What We Stand For—In Twelve Words
By Bernie Horn
August 24, 2008 - 4:58pm ET
There’s no doubt that George W. Bush’s administration has been a catastrophe, and that historians will one day rank him as one of our nation’s very worst presidents. We’ve got to take back America—now—before solutions to national and global problems slip away into the distant future.
Because Bush and his allies have failed, our fellow citizens are ready to consider the progressive message. But what is it? In simple terms that all Americans understand, what do we stand for?
It’s crucial for us to have a simple, compelling answer. Yes, we’re for change…and prosperity, and peace. But these generalities aren’t persuasive enough. As U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan told a reporter for the New York Times:
I can describe, and I’ve always been able to describe, what Republicans stand for in eight words, and the eight words are lower taxes, less government, strong defense and family values. . . . We Democrats, if you ask us about one piece of that, we can meander for 5 or 10 minutes in order to describe who we are and what we stand for. And frankly, it just doesn’t compete very well.
The generic conservative message is pretty much taken for granted. Paul Waldman calls “low taxes, small government, strong defense, and traditional values” the “Four Pillars of Conservatism.” In Don’t Think of an Elephant!, George Lakoff listed the conservative message in ten words: strong defense, free markets, lower taxes, smaller government, family values.”
So what’s our philosophy? Fair wages, fair markets, health security, retirement security, equal justice…for all. Let me describe each in turn.
Fair wages means that we recognize and will address the problem of income inequality. Everyone wants, and deserves, a fair wage for their work. We’ll push toward this goal by increasing the minimum wage, promoting unions, and adopting a progressive strategy toward globalization.
Fair markets is the progressive response to free markets. Progressives need to employ this term to defend our economic ideology. There’s simply no such thing as a “free” market. If we continue to let the term go unchallenged without a proactive alternative, we may never overcome conservative economic framing.
Health security is a no-brainer. Quality, affordable health care for all is both an essential policy and a wildly popular one.
Retirement security may be the next healthcare. Baby Boomers are retiring, Social Security needs repairing, and current jobs generally don’t include any reasonable provisions for retirement pensions.
Equal justice encompasses many other values. This phrase is not only about justice in courts; we mean something broader—economic and social justice. After all, that’s what government is for. As James Madison wrote in The Federalist, “Justice is the end of government.”
Finally, for all represents the key distinction between progressive and conservative. Conservatives seek rights and opportunities for a select few. Progressives seek them for all.
You may look at this short description of progressivism and say there’s so much missing. What about environmentalism? Energy independence? Or national security? We can still talk about those. But the point of this exercise is to create a list that’s short enough to remember and repeat, while emphasizing the strengths of our progressive philosophy. We’re a multi-dimensional movement, but our strong suit is economic policy.
These twelve words are entirely consistent with the Democratic National Platform, which says in its very first paragraph:
We believe that each American, whatever their background or station in life, should have the chance to get a good education, to work at a good job with good wages, to raise and provide for a family, to live in safe surrounding, and to retire with dignity and security. We believe that quality and affordable health care is a basic right. We believe that each succeeding generation should have the opportunity, though hard work, service and sacrifice, to enjoy a brighter future than the last.
This is our time. The supreme challenge for progressives in 2008 is to focus our message so that all Americans understand who we are and what we stand for. If we succeed, we can change the future…for all.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and author of the recent book, Framing the Future: How Progressive Values Can Win Elections and Influence People.
Help us spread the word about these important stories...
Email to a friend
Views expressed on this page are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Campaign for America's Future or Institute for America's Future