George Lakoff has repeatedly stressed the “framing deficit” with which progressives are constantly struggling. Whether it was before last November’s election, during the lame duck Congressional session, or now with the 112th Congress, President Barack Obama has consistently talked about and pursued a strategy of being bi-partisan.
When Obama reaches to the right, the term “bi-partisan” is very apropos. But should he reach to the left, what word comparable to “bi-partisan” would describe his actions?
Progressives are handicapped because we don’t have a word or simple phrase that would simply describe a president reaching out to the members of his or her own party who form its base.
The word “basism” might work except (a) there is no such word, and (b) even if there was, it would be very awkward.
I recently asked readers of the Daily Kos if they could help provide new or fresh language that describes a moderate Democrat taking steps to cooperate with the progressive base of the party. Here are some of the best responses. Let me know what you think of them; as progressives we definitely need to improve our framing skills.
- “Hit a dinger” as in hit a home run. This would simply mean touching home base as in connecting with the progressive base that played such a vital role in electing him. He wouldn’t have to do it all the time; even the best home run sluggers in baseball hit dingers less than 10% of the time. This may be about 9% more often than the president really is representing a progressive point of view.
- Perhaps a more appropriate term with a similar meaning would be “touch base.”
- Basically, it’s called “playing to the base.” When Republicans win elections…they play to their hard-core activist base. When Democrats win elections, they play to…the Republican base. There is never a time when either political party gives any respect whatsoever to the activist base of the Democratic Party (except for empty rhetoric by Democrats during campaign season).
In other words, the problem in this particular case is not so much “framing” as it is action and leadership. Democrats who refuse to take action and leadership on behalf of the very people most responsible for getting them elected…are simply not acting in the best interests of their base. That needs to change if the Democrats ever plan to get my vote again (after 25+ years as an activist and contributor, the 2010 election has almost completely convinced me to stop wasting my time on Democrats).
- I know this isn’t a single word, but if you are reading Lakoff as I do, this is what “reaching out to the progressive base” would require. To him, there is no “center”, there are only conservatives, progressives and what he calls “bi-conceptuals” who have both progressive and conservative approaches to different issues and areas of their lives. Lakoff stresses that progressives have to use speech that activates the progressive frame and avoid using speech that activates the conservative frames. Obama succeeded in activating a lot of progressive frames in his SOTU speech, and made a declaration of what he stands for.
- Also, since the progressive position on many an issue is generally not only the most sensible, but the most popular, why not call it the “mainstream” position? Take that label back from artificial centrism.
And some other short ones:
- “Limited modified liberalism?” [Apologies to RM Nixon’s “limited, modified hangout”]?
- None of these are really alternatives to “bi-partisan,” so I’ll have to try a little harder…I like your “basism” idea, but it sounds dangerously close to “racism,” which wouldn’t go over too well if people didn’t listen carefully.
- Outreach to progressives
- Reality-based strategy
- Keeping faith with progressives
Thanks to everyone who offered their thoughts. I’m open to more; you can add comments to this post or go to our on-line poll.
Quite seriously, I can think of nothing that would put more healthy pressure on the president to give greater consideration to the interests of his base than, if every time he was asked about being bi-partisan, he was also asked about “touching base.” Bi-partisan cooperation on the health care bill meant being sensitive to the Republican’s desire for little or no change (as represented by their nearly unanimous votes against the Patient Protection and Affordability Act). Touching base would have meant giving serious consideration to Medicare for All. Then a compromise between the interests of Republicans and the Democratic base would have been something like the public option.
The president ceded the public option without getting anything in return. It might not have been so easy had we been better at insisting that he “touch base” besides being bi-partisan.
The strength of the president’s base in Congress is much weaker now than it was in the 111th Congress. However, by acknowledging the presence of his base as well as that of Republicans, he will help both himself and other Democrats in the 2012 election because it is the base that gives Democrats their identity.