Progressives have no imagination; the right has plenty. This is why, on every issue, the right constantly out frames the left. The left remains mired in statistics and dry facts while the right soars on imagery, and the fact that the right’s imagery is grounded in distortions and falsehoods in no way diminishes its effectiveness.
George Lakoff argues that “freedom” is the buzzword the right most frequently employs. Of course, their crippled definition of freedom is anything that advances their interests, and they have deftly equated capitalism with freedom even though capitalism thrives best in an authoritarian society, as we are seeing with China.
Lakoff observes that, “The conservatives are wining the framing wars again—by sticking to moral principles as conservatives see them and communicating their view of morality effectively. …We progressives are long on factual analysis, critique, suggestions—and ridicule.” Part of the reason for this could be that the left is crawling with individuals trained in the value-free world of the social sciences and not enough with individuals versed in literature and the humanities.
Because of this, Martin Luther King’s, “I have a dream.” has been reduced to Obama’s “I have a plan.” It doesn’t inspire.
Lakoff suggests making democracy the moral principle around which progressives can rally the troops. However, this is problematic because the word “democracy” has been reduced to a hackneyed expression through over use and the sometimes futile attempts to use it to justify a multitude of sins as in “bringing democracy to the Middle East.”
Progressives would do better to fight for the building of a decent society without which freedom is difficult if not impossible to achieve. A decent society is characterized by four moral absolutes: Do not kill, do not steal, do not lie and do not exploit. This explains why decency is anathema to the corporate state because to survive and grow, the corporate state must kill, steal, lie and exploit.
Ironically, Obama defined the decent society during his campaign. In the following quote, I have substituted “decency” for “democracy:”
[Decency] is about empathy—caring about your fellow citizens, which leads to principles of freedom and fairness for all. Empathy requires both personal and social responsibility. The ethic of excellence means making the world better by making yourself better, your family better, your community better, and your nation better. Government has two moral missions: protection and empowerment for all. To carry them out, government must be by, for and of the people.”
Needless to say Obama left that thought on the podium, jammed between the pages of his inaugural address, and he hasn’t looked at it since. But it sits there beneath the soil, dormant and waiting for the right conditions to germinate, and it is the tears of the dispossessed and the impoverished that will nurture the seed even as the anger of betrayal fertilizes it. With time it will take root and grow in spite of Obama and not because of him.
One thing should be understood—decency has nothing to do with sex. The right tries its damndest to equate the two because in their eyes, cum is ickier than blood. Blood soars and waves the flag of patriotism. Blood is homeland, motherland, and fatherland. Blood sings its ownperverse poetry; it seeks its own purity and destroys all that might contaminate it. Cum, on the other hand, is a post-coital mess to be cleaned up. It’s quite alright to shed blood; just be careful where you dump your load. As the artist Madison Young puts it, “If you can’t fuck it, it’s not a revolution." Though I’m not sure how effective “More Cum; Less Blood” would be as a rallying cry.
In Lakoff’s opinion, a guiding moral principle is what makes the difference between a movement and a coalition. As he explains it, “Coalitions are based on interests. Movements are based on principles. We need a movement that transcends interests and goes beyond coalitions.”
Today, there are three cesspools of rank indecency that are smothering freedom: Wall Street, the Pentagon and the Beltway. And as long as progressives keep their faces buried in specific issues buried beneath dry prose and statistics, these cesspools will continue to stink. Only when there is a movement that cuts across class and ideological lines dedicated to the building of a decent society will the cesspools finally be flushed out and reduced to rubble.
In other words, progressives have to start writing some poetry and using the imaginations God gave them. The public has had enough of coalitions. They are ripe for a movement.