some "values," if you will -- that we believe in and that we are fighting to advance. Let's use Amendment Nine, at least in part, to spark a broad discussion about what those principles are and should be, and about how to fight for them most effectively. (Several days ago, I laid out one general theme in a post that seemed to be pretty well-received (http://amendmentnine.blogspot.com/2004/11/our-way-of-life.html
But first off, Progressives need to spend some time making sure they comprehend the pragmatic political value
of having clearly-defined core principles. I am not
talking enforcing about ideological purity. I am perfectly prepared in appropriate situations to support and even defend some compromising of even core values in the short-term if it will advance our agenda in the long-term. What I am
talking about is understanding the way people make decisions -- about which candidate to support, about which brand of computer to buy, about which store to shop at, or about which political party to line up with. They hardly ever make those decisions based on discrete, particular, issue positions -- e.g., whether you support or oppose stem-cell research. What they do
base their decisions on is -- (a) what principles/ideas/"values" are evident from the things a candidate or party says and, more importantly, does, (b) how comfortable am I with having those type of people running things?
Think, for example, of the following principles: patriotism, support for the troops, law and order, respect for life, preserving our way of life. Which party comes to mind first? I, of course, would argue strongly that the Democratic party, and Democratic issue positions, advance each of those principles far better than the Republicans (obviously on terms different from those that the Republicans/Conservatives have been allowed to set). But does anyone doubt that a vast majority of Americans -- probably even many people who regularly vote Democratic -- would identify the Republican party most closely with that list of principles? Democrats will never become the majority party they rightfully should be in this country until more Americans associate the Democratic party with the principles I've listed (and I'd be interested to hear others weigh in on what other principles we're losing on when we should be winning).
By contrast, what principles come most readily to mind when you think of the Democratic party, of John Kerry, of John Edwards? Takes a little while to think of them, doesn't it? Issue positions (e.g., stem-cell research) come to mind far more easily than principles. And that is, paradoxically, with two people who are in my view two of the most principled and honorable people who have topped either party's ticket in a long long time. But we didn't run a principles campaign. Instead we ran a positions campaign. And it didn't work. And it never works. A clearly understood set of principles on one side, even if those principles are undercut (even to an outrageous degree, as happened this year) by the reality of what those people are doing
with that power, has a huge advantage over a hodge-podge of positions and a difficult-to-discern set of core principles.
So my point for today is, being right on policy simply does not cut it. Having the issue positions that most people agree with just doesn't cut it. In order to get our message through, we have to link our policies together behind a core set of principles that are easily emotionally understandable
. Having the right issue positions is good governance, which we certainly should aspire to as well, but we'll never get to put our good governing skills and policies to use unless and until we have a core set of principles that everyone -- everyone