Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I'm Already Afraid - What Else D'ya Got?

Contributed by Katie Foley

As a political hack and diligent signer of on-line petitions, my inbox is daily flooded with political messages and alerts.  The AFL-CIO wants me to "Take a Stand."  Paul Thissen tells me what it'll take to "[Clean] Up Their Mess." The DFL advises me that there will be "Consequences." Barack and Michelle Obama have invited me to lunch. 

These are causes, organizations and candidates I support, yet these emails immediately get moved to the trash bin. Lately Liberals have been struggling to rally around a coherent message that really moves people to action.  "Hope" and "Change" rang in the hearts of so many in 2008 because we had only just begun to suffer what would take government economists months to admit was the "Worst Recession since the Great Depression" - a phrase I am so sick of hearing I could puke.  Let's call it what it is . . . painful. 

Though the official unemployment rate is 9.1% nationally,

"Combined, the 14 million officially unemployed; the "underemployed" part-timers who want full-time work; and "discouraged" people who have stopped looking make up 16.2 percent of working-age Americans."  

These are unfortunate numbers for any of us who fall into any of the above three categories. Life is a sea of uncertainty, with pride subservient to necessity. In a mere four years, 25% more young people between the ages of 25 to 34 have moved back in with their parents, 45% of whom would be living in poverty if they lived alone.  Recent numbers show that 1 in 6 Americans is living in poverty.

These are our people and I daresay that the last thing they need in their lives is more fear.  Yet the DFL has the audacity to tell me there will be "Consequences" for the actions of our political rivals, warning me of the political potholes in my future – that could possibly be avoided if I could spare $5.

We live during an era characterized by fear and uncertainty. I find it hard to believe that the DFL is attempting to employ more fear, more uncertainty to achieve its goal of regaining Democratic control of government.  If I am any more fearful or uncertain I may simply stop leaving the house. Unfortunately, it’s hard to cast a ballot from underneath my comforter.    

Aside from the cognitive dissidence of trying to motivate through fear a group of individuals who are fearful enough, studies have shown that it is conservative brains that have over-developed fear centers.  Liberal brains, on the other hand, can better process complexity.  I have also heard that Democrats are stronger proponents of GOTV efforts because if we can get people to show up then they will likely vote in our favor.

We are the party of science. We know that the issues we face are complex.  We understand that one must consider the source when it’s Exxon-Mobile assuring us that “fracking” is perfectly safe.  Though we may be willing to capitulate that evolution is a “theory,” we are more willing to accept that Genesis is a far-out story, not an accurate accounting of the Earth’s creation. If science tells us that we can better grasp complexity, and statistical analysis shows us that the biggest struggle for Democrats is getting their supporters to the polls, let us convince people to show up to the polls in 2012 by imparting upon them the viability of our solutions to the complex issues we face. 

We are also the party of inclusion.  When we can truly reach out to our friends and neighbors we have the ability to make them hopeful and optimistic about the future.  We need to use our ability to understand complexity, analyze the facts, evaluate scientific evidence and rearticulate what we’ve concluded to those around us to convince the populace that they have a stake in the next election, that all is not lost if we can form a cohesive plan and then stick to it!   

I know that, more and more, winning elections has become about who can raise the most money and spend it in the most effective manner.  A candidate for the U.S. House has to raise $10,000 a week to be competitive in an election.  That's a lot of fundraising!  In the post-Citizen's United world, where a Super-PAC is not PAC Man on steriods, being the party of the down-and-out can be a difficult place to raise funds.  But so far GE, GM, and Apple do not get to cast a ballot come election time. 

Fundraising is important, but so is taking an honest approach to complex issues.  Liberal and Progressive candidates and causes need to start treating us like adults, or at least stop trying to motivate us with fear.  Fear works for conservatives because they are a more fearful lot. Liberals, however, need to be told why a particular approach or idea is the best.  Stop telling me about some vague “Consequences” and tell me “Why Our Job Plan Will Work.”  Instead of inviting me to lunch with the leader of the free world (if it sounds too good to be true....) tell me what Obama is going to do to live up to his own rhetoric during a second term. 

Let’s use our time and energy to develop a message that gets at an issue’s complexity and yet is easy enough to recall during that chance political discussion in the supermarket check-out. Let’s stop invoking fear and start invoking facts. Let’s get people invested in the election through appealing to their intellect, not their quaking centers of uncertainty. Let’s be clear and concise about why Democrats can fix things, not about why we’re better than those jerks over there. 

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