More on Our Ten Words

So, last night I stayed up way too late posting a diary at Dailykos out of sheer frustration concerning what I see as a disturbing trend of inaction among the netroots. I am not going to repost that here, because I think I have already harangued you guys enough for one week. However, Scott's Our Ten Words post from one week ago has been on my mind lately, and toward the end of the piece I posted my attempt at a ten-word elevator pitch:Broad prosperity, practical government, free expression, common good, better future I think the "broad prosperity" and "better future" bits are pretty obvious. "Better future" is the two-word pitch for progressivism. Conservatives are always longing for, and finding their Golden Ages, in the past, while progressives always find their ideals and Golden Ages in a time yet to come. Further, the hallmark of Democratic governance since 1932 has clearly been "broad prosperity." On their own, those four words do an excellent job of summing up quite a bit of the liberal / progressive philosophy for over a century now.

But I guess we are supposed to have ten words, not four, and the next six words are a little more contentious. Even though they are very similar phrases, I went with "practical government" instead of "effective government" because I think "practical" is a better gut-level expression of so-called techno-liberalism than "effective," which is a little too corporate-speak for my tastes. Progressives believe that the goal in government should be to find out what works, rather than to govern based on theory and faith. A belief in science, a willingness to admit mistakes, and the reality-based community are all summarized by this phrase.

I also debated for a while between "common good" and "mutual responsibility." I think any accurate elevator pitch about progressivism needs something to express the simple sentiment that we are all in it together, rather than out fending for ourselves. In the end, I went with "common good" to elevate the tone a little bit. I like the slightly less preachy, yet somehow still more values-speak, tone of "common good." It also has none of the multi-syllabic awkwardness of "mutual responsibility." I think it sounds right to me because it rings of the preamble to the Constitution.

For the final two words, I went with "free expression." This was a tricky one, but this is a phrase that has really stuck in my head over the past year. I think we need an aspect of the pitch that explains how people should be allowed to be whatever they want to be, and do whatever they want with themselves. At the beating heart of progressivism / liberalism is the belief in a pluralistic society, and the rejection of the so-called "culture war." When I want to describe this belief from my gut, the term "free expression" is what consistently comes to mind.

So, what do you think? I'd like to know. I would also like to hear your ten-word elevator pitch. The only way we are going to figure this out is to keep talking about it, and to eventually settle on language that, from deep in our hearts, minds and guts, just really makes sense to us.

Our Ten Words

When I first saw Tom Vilsack's campaign at his Heartland PAC to put out an open call for suggestions for "the ten words that can define the Democratic Party's message," my eyes rolled a bit. They still do, to be honest. While I get the good intentions behind what Vilsack's doing, there's an even bigger part of me that finds it annoying that, at a time when Democrats are calling out for leadership from the party, our would-be leaders are holding open casting calls for ideas. There's certainly value to both Vilsack's project and the SEIU's 'Since Sliced Bread' campaign, in that they democratize the process, but there's still something to be said for straight up leadership on the issues as well.

Now, all of that said, I've had a chance to look at some of the competitors. Hotline On Call was good enough to re-post the top ten finalists, and I'm happy to report that they're not bad at all.

"The Democratic Party: People are our only 'Special Interest.' "
Stacy, Iverness, FL

"Effective, honest government, serving the needs of all its citizens."
Matt, O Fallon, MO

"Working for millions of people, not millions of dollars."
Matt, Santa Monica, CA

"A Strong Nation and Economy through Fairness, Reason, and Community."
Drew, Blairsburg, IA

"Government led by people who believe good government is possible."
Cathy, Columbus, OH

"Equal opportunities, better lives, and honest government for all Americans."
Rob, Decorah, IA

"The Democratic Party- Tackling problems and finding practical solutions."
Don, Letts, IA

"Leadership that will restore the American Dream to all Americans."
Bill, Stewartstown, PA

"Common sense for the common good."
Jason, Chicago, IL, Brenda, Wakefield, RI, and Robert, Timonium, MD

"The Democrats highest ideal: Help people achieve their full potential."
Gary, Tulsa OK

One of my favorites of this bunch, "common sense for the common good," I believe originally comes from New York gubernatorial hopeful Tom Suozzi, who uses it specifically in reference to reproductive rights. However, it's a slogan that can easily be applied to so many Democratic principles, and may have been in use since before Suozzi began using it. Nearing the end of the Dubya era, I think the idea of bringing "common sense" back into government is one with a pretty wide appeal. And personally, I love the idea that it includes a call to community and solidarity. That's something we've gotten away from in America and I think most people wish that it wasn't so. From the Bush tax laws to the attempted gutting of Social Security and the current campaign to smash traditional risk-pooled health insurance, the Bush Republicans are a selfish party of every-man-for-himself-ism. I really don't buy that this is how people want to live.

It's going to take a bit more than a ten word slogan to win back Congress and then the White House. But I'd much rather see an establishment figure like Vilsack support a project like this than join in with some of his fellow 2008 hopefuls who would rather talk about the need to summarize the Democratic message than actually try to formulate that message themselves. It's good to see that, if any message has been carried from the netroots to the establishment, it's that the barriers to participation for grassroots Democrats must be lowered if the party wants to ultimately succeed.


... in so very many ways.  But today, let's help them figure out how to simplify the message defining what they stand for and how they're different from Republicans.  Democratic pollster Ruy Teixeira said recently that Democracy Corps' latest list of focus-group tested phrases sound too much like a laundry list.  So let's lend a keyboard.

Here are some I thought of yesterday after reading Teixeira's post:

We want what's best for all Americans, not just a chosen few.

We want better, not bigger, government.

Everyone should pay their fair share.  Nobody likes to, but everybody has to.

Are you better off than you were six years ago?


There's more...

Confidence On The Issues

We hear from so many Democrats -- quite often elected Democrats playing pundit -- that the party's problem is that people care first and foremost about national security and they don't like what they hear from Democrats. For too long, that's been the conventional wisdom. And such conventional wisdom leads to certain Democrats saying patently silly things like, "we need to talk tough about national security, and I will do that... in six months." So I really hope that everyone's paying attention to the signs indicating that the conventional wisdom has been overturned.

The AFL-CIO blog and Georgia10 point to a some new Gallup polling showing that Americans' top three concerns, in order, are access to healthcare, Social Security, and "availability and affordability of energy."Polling Report has the full results, which show people are more concerned about kitchen table issues than personally being attacked by terrorists. It's interesting to me that the poll did not include the war in Iraq as one of the "problems facing the country." Had it been included and a majority of those polled counted it among their top concerns, I think the results would still be good for Democrats. But aside from the civil war in Iraq, Americans seem to be incredibly uneasy with the direction of the country, and on the issues that concern them most, they've already rejected the Republicans.

Matt Singer at PLAN has an interesting and somewhat post praising former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber for his timing in launching his healthcare reform campaign, The Archimedes Movement. Many have seen Kitzhaber's campaign as the likely beginning to a 2008 Presidential run. With Joe Trippi on board as an adviser, that may well be true. But he's also a doctor, so it's clearly an issue he's legitimately interested in.

It's not as if I'm advocating an abdication of national security as an issue we should campaign on. What I'm saying is that Democrats need to act like winners on every issue. Even the Republican pollsters at Rasmussen acknowledge that Americans trust Congressional Democrats on national security matters more than they do the President. And I think when it comes to the Democrats' newly released national security document, we ought to focus more on the 'redeploy, eliminate Bin Laden' message and less on the specifics.

I guess my ultimate point here is that if Democrats act like they're on the defensive, it leads people to question their position. Look at what a little bit of stubborn cockiness has done for the Republicans over the years. The people are with us. That doesn't mean that we now rest on our laurels and coast to November. But acting like winners and showing a little confidence would certainly not be a bad thing for the Democrats right about now.

Corporate Message, Corporate Reality

Working closely with the non-profit sector, especially non-profits that deal with energy and transportation policy, I always find it a bit odd that, while oil companies like Exxon/Mobil are castigated for their lack of concern for the environment, BP is almost uniformly praised, even among those who are supposed to be in the know. The reason, of course, is that BP has a marketing department more adept at green messaging. Hopefully, a story in this morning's New York Times will help shatter that conventional wisdom.

Earlier this month, a massive oil spill pumped anywhere from a few thousand to nearly a million gallons of crude oil onto the tundra at Alaska's Prudhoe Bay. It is the largest oil spill on Alaska's North Slope to date. Previously in February of 2001, two other oil spills dumped almost ten thousand gallons into the same region. As recently as last spring, there were three more spills in the area. These disasters have one thing in common -- BP was responsible for all of them. Here's some more information from the latest Times piece.

... one of the company's longtime employees, a mechanic and local union official who has participated in the spill cleanup, said in a telephone interview that he and his colleagues had repeatedly warned their superiors that cutbacks in routine maintenance and inspection had increased the chances of accidents or spills.

In the interview, Marc Kovac, who is an official of the United Steelworkers union, which represents workers at the BP facility, said he had seen little change in BP's approach despite the warnings.

"For years we've been warning the company about cutting back on maintenance," Mr. Kovac said, adding that he was speaking for himself, not the union. "We know that this could have been prevented."

Maintenance at BP's Prudhoe Bay facility has been a problem for some time now. In 2001, The Wall Street Journal reported that the valves designed to protect against pipeline leaks and ruptures were not working properly and "can't be relied upon to shut in an emergency, creating the potential for a natural catastrophe." And here's where the story gets even worse. When Republicans talk about opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge up to drilling, they point to nearby Prudhoe Bay as a guide on environmental impact. For example, look at the 2005 Heritage Foundation report titled "Opening ANWR: Long Overdue."

Good Energy Policy
The Prudhoe Bay experience also presents strong evidence that drilling can be done with only a modest impact on the environment. Decades of drilling on a scale much larger than that envisioned in ANWR have not harmed the porcupine caribou herds near Prudhoe Bay or caused any of the other environmental problems that were predicted. Thirty years makes a difference, too. Drilling in ANWR would be done with much better environmental safeguards than were available in the 1970s. And today's technology is far more environmentally friendly than that available 30 years ago.

In case you happen to be curious, BP has indeed been a major financial backer of the Heritage Foundation over the years. But of course, their support for Heritage pales in comparison to their support of K Street. The company has spent nearly three million dollars on lobbying in 2005 alone. It goes without saying that pro-corporate think tanks like Heritage are, by definition, easier to buy off than Congress.

When will corporations wake up to the fact that there is long-term value in real environmental responsibility? People obviously want to buy what their advertising is purporting to sell, but the reality just isn't there. It's one thing for a company like BP to run an ad campaign that promotes the idea that the company is committed to sustainability and renewables, but it's ultimately pointless if it's just to divert attention away from BP's horrible record of managerial irresponsibility in places like Prudhoe Bay.


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