The thesis of this report is straightforward. Progressives need to fight for what they believe in -- and put the common good at the center of a new progressive vision -- as an essential strategy for political growth and majority building. This is no longer a wishful sentiment by out-of-power activists, but a political and electoral imperative for all concerned progressives.
After three consecutive losses at the presidential and congressional levels, progressives have been consumed with finding the strategies, tactics, messages, policies, media outlets, language and messengers to overcome their problems at the ballot box. Thinkers across the ideological spectrum battle it out over the wisdom of pursuing a hard populist approach versus a renewed focus on national security and cultural deficits with middle class voters. Philanthropists and elites focus their efforts on building new progressive "infrastructure"; grass-roots activists yearn for new organizational and media tactics and an aggressive public posture; and still others continue to long for the next incarnation of President Bill Clinton.
Unfortunately, while each of these approaches offers important insights, the totality of the advice simply misses the mark and obscures the underlying problem driving progressives' on-going woes nationally: a majority of Americans do not believe progressives or Democrats stand for anything. 1 Despite difficult times for the GOP in early 2006, Republicans continue to hold double-digit advantages over Democrats on the key attribute of "know what they stand for" and fewer than four in 10 voters believe the Democratic Party has "a clear set of policies for the country". 2
This trend, one we call the "identity gap," has been written about and discussed by others in years past. What is not understood is the extent to which this gap continues to drag down progressives and Democrats and depress their support in myriad ways. "No identity" translates into no character. No personal integrity. No vision worth fighting for. No domestic agenda. No national-security agenda. No basic understanding of the problems facing everyday citizens. No contrast with the other side. No reason to vote for progressive candidates.
(Emphasis supplied.) Yes, that was me yelling Amen! that you heard. Let's talk some more about this on the flip.
The identity gap in politics has serious direct and indirect ramifications. Directly, voters hold the Democrats' lack of identity against candidates and the party as a whole; indirectly, the lack of identity undermines Democrats' abilities to capitalize on their strengths and enables the GOP to capitalize easily on Democratic weaknesses.
This is a critical point in my view. Too many pundits think that being mushy keeps people from lining up against you (think "values" voters) when you try to "soften" the contrast between Dems and the GOP on social issues. Kamarck and Galston were prominent in this group. So was my friend from the DLC, Ed Kilgore.
But so what? you say. What does that have to do with the politics of Roe? This, Democrats can only be the Rational Party, the Moderate Party, the Sane Party if they stand firmly against the extremists. Given the feeling of the American People that Democrats don't stand for much imagine what they will think if Dems stop fighting for the right to privacy! Why then would a moderate voter look to Dems to protect them against the Extremism of the Republican Party?
In short, to give up on Roe is to throw away any notion the American People have left that Dems stand for anything. It is to rip apart the progressive wing of the Party and fracture Democrats in a way that was last seen when the civil rights laws were passed.
See, we have already had our split on privacy and abortion . Single issue anti-choice voters are Republicans. And they will never be anything else. The mistake that is made by Levinson is to assume that by putting abortion rights in play in the legislative arena this will automatically deliver all pro-choice voters to the Democrats. NOT IF THE DEMS ARE COMPLICIT IN DESTROYING THE WOMEN"S RIGHT TO CHOOSE! They will flock to those who will protect what they value. Dems giving up on Roe destroys the idea of Dems as protectors of women's rights. Those voters who suddenly find that the right to choose is in jeopardy are not likely to run to Democrats just as voters in 1856 and 1860 did not run to the Whigs and other politicians who sold out on slavery.
So let's consider the probable political effect of a Dem cavein on Roe -- (1) complete alienation of the progressive wing of the Party - bad. (2) Laws banning abortion in the South and other Red States - neutral for Dems politically. (3) No such laws in Blue States where Republicans will be permitted to be pro-choice - neutral for Dems.
Where's the big uptick for Dems? Only one scenario provides it - a Republican push for a federal law banning abortion. Blue states will recoil from this. Guess what? Dems HAVE THAT OPPORTUNITY NOW! Why are we not using the Politics of Contrast now!
Indeed, if the "give up on Roe scenario is played out, we will not have that opportuniy afterwards! The fight is now. The contrast is now.
Fighting for Roe now is good politics as well as the right thing to do.
NOT fighting for Roe now is disastrous politics and the wrong thing to do. As Eugene at My Left Wing has said, it is the policy of the Whig Party, circa 1854. and we all know how that ended for the Whigs.
What is the cost of wishiwashiness? Ask John Kerry. From the Texeira/Halpin article:
The direct consequences of the identity gap were most evident in the 2004 presidential contest. According to 2004 post-election polling, the most commonly cited reason not to vote for Kerry among Bush voters who considered voting Democratic -- in other words, the voters who turned the election to Bush -- was Kerry's "flip-flopping" on the issues. 5 Indeed, it wasn't even close -- other issues like gay marriage, abortion, and Kerry's anti-Vietnam war history were all cited by only around one-third the number who cited flip-flopping. Similarly, the top reason cited by white Catholics for why Kerry lost the 2004 election was that the candidate was "not clear on what he stood for" (48 percent selected this reason as one of the two top reasons Kerry lost, twice as many as selected "permissive views on issues like abortion and gay marriage" as one of the reasons).6
Stand for Something. But WHAT to stand for? Some guideposts from Texeira and Halpin:
Tactical shifts on cultural issues, repudiating liberal policies, or acting "tough" on national security will not solve this problem. At the same time, pure base mobilization and the prospect of turning millions of nonvoters into reliable progressive voters remains a difficult, if not impossible, task. John Kerry garnered the largest vote ever for a Democratic presidential candidate -- nearly 60 million votes -- yet still fell short of Bush by more than 3 million votes.
A viable approach for majority building must devise ways to both strengthen the base and reach out to a huge pool of unattached voters who have voted Republican but are not convinced by the GOP's conservative agenda. This is not an either/or prospect for progressives at this point in time.
We need a new strategy of transformation for today's progressive movement -- one based on definition, principles, and a sincere effort to secure the common good. We must pursue an agenda that is engaging and substantively important for both the progressive base and important target audiences; an agenda built on a platform of broadly shared economic opportunity and a clear stand on the side of middle- and working-class families.
Ahhh. The Common Good! I like that. But seriously, this is the hard stuff. And some hard thinking is required. I like the Common Good of course, but what are we seeing as the Common Good?
A great start from Texeira and Halpin. I can't wait to read the rest of the article.