Right-wingers and the media have spent the past few years confidently asserting that Obamacare is a political albatross. This was backed up by polls that mindlessly combined conservatives who opposed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) because it “goes too far” with liberals who opposed the ACA because it “doesn’t go far enough.”
Now most pundits have switched direction, pointing out that Americans do not want to repeal the ACA, even in red states. Those writers now say that Obamacare is no longer a powerful political issue. But what if they’re wrong again?
2014 is a turnout election. Predictions of Democratic disaster are based on the assumption that the conservative base will show up to vote this November while the progressive base will not.
The best issues to turn out voters are those that directly impact them. One example is the minimum wage because it brings low-income voters to the polls so they can “vote themselves a raise.” The issue is already on the ballot in Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota, and as Richard Eskow argues, Democratic candidates everywhere ought to loudly embrace the issue.
At this point, there are 23 states which—for purely partisan and nonsensical ideological reasons—have not expanded Medicaid coverage under Obamacare. This petulant inaction denies insurance coverage to about five million nonelderly adults, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Every one of these five million should be targeted for get-out-the-vote efforts. Progressives should be saying, essentially, “vote so your family will get health insurance coverage.”
About one-million of these potential voters are in Texas. About 750,000 are in Florida. About 425,000 are in Georgia. North Carolina and Pennsylvania each have about 300,000. Another two million of these potential voters are scattered across other red states.
This is a matter of life and death—and these are the Americans most at risk. Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist understands the power of this argument. He says that every day six Florida residents die because the legislature has refused to expand Medicaid. This is based on a study in Health Affairs that says up to 17,000 people will die because their state refused the ACA’s Medicaid expansion.
So how about this for a strong GOTV message? If you don’t want to die, vote.
More than 8,000 local police forces, including at least 117 college police agencies, have received more than $5 billion in military equipment from the federal government under the “1033 Program.” This obscure anti-terrorism program was thrust into the news when police in Ferguson, Missouri were faced with protests against the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a local officer. As the New York Times explained:
Police officers in full body armor responded. A sniper rode a BearCat armored truck, paid for with $360,000 in federal money. They pointed assault rifles at unarmed protesters and fired tear gas into crowds.
“What we're witnessing is the militarization of policing, and it has become commonplace in towns across America,” wrote Kara Dansky of the ACLU. Local police now routinely have automatic weapons and heavily armored military vehicles. They have camouflage combat fatigues, flash-bang grenades and night-vision rifle scopes. At a recent U.S. Senate hearing, Alan F. Estevez, the principal deputy undersecretary for acquisition for the Defense Department said:
Bayonets are available under the  program. I can’t answer what a local police force would need a bayonet for.
You can and should do something about this.
First, ask your own law enforcement agencies whether they own or have ordered any military equipment. If so, find out how much the storage and maintenance costs, what they do with the equipment, and whether there is a training program to make sure those military weapons and accessories are not misused.
Second, you can sponsor legislation to ban such weaponry or set up procedures to ensure proper oversight for the acquisition and possession of military equipment. New Jersey State Senator Nia Gill is introducing two bills to bring some accountability and transparency to the process.
Military equipment clearly did more harm than good in Ferguson. Does the use of this equipment make sense in your state, city or county?
It is an exaggeration to say that today’s progressives don’t have a philosophy. Progressives have a fairly consistent agenda–we know what we stand for. The problem is, we don’t have an effective framework to communicate our philosophy to persuadable voters. Because a crucial election looms before us, progressive thinkers are rightfully focusing on this problem.
But in fashioning a solution, we must ensure that the language we use speaks to the Americans we are trying to persuade. This is a challenge, because most persuadable voters are not like us—they are normal people. Unlike us, they don’t think much about public policy, they don’t have a policy checklist for candidates and they don’t speak policy or use intellectual jargon.
How do we persuade people who are so different? By assuring them that we share their values. “Values” need not be the anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-science mores of the right wing. In politics, they are ideals that describe the kind of society we are trying to build. There is a set of values that progressives can employ to frame public policy in language that will win over persuadable voters. And to those we are trying to reach, our values will sound very familiar: freedom, opportunity and security.
Looking back, without expensive consultants or focus groups, liberals of the 60s and 70s brilliantly framed their federal programs as the Peace Corps, Head Start, Model Cities, Fair Housing, Equal Employment Opportunity, and the Clean Air Act. Nowadays, we often moan about the ineffective language that progressives use, but in fairness we've found success with frames like clean elections, environmental justice, living wage, smart growth, assault weapons, hate crimes, predatory lending, and racial profiling.
A problem, perhaps, is that much of the left doesn’t really understand “framing.” Here's a simple way to think about it. We all know words that are universally understood to contain “cues” inside them, passing judgment on the activity described. For the same behavior, a person could be called “thrifty” or “a miser.” The same person could be called “brave” or “foolhardy.” The words we use tip off the audience whether to feel positively or negatively about that person or activity. Obviously, there are words we use in public policy where everyone gets the same “cue,” like freedom, responsibility, public safety, or clean water. But there are also words which bring to mind positive images in some people and negative images in others. “Government” is generally a positive or neutral word to progressives, but it is a negative word to people outside of our base. This is the simplest explanation for why we frame. When we persuade, we need to be aware of the way our audience feels about words and phrases—most especially when the audience gets a different “cue” from the language than we see inside our heads.
