Progressives Need to Articulate their Values

We all know the Democratic Party got crushed this last election cycle. Some progressives argue that the picture is not as bleak as it seems – that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly three million ballots and that demographics are shifting slowly but surely in the Democrats’ favor.

Yet Democrats do not control a single branch of the federal government, have likely lost the Supreme Court for a generation, have extraordinarily low representation at the state level across all state branches of government around the nation, and face dauntingly gerrymandered districts. It is a bleak picture, regardless of Clinton’s popular vote numbers.

A major issue is that Republicans have effectively controlled the national conversation for decades. They slowly and with extraordinary discipline shifted the political center rightward, carefully planting language and emotions in popular discourse that weakens Democratic positions and bolster’s Republican claims to concepts of freedom, patriotism, and connections to the founding of the republic. The use of the patriotic-referencing “Tea Party” is a great example.

I have heard a lot of people argue that Democrats – or progressives or the political left – need their version of the Tea Party. What does this mean? A very good guide to organizing techniques and actions has surfaced at Yet this guide does not seek to establish a common set of values on the progressive side, nor does it name a movement a la the Tea Party.

If progressives are going to succeed in the long run, they are going to have to come together across issue areas to work on securing our future. The movement, and the language and values used and expressed in the movement, should:

  • Be based in a set of values and principles that reach across issue areas and demographics.
  • Connect to the history of the United States, and in particular establish a clear lineage of legitimacy from quintessentially American documents, whether those from the Framers or something else.
  • Be concise and emotion based, rather than detailed and fact based.
  • Link, whenever possible, to established values and truths rather than establishing an entirely new set of cognitive frames.
  • Use memorable and catchy words and names.
  • Be disciplined and play a long game – we need to refrain from constantly shifting words surrounding our principles.

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