Jon Stewart had a terrific run of making the late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens the poster child for the Republican answer to just about anything. Mr. Stevens was quite parsimonious; limiting his answers to almost anything to one word, with two letters: NO.
Here’s just a partial list of issues in which Republicans can and have said, almost in unison, ‘NO’ to reasonable proposals suggested by progressive Democrats:
Dems: Increasing revenue ought to be part of the solution to addressing our growing national debt.
Dems: We need another stimulus which is larger than the previous one.
Dems: When it comes to reproductive rights, women should have the right to control their own bodies.
Dems: We should pass a bill to put all Federal Aviation Administration workers and subcontractors back to work.
Dems: We should empower the E.P.A. to protect the environment.
It is as if Republicans are kids in school who have a special right of entitlement and they don’t have to do their homework. Why the need when the answer to every question is the same: ‘NO.’
Democrats are forced to present arguments. Even if they are as simple as “The two tools to balancing a budget are to increase revenue and to cut spending,” Republicans are limited to the predictable answer of ‘NO.’
If it’s truly a complicated issue like a woman’s right to choose, progressives have to look at the complexities and nuances of the issue and try to offer a reasonable approach. Republicans can just say ‘NO.’
If it’s a matter of supporting an established American value like concern for the less fortunate, Republicans can simply dismiss it by saying ‘NO.’
Progressives have a certain respect for rational dialogue. It can be as simple as, “If ‘a’ equals ‘b’ and ‘b’ equals ‘c,’ then ‘a’ equals ‘c.’ But that rational playing field may not be where many Republicans, even independents, are. As Ian Mitroff said in March, 2011 (essentially paraphrasing George Lakoff):
One of the biggest, long-lasting delusions of progressives is that people are moved mainly by rational arguments. Consequently, to get people to accept a particular policy such as universal health care, all one needs to do is to present strong and persuasive arguments in favor of it.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
I have always been impressed with how well Lakoff describes the problems that progressives face. His proposed solutions generally involve reframing issues so that they have a liberal “spin.” For instance, the conservative term of “right to work” could be turned around to a more accurate and liberal description of “right to work for less.”
Following the advice of Lakoff and other proponents of progressive policy can be difficult. Our natural inclination is to develop rational arguments. But if we accept his premise that rationality does not really resonate with the masses, then we need to reframe the issues. The challenge is particularly difficult because progressives have a preference for truth. Conservatives don’t mind calling a bill that results in more pollution “The Clean Air Act.” We seem to have higher standards.
I do not profess to have the solutions that Lakoff and others still have not provided. I only wish that it was as simple as Ted Stevens’ answer to everything. But ‘NO;’ it’s not that simple.