If this isn’t failure, what is?
The latest results of the DC-CAS, the District of Columbia’s high-stakes standardized test, show that the percentage of public school students judged “proficient” or better in reading has declined over the past five years in every significant subcategory except “white.”
This is important, and not just for Washington, D.C. It is an indictment of the whole corporatized education movement. During these five years, first Michelle Rhee and then her assistant/successor Kaya Henderson controlled DCPS and they did everything that the so-called “reformers” recommend: relying on standardized tests to rate schools, principals and teachers; closing dozens of schools; firing hundreds of teachers and principals; encouraging the unchecked growth of charters; replacing fully-qualified teachers with Teach For America and other non-professionals; adopting teach-to-the-test curricula; introducing computer-assisted “blended learning”; increasing the length of the school day; requiring an hour of tutoring before after-school activities; increasing hours spent on tested subjects and decreasing the availability of subjects that aren’t tested. Based on the city’s own system of evaluation, none of it has worked.
Here are the DC-CAS results copied directly from the DCPS website. These do not include charter schools; school authorities chose to hide those longitudinal results. But we know from a detailed memorandum by Broader, Bolder Approach to Education that—based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—results including charter schools would be little different than this.
Liberals, lefties, Democrats, environmentalists, unionists, consumer advocates—all progressive types—suffer from negative stereotypes. Some of these stereotypes were invented by the right-wing messaging machine, and others are self-inflicted. By using values, we address and reverse some pernicious assumptions held by persuadable voters. Our values of freedom, opportunity and security prove:
We’re patriots. The right wing has been engaged in a concerted campaign to persuade voters that progressives “hate America.” We’re the “blame America first” crowd, they say. Frankly, we often lean into that punch. We do hate injustice in America. We are eager to make our country better, and fast. But we have to make it clear that we love America—we are just as patriotic as conservatives. In fact, by wanting to fix our nation’s problems, we show that we care about America more than they do. There’s nothing more patriotic than standing up for our democracy. There’s nothing more patriotic than defending our Constitution. When we talk about freedom, opportunity and security, it demonstrates that we love America and what it stands for.
The Fourth of July is a time for both well-meaning and evil-intending people to misuse the word “freedom.”
As a political concept, the only workable definition of “freedom” is that it’s the absence of legal interference with our fundamental rights. Freedom is freedom of speech, religion, and association; the right to privacy; the rights of the accused; and the right of all citizens to vote. Freedom is a defense of basic constitutional rights and civil liberties.
Freedom is the cornerstone of America’s value system. For two centuries, America has been defined by its commitment to freedom. One poll found that Americans believe—by a margin of 73 to 15 percent—that freedom is more important than equality. But because it’s so popular, freedom is the most misused of all political terms.
Can progressives win a minimum wage hike even in conservative-controlled state? Yes, by playing smart, aggressive politics.
A few weeks ago, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation to raise that state’s minimum wage from $7.40 to $9.25 per hour. The increase will occur in four stages: $8.15/hour will take effect in September, then the minimum wage will go up to $8.50 at the beginning of 2016, $8.90 in 2017 and $9.25 in 2018.
This isn’t ideal, of course. We want a $10.10 minimum wage and much sooner than 2018. But this victory is remarkable because conservative Republicans control not only the governor’s seat, but also both houses of the Michigan state legislature. In fact, this is the first time that a Republican-controlled state legislature has raised the minimum wage in many, many years.
It is quite extraordinary and it wouldn’t have happened without the tireless efforts of Progressive Majority’s Michigan State Director (and national training director) Dave Woodward.
Want a policy platform for your candidacy or organization? Here is a one-page statement that reflects American values and includes economic policies that are all wildly popular:
A Populist Platform for 2014
For the past 30 years, our nation’s economic and political playing field has increasingly favored moneyed interests over the majority. As a result, the gap between the rich and the rest of America has never loomed so large. This is contrary to our fundamental American values.
We hold these truths to be self-evident:
- Government policies should benefit all the people, not primarily the wealthy or the special interests.
- Our economy should offer opportunity for all, and make the American dream accessible to every family.
- America works best when everyone gets a fair chance, everyone gives their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules.
Therefore, to put people back to work and get our economy back on track, we insist that America’s leaders side with the people on these basic economic issues:
2014 is not a year for subtlety. Pollsters expect older, whiter, more conservative Americans to show up at the polls in November while younger voters and people of color, who are more likely to support progressives, are expected to stay away. Progressives need to siphon off some of the white working class vote and the only way to do that is to articulate a strong populist message—explicitly pointing a finger at economic wrongdoing by the rich.
A recent Hart Research poll illustrates the situation. Given a choice between a Republican who says s/he will “grow the economy” and a Democrat who say s/he will “make the economy work for us,” swing voters favor the Republican by 55-to-45 percent. But with the addition of a few words—if the Democrat says s/he will “make the economy work for us, not just the wealthy”—swing voters favor the Democrat by 61-to-39 percent. Those four words switch favorability by 32 points! Wow! But why?
Average Americans are in financial misery. They don’t understand economics. They certainly don’t understand Keynesian countercyclical spending. But they strongly believe that the wealthy are a big part of the problem. They think the economic game has been rigged to favor Wall Street over Main Street. And of course, they are right.