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So far this year…

     •    The Oklahoma House passed legislation to eliminate AP American History classes from public schools because, right-wingers said, the course is too negative about America.

     •    The Tennessee House voted to designate the Holy Bible as “the official state book,” ignoring an Attorney General’s opinion that it would be patently unconstitutional.

     •    Both Arkansas and Arizona enacted laws requiring doctors to tell patients they could potentially reverse the effects of a medication abortion, an assertion without scientific merit.

     •    The Mississippi House approved a bill to exempt the drivers of large church buses from the requirement of possessing a bus driver’s license—nicknamed the “Jesus Take the Wheel Act.”

With bills like these, it’s easy to dismiss the right wing as just plain crazy. Remember the trans-vaginal ultrasound legislation? Know about the Texas bill to allow the open carrying of handguns, even in Houston and Dallas? For that matter, what about the new Kansas law that bars people from using TANF funds to get a tattoo, go to a swimming pool, or take a cruise? A cruise, really? You know perfectly well the monthly support is barely enough money for basic necessities, let alone a cruise.


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Why won’t people listen? They’re so irrational! You make a sensible, even irrefutable political argument and they’re still not persuaded.

Cognitive science tells us that persuasion is hard. When deciding whether to agree with you, people rely on emotion and ingrained beliefs far more than facts. Indeed, if your listeners hold beliefs intensely, you’re probably wasting your time no matter how many facts you can muster.

There is science behind that stubbornness. Let us explore why people’s brains react this way and use the information to restructure our arguments to make them more effective.

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Democrats suffered a shellacking in the 2014 election. One small but significant silver lining is that identifying who'™s in charge of the legislative branch will be very easy for the next two years. Make no mistake: We have a Republican Congress.

Last year, many voters would have gladly voted to punish the horrible do-nothing 113th Congress. Gallup and other polls found that Americans loathed the House and Senate; only about 15 percent approved of the job Congress was doing while nearly 80 percent disapproved. But voters had no idea which party was responsible for congressional dysfunction.

There are two reasons for that.

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Thu Oct 16, 2014 at 03:12 PM PDT

What We Stand For in Twelve Words

by Bernie Horn

What explains the popularity of the conservative brand? Polls consistently show that, when presented one at a time, Americans support progressive, not conservative, policies.

By margins of at least two to one, our fellow citizens favor a substantial raise in the minimum wage; believe big corporations and the rich are paying too little in taxes; oppose repealing the Affordable Care Act;support the idea that Medicare should negotiate prescription drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies; want strong federal action to address climate change; would mandate a background check before any gun purchase; think labor unions are necessary to protect workers;oppose discrimination against gays and lesbians;and do not want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Americans are progressive when it comes to specific issues. But voters know extremely little about those. They "know"€ instead about political generalities.

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Thu Aug 07, 2014 at 09:00 AM PDT

If this isn't failure, what is?

by Bernie Horn

The latest results of the DC-CAS, the District of Columbia’s high-stakes standardized test, show that the percentage of public school students judged “proficient” or better in reading has declined over the past five years in every significant subcategory except “white.”

This is important, and not just for Washington, D.C. It is an indictment of the whole corporatized education movement. During these five years, first Michelle Rhee and then her assistant/successor Kaya Henderson controlled DCPS and they did everything that the so-called “reformers” recommend: relying on standardized tests to rate schools, principals and teachers; closing dozens of schools; firing hundreds of teachers and principals; encouraging the unchecked growth of charters; replacing fully-qualified teachers with Teach For America and other non-professionals; adopting teach-to-the-test curricula; introducing computer-assisted “blended learning”; increasing the length of the school day; requiring an hour of tutoring before after-school activities; increasing hours spent on tested subjects and decreasing the availability of subjects that aren’t tested. Based on the city’s own system of evaluation, none of it has worked.

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Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 12:35 PM PST

It's all the media's fault!

by Bernie Horn

The mainstream news media, which is supposed to deliver truthful information to the public and call out lies by officeholders and political actors, actually causes bad political behavior. News reporters aren’t the only players at fault, but they’re probably the only ones who can change America’s toxic political environment.

