Talking about politics

San Smith
2006

Liberals might attract a lot more voters if they would stop dissin’ them so much. It used to be that the left had a relatively few bad guys, such as Wall Street bankers and corporate executives, but now not only have these become major Democratic Party campaign contributors, liberal targets have exploded to include a large percentage of the voting pool. Once you eliminate all those who smoke, are too heavy, live in the suburbs, believe in Jesus, belong to the Green Party, own a gun, or lack etiquette when discussing ethnicity, you don’t have that much to work with.

In many cases, it’s a matter of attitude more than policy. After all, if you go up to someone and say, “You’re a big, fat pig” or “You live in a sprawling, polluting neighborhood” and then propose to reform them, the reaction is going to tend to be negative even if your ideas make sense. If, on the other hand, you talk about the need for healthier food and more exercise, people don’t take it so personally. It is worth remembering, for example, that John F. Kennedy got a huge fitness craze going without calling anyone obese. Similarly, without characterizing another person’s neighborhood, you can suggest ecologically sound improvements in urban design – such as accessory apartments, shopping within walking distance, and filling in the empty space around malls and along suburban strips. People support things that help them. Thus, if instead of moralizing over sprawl, one points out the energy costs savings in row housing, one is likely to find a more friendly audience.

For a group that professes so much interest in diversity and tolerance, liberals are often surprising parochial and impatient with cultural variety. Thus they have played right into the conservative gambit of reducing politics to personal values rather than being about the public good. The way out of this trap is to rephrase policies so they become non-judgmental of the voters being sought. And, most of all, to find policies that help most people live better. It’s how we got a weekend, a 40-hour-week, social security and a minimum wage. And it is still good politics.

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