An Appeal to Gloomy Progressives


I've noticed a lot of liberal folken and others who believe in the Bill of Rights getting down lately, thinking Kerry can't win. Then I read a pretty amazing essay which reminded me of the pep talks my mom gave me when I complained about hard classes in college. In short, buck up! Here are the words that every progressive should read. All credit to Michael Bryant Hicks:

To All My Beloved Fellow Progressives:

Environmentalists, Black Nationalists, Feminists, Advocates for Economic
Justice, Immigrants' Rights Advocates, Children's Rights Advocates, The
Whole Left-Leaning Lot of You! Enough is enough! I am appealing to you with
this message because I firmly believe that a few words of encouragement --
and a bit of chastisement -- can ripple through a community and have a
profound impact on November's election. The message is simple, and if you
get it, it is sufficient to read the following sentence and stop with this
paragraph: Stop whining and get back in this fight to unseat the worst
president in our lifetime! For those who need a bit more, read on.

Now, this might be confusing to some. Some of us did not even know we had
conceded the fight (I include myself in this number, though as of Labor Day
I am back in the ring). But, as someone who's done a bit of boxing in his
lifetime, I can tell you that there comes a time in a fight when you can
feel yourself giving up on the inside. You are still nominally fighting,
but in reality you are no longer engaged in the effort to win. Your
perception of your abilities and your competitive position relative to your
opponent has plummeted. And, worst of all, you have forgotten what you are
fighting for. I have observed this same defeatist spirit in every sector of
the progressive community.

I cannot count the number of progressives I have heard opining as to how bad
John Kerry's campaign has been. I regularly hear people like Bill Maher of
HBO's "Real Time", Tavis Smiley of NPR's "Tavis Smiley Show" and New York
Times editorialist Maureen Dowd giving very compelling arguments about the
Kerry campaign's slow response to the swift boat controversy, its reluctance
to take a firm and clear stance on the war in Iraq, its underutilization of
John Edwards and myriad other political foibles. To these and countless
other progressive critics of the Kerry campaign, I must say, YOU ARE
CORRECT! Fine. There. Are you happy? John Kerry ran a terrible August
campaign. The second thing that must be said, however, is GET OVER IT! In
fact, GET OVER YOURSELVES! We still have a war to wage here. The gloomy
prognostication that Kerry's lapses in August make a Bush victory inevitable
is pure self-indulgence. It is the progressives' way of trying to lick the
wounds that they have convinced themselves they will suffer on November 2.
It is an effort to preemptively start the grieving process now and get it
over with by blaming John Kerry for what they see as the inevitable
re-election of George W. Bush. When you think about it, that sort of
emotional response is so characteristic of liberals, which is why
psychologists probably make the bulk of their money off you Lefties.

While this self-defeating emotionalism may give you something to discuss in
your next session, it is especially inappropriate in this campaign season.
This is because the practical truth is that victory in November has less to
do with John Kerry and George W. Bush than it has to do with the respective
energy levels of the progressive community and the conservative community.
Conservatives decided long ago that there is almost nothing George W. Bush
could say or do that would keep them from voting for him, not with respect
to Iraq, the U.S. economy, the size of government or any other issue that
they hold dear. They have also decided that no negative poll, political
pundit nor liberal columnist can diminish their spirit. Their commitment to
W. is fundamentalism in its purest form. Consequently, Bush's routine
fumbles do not deflate them. His obvious inarticulateness has even become a
fun little joke for them, an endearing quality that makes him seem more
natural. The folks on the right feel like winners, and they act like
winners.

This winning attitude has two profound effects that benefit the Bush
campaign enormously: First, Bush supporters are able to keep each other
energized. In particular, on talk radio and on cable news channels,
conservatives constantly reassure each other that they will prevail on
Election Day. Thus, they are excited about November 2, while progressives
dread it. In the end, feeling like a winner becomes a self-fulfilling
prophesy as legions of the like-minded from the Right turn out at the polls.
By contrast, polling data describe Kerry's support as "soft", and his
campaign is constantly worried about whether the base will hold together.
They are concerned that a few negative poll numbers or a bad evaluation of
Kerry's debate performance by Chris Matthews will cause progressives to
concede and stay at home on November 2. Second, the winning attitude of the
conservative side attracts persuadable voters because persuadable voters are
attracted to winners. Any marketing professional will attest that consumers
purchase successful products like BMW's and Apple iPod's largely because
being a part of the community of people who use these products makes them
feel good about themselves. In the same way, what ultimately convinces Jane
Persuadable, is not so much that Bush sounds "resolute" and Kerry sounds
like a "flip-flopper", but that the conservatives in her community sound so
excited about their candidate and their prospects for winning while
progressives sound so sour on their candidate and their prospects for
winning.

Yet, even now, at this late date, our chance of unseating the president is
enormous. We progressives should do two things: First, let's spin with the
best of them. In the few days just after each of the coming debates,
viewers will be making up their minds about who "won". Talk radio and cable
television news shows are determined to proclaim Bush and Cheney the
victors, no matter how they present themselves. They will attribute any
gross misrepresentation of truth by Bush and Cheney as an innocent
misstatement. They will also exaggerate any gesture, tick or exhalation
that John Kerry makes as evidence that "he's not comfortable in his own
skin" and therefore should not be trusted with the presidency. As Adam
Clymer suggested in the New York Times Op-Ed page, a few ill-timed Kerry
sighs rather than multiple Bush lies will become the focus of national
media. Progressives can fight this tactic by focusing on what impressed
them about John Kerry. That's right. Your assignment is to find something
in John Kerry's debate performance that can be described as impressive.
Talk it up with friends, family and colleagues. Write letters to your local
newspaper editor about it. Repeat this after each debate. Second, let's
remember the real reason we are fighting. It is not about getting John
Kerry elected. Our values have always been greater than a particular
candidate. We fight so that we might see a more equitable economic policy,
a healthier environmental policy, greater respect for the promise of
science, a more egalitarian treatment of minorities, immigrants, women and
homosexuals and a smarter foreign policy. For each of us, the reason may be
different, but the cause is the same. So, as my mother would say, "fix your
face", and get back in there and fight!

Michael-Bryant Hicks