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Thu Jan 02, 2014 at 06:30 AM PST

The Case for an Arsenal License

by Bernie Horn

Bottom line: About 4.5 million households own 165 million guns—an average of 37 firearms per household.... You may have noticed that every time a new gun law is enacted, or even seriously considered, the media reports a gun-buying bonanza. They make it seem like more and more Americans are arming themselves. But that’s not true. Instead, a small percentage of people are building larger and larger arsenals of guns. Because the gun lobby blocks all reasonable oversight, we can only estimate the numbers—but they are astonishing.

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Television and radio ads began today to encourage residents of Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia to call 211 and get health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. This is one method to help get around ACA website problems, but also, it’s much easier for the uninsured to connect this way.

The broadcast ads feature prominent football stars: Washington linebacker London Fletcher and former player, now sports announcer Rick “Doc” Walker.

See the TV ad here:
Listen to the radio ad here:
Read a Baltimore Sun front page story about the 211 enrollment effort here:

This approach has been used before with great success. The ads are sponsored by the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative Education Fund which ran similar ads using football players in 2008, when that state increased Medicaid eligibility. That ad campaign brought in four times more new enrollees than had been estimated by the state—so this tactic is expected to work well.

For more information, go here:


Progressive candidates and activists don’t do a very persuasive job countering right-wing cries of “free markets,” “government intrusion,” “job creators,” “class warfare” and “the takers.” We don’t have a way to explain what’s wrong with Mitt Romney’s brand of vulture capitalism or distinguish enterprises that contribute to national well-being from scams that enrich a few at the expense of the many. It’s not that progressives need clearer economic thinking; Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz, Dean Baker and others provide that already. The problem lies elsewhere.

Progressives lack an easily explained alternative framework for talking about the market system—a progressive vision of what makes our economy work, and what would make it work better. “The place to begin,” explains Princeton professor Douglas Massey, “is by exposing the conservative bromide of the ‘free market’ for the myth it is.”

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Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 04:33 PM PDT

Declaration of Progressive Values

by Bernie Horn

The stereotypical conservative values are small government, low taxes, free markets, a strong military, and family values. Progressives answer “we’ve got values too,” but often lapse into a laundry list of issues, left-wing jargon, or phrases that highlight our political weaknesses.

There is a set of values that’s easy to remember, accurately describes our philosophy, and defeats conservative values when matched head-to-head. That set is: freedom, opportunity and security for all.

When you’re talking about an issue where government has no proper role—like free speech, privacy, reproductive health, or religion—proclaim your commitment to freedom or use a similar value from the chart below. When you discuss an issue where government should act as a referee between competing interests—like court proceedings, wages, benefits, subsidies, taxes, or education—explain that your position is based on opportunity or a value from that column. When you argue about an issue where government should act as a protector—like crime, retirement, health care, zoning, or the environment—speak about security or a similar value.

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In a democracy, we pursue our goals through persuasion. We construct and deliver arguments to gain votes in order to advance our policies and ultimately build a better world. Even though persuasion is central to political success, we rarely talk about how to do it better.

That’s the point of our book, Voicing Our Values: A Message Guide for Candidates. It suggests how progressive lawmakers, candidates and activists can improve the way they talk about a wide range of issues, from the economy, healthcare and immigrants’ rights, to marriage equality, reproductive rights and gun violence. But no matter the issue, there are basic principles that make any argument more persuasive. Here are five rules that always apply:

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Tue Nov 06, 2012 at 07:47 AM PST

A Troubling Election, Win or Lose

by Bernie Horn

The 2012 election was an irresponsible, deceitful, ignorant affair—the worst campaign in memory. But we’d better get used to it. Candidates are no different from pro athletes, used car salesmen, or Wall Street bankers—whatever they can get away with, they will do. And 2012 proved that candidates can get away with almost any kind of lie, prevarication, or absurdity.

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