“On our first trip I tried I tried so hard to rearrange your mind, but after awhile I realized you were disarranging mine.” — Mick Jagger
Years ago, I read a book that made things make sense. It was a book by Thom Hartmann where he took a look at the complex world of issue framing. In a real world dictionary, issue framing refers to how political parties and/or groups present an issue to make their solution look like the most palatable one. In the case of American politics, it is the difference between the way conservatives and progressives see the world.
There are things that conservatives and progressives do well. English teachers teach students about ethos, pathos, and logos. Progressives are really good with facts. They can logically break down any issue where their solution is the only one that makes sense. Of course, that is only true if one looks at the world logically.
Conservatives have mastered the emotional appeal. One could easily poke holes in the efficacy of that kind of argument, but in terms of messaging it has been ingenious. They attach a feeling to being an American in general. Americans feel a certain way about things. Therefore, if you feel differently you are not really American.
The concept behind this is one of rugged individualism. This concept is so engrained that it is taught to our students in history classes. It is the belief that we make it or don’t make it based on own individual grit. Therefore, every time someone proposes anything that helps ordinary people it immediately bumps against that concept.
This is where liberals and progressives get themselves in trouble. They present ideas like a minimum wage hike or universal health care and think those issues stand on their own. They don’t. They are a part of a web of issues that ask government to look out for the needs of its citizens. We can continue to play those one at a time or we can link them together in the same way that conservatives have.
I’ve quoted it a few times before, but it goes back to the Shel Silverstein line that “I can be someone’s and still be my own.” Liberals and progressives have to present an alternative view of the world. We have to present a world where we are interdependent on each other. We have to present a world we actually do better when the least among us does better. We have to present a world where when the least of us gets our needs met then the rest of us see our boats rise in the tide.
What conservatives have done is find a way to convince people in a very general way that when someone else gets something that is something that they cannot get. We usually call that a zero sum game. The things others get are the things I don’t get. Life becomes a tit for tat game where we are conditioned to resent others for getting things we had to work for.
So, the web of rugged individualism and the zero sum game are tied together in neat story based on a fairy tale. I was born in the wildnerness and left to my own devices. I worked hard, studied hard, and played by the rules so that I earned every scrap of stuff I now call my own. It is a powerful tale. It is a powerful image that pulls us all in. It is designed to make you feel good about yourself and view others with disdain when they don’t have those things.
Therefore, they don’t deserve those things. They did not work hard, study hard, or play by the rules. Giving them anything is unfair. It takes away from me and gives to them. Why should they get it for free when I had to work hard for it? These images are nearly impossible to defeat. Yet, they are all a lie. I did not get there through hard work alone. Someone came before me that worked hard and gave me a solid footing to get my start. Some people call it privaledge. Yet, even that term sparks negative feelings.
In many ways we are trying to sail into an overwhelming head wind. The idea of collectivism is tied with socialism and communism. Any idea where we get there together has become verboten and heresy. Yet, it is firmly embedded in the philosophies we have grown up listening to and reading. It is embedded in our various holy books and the books we cherished as children. It is just as compelling a story as the story of rugged individualism if not more so. It is the story we must start selling with the same zeal and enthusiasm as conservatives spin their story. We can’t win these issues one at a time. They all flow together.