We progressives write to each other a lot here, and that stands to reason. We're here, after all, conversing. We also write to President Obama and other elected leaders. We hope we can reach each other and our elected leaders with our arguments. And sometimes we do, at least in part. But we progressives also need to reach someone else, or at least talk about how to reach him.
We progressives need to reach Fred.
More below the fold....
Reaching Fred (Non-Cynical Saturday)
Yesterday I introduced Fred, a moderate independent, the archetypal 50%+1 voter. The Fredling (his 8-year-old daughter) even drew this picture of him, based on polling data Mrs. Fred was using to reassure Fred that he matters in our national dialogue:
Mrs. Fred had that conversation with Fred because too often our national dialogue comes in two models: (1) one of those blue figures on the left arguing with one of those red figures on the right, each claiming Fred already agrees with him/her to prove the other wrong; or, (2) two blue (or red) figures arguing about who is bluer (or redder).
Neither model dialogue makes much effort to convince Fred, nor even to listen to him. Both rest on the theory that elections are contests of base-versus-base, and thus the winning party should govern to its base and ignore Fred. That's a popular theory among us political junkies, who tend to be in one base or the other. But it tells Fred, "If you want to be part of the dialogue, pick a side."
Whether the base-versus-base theory is factually true misses the point: Fred still exists, and still votes. We need his agreement to truthfully claim "a majority of Americans think/want [this]," and we need his vote to win two-party elections. We need to convince Fred.
Who Fred isn't.
First a clarification. Some comments yesterday implied (to me) that Fred gets his information from Fox News, is a conservative, votes against his own interests, etc. But consider Fred's voting record in presidential elections. He didn't vote in 1988 because he was in college and forgot (very common), but Fred voted for the popular vote winner in every election since: Clinton in 92 and 96, Gore in 00, Bush in 04, and Obama in 08. Four votes for Democrats and only one for a Republican.
It's a mistake to look at that Bush 04 vote as if that alone reveals the "real" Fred. No sitting president in U.S. history has lost a wartime election. Conversely, incumbent candidates won in 1812, 1864, 1916, 1944 (arguably also 1940), 1964, 1972, and 2004. (Correction: Like LBJ in 1968, Harry Truman did not run in 1952.) Not all of those incumbents were popular, and some of those elections were close, but the "rally round the flag" impulse seems to be very strong. Moreover, Iraq-as-complete-disaster was not yet the prevailing narrative in 2004, and many other Bush-era failures had either not yet been reported (e.g.: warrantless wiretapping) or had not yet happened (the Schiavo fiasco, Hurricane Katrina).
Fred usually watches the evening TV news, but he doesn't watch much cable news unless he's in a business where it's on or they're covering a major breaking event. When he gets to choose a cable news channel, Fred usually picks CNN because he grew up with them. He listened to talk radio a bit back in the late 80s and early 90s, but got bored when it all started to sound the same. He's surfed political sites on the internet, and has even visited DailyKos a couple of times. Sadly, both times we were having pie fights du jour, which left him wondering what we had to do with him, Mrs. Fred, the Fredling, or the regulars on his bus. (It wasn't just us; he ran into the same thing on other political sites.) He reads some online news in passing, but as I said yesterday he gets most of his news by listening to and talking with Mrs. Fred, family, friends, neighbors, and the regulars on his bus.
With the regulars on his bus, Fred listens more than he talks, because he's driving and because he can't afford to have heated arguments with customers. Their stories about the news, and more so about their lives, are his "finger on the pulse" of his community. It's anecdotal, and it's not always representative of the nation at large, but neither is it totally unreliable. Fred knew our economy was in trouble long before reporters started using the word "recession."
What Fred wants.
As I said yesterday, Fred is a people person rather than a systems-and-statistics person. He takes life one day, one person, and one issue at a time. So he doesn't have an overarching political theory. He wants government to help him, Mrs. Fred, the Fredling, and the regulars on his bus, or at least not make things worse for them.
On issues where Fred thinks government can only make things worse, he'd rather government stayed out of the way as much as possible. He supports Roe v. Wade, for example, because he thinks government mucking around in those decisions won't make them any easier. But Fred supports health care reform, including a robust public option, because he knows people who needed help and got turned down or went bankrupt because their insurance companies denied their claims. He has insurance through the bus company, but wonders how much of it would cover and worries what he'll do if his premiums, deductibles, and co-pays get any higher.
Fred thinks government had to step in during the economic meltdown, but he doesn't like how it happened. He thinks too many fat cats got too much and he hasn't yet seen enough people he knows get their jobs back, or get relief on their mortgages. He liked Cash For Clunkers because a couple of friends were able to get new cars they couldn't have afforded otherwise.
Fred's not a union driver, because the company he works for isn't a union company. They have the contract for the city bus service, and that's most of their business. With city and state budget problems, they've cut some routes and have talked about cutting more. On the one hand, Fred's heard union drivers get paid better and have better job security. On the other hand, one of his bosses said the company's payroll is basically set by the city transportation budget, so if a union came in and said they had to pay drivers more, they'd have to lay off drivers to meet the budget.
He'd like to make more - he and Mrs. Fred are barely scraping by on their median income - but he doesn't want to get laid off, and he doesn't want to see his coworkers get laid off either. He's heard from passengers (or former passengers) who are upset because routes got canceled, and thinks layoffs would only make that worse. So Fred doesn't know what to do about the union thing, and he's left wishing the city, state, or feds would come up with more money for transportation.
So long as they don't do that by raising Fred's taxes. It's hard enough to pay the bills, and Fred doesn't think he could squeeze much more out of his budget. He gets that government needs money, but feels as if any time government goes for money, they come for Fred's money. He'd like to see rich people pay more, but suspects most of them will always find ways to wiggle out of it.
But oh, those rich people are first in line when the government starts writing checks. Back when the Fredling was born and Mrs. Fred had to stop working, Mrs. Fred applied for the WIC program because the family budget was just that tight. She qualified, and they got the help, and it helped a lot. The hoops they had to jump through made Fred feel like everyone thought he was trying to cheat. Hearing that Wall Street bankers got tons of money with no questions asked really gets under Fred's skin, because he compares that to the red tape he and Mrs. Fred had to wade through to get help when they needed it.
What reaches Fred?
Fred's a people person, and when he talks politics he talks about personal anecdotes: his own experiences and the stories of his family, friends, coworkers, and the regulars on his bus. That's how he talks, and that's how we progressives need to talk with Fred.
Yes, we need government to implement policies that help Fred, Mrs. Fred, the Fredling, and the regulars on his bus. But to build support for those policies, we need to convince Fred those policies will work. One way to do that is by ensuring he hears some success stories, government acting on progressive policies that help people like Fred and others he knows. If we only talk about what's broken or not enough, he won't hear those success stories.
Fred wants government to make things better, or at least not make things worse. Before he'll ask government to help, he needs to believe it can help, or he'll want government to stay out of the way.
That's what reaches Fred. And we progressives need Fred.