Our Common Good

You could criticize the biographical focus if it were being used to convey a false impression of where Romney stands, but that’s not what’s going on here; instead, it’s being used to get the truth about the candidate past the noise and the media barrier. The truth is that the Obama campaign would be doing the American people a disservice if it didn’t make the most of Bain.  ~Paul Krugman

Democrats, it seems, have taken a page from the GOP playbook. For a long time, Republicans have introduced what looks like dead-end legislation and then used it to demagogue their opponents, like the Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2011, which sought to fight the non-problem, at least in the U.S., of abortions motivated by race and gender. Then there are the more successful abortion restrictions and Planned Parenthood defundings that have trickled down from the federal level to sympathetic state legislatures, where they’ve found greater success.

If Democrats want to keep the GOP on the defensive on women’s issues — and not only maintain that gender gap that shows up in most polls, but mobilize women in the base — they should seize the moment and get ambitious. After all, the political conversation around women’s rights is still overwhelmingly reactive to the conservative agenda, and what victories there have been are partial — the potential for a moderately expanded version of VAWA and eliminating the co-pay on a range of women’s healthcare services aside.

I asked advocates and activists to think big and offer up a proactive policy wish-list. “I am inclined to suggest that we introduce a bill entitled, ‘Politicians Should Leave Women the Hell Alone Act,’” says Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. Short of that, there are four main areas of focus here: reproductive health, employment issues, sexual assault and domestic violence protections, and foreign policy. Most of these bills wouldn’t have a chance of passing with the current composition of Congress, especially the House. But why leave the realignment to the right?


By akadjian

I’m not sure how it started, but the slogan “We Are the 99%” is doing something that Democrats have failed to do and Republicans have feared for decades.


What is this?

Take a step back with me for a second and I’ll show you what Occupy Wall Street is doing that hasn’t happened over the past 30 years. And why.

In 1971,  Lewis Powell, then a member of 11 corporate boards, drafted a blueprint for the monied interests of the country represented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Powell considered the business owners of America and capitalism itself under attack.

In the Powell Memo, as it became known, he recommended that business fight back or in the words of Mr. Powell:

“The time has come … for the wisdom, ingenuity and resources of American business to be marshalled against those who would destroy it.”

I’m not going to get into if they were really under “attack,” but Powell felt like they were under attack and he convinced the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others to follow his recommendations.

I encourage you to read the Powell Memo for the full scope, but what Powell describes is a fear among businesses that the majority in our American Democracy sympathized little with businessmen and would eventually vote for a “socialist” government.

To halt what he saw as an anti-business movement, he proposed influencing the educational and political systems with a pro-business agenda.

His goal:

“To enlighten public thinking - not so much about the businessman and his individual role as about the system which he administers, and which provides the goods, services and jobs on which our country depends.”

Starting to sound familiar?

Over the past 30 years, in one form or another, we’ve seen aspects of Powell’s plan put into effect by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others creating views such as these:

  • A belief in “free” markets, laissez-faire economics, and letting the markets work
  • “Trickle down” theory (supply-side economics)
  • The idea that the private sector creates jobs

Basically, government should give to the business owners, get out of the way, reduce their taxes, and then the business owners would in turn bring wealth and prosperity to everyone.

Keep in mind the view that government should aid those at the top started out as an extremely unpopular minority view.

When your arguments start from an extreme minority position, how do you effectively market your idea and form coalitions?

The key number to get to in a Democracy is 51%.

Their answer was to change the target markets. You’re probably familiar with a few ways the monied interests have re-targeted the market:  

  1. Republicans vs. Democrats: In this target segmenting, the segments are roughly 50/50.
  2. White vs. minority: The most frequent segmenting here is black vs. white. By crafting a message that appeals to whites, you shift the target markets in your favor by roughly 88 / 12 %
  3. Straight vs. gay: