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.

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