GOP victories in state house after state house and the resultant focus on austerity and social issues should be a wake-up call to progressives. Despite minor victories here and there, the progressive message is simply not resonating with enough Americans. Recent polls indicate that a majority of them do not support more regulation of the financial industry nor do they see the benefit of more stimulus to create jobs. This is occurring despite the clear failures of trickle down and deregulation. Why aren’t the facts winning?
The facts aren’t winning because many Americans respond to their gut over gravitas and to ideology over ideas. While liberals point to charts and graphs, conservatives address insecurities and appeal to beliefs. While progressives are confident in their nuanced analyses, many Americans resent what they see as elitist snobs telling them what to do. Conservative messaging is simpler and repetitive. Progressives weaken their messaging with endless debate and fluctuating emphasis.
Although it may be hard for many to accept, the fact is that progressives are tone-deaf to a large segment of America. Liberals bask in the false comfort of hosannas from the choir as they condemn the wrong-headedness of the congregation next door. And therein lies the problem. The congregations, right and left, are not talking to one another; they are talking at one another. Labels and invective fly while the country remains bitterly divided and adrift in a sea of problems.
If progressives want to build sufficient consensus for real change, then they need to come down from their ivory towers of critique and complexity and start listening to the rest of America. All of the feel good occupations, the innovative ideas and the self-righteousness of the cause crash against the brass knuckles of the opposition. Progressives need to be open to simpler, powerful messaging that resonates more with the heart than the mind. They need to recognize that there are legitimate issues of concern for those on the right that cannot simply be dismissed out of hand as ignorance or overcome with punditry and charts and graphs. In short, progressives need to begin building bridges to those with whom they differ, instead of alienating them. They need to focus on people’s needs rather than their beliefs. And they need to realize that what they are doing now isn’t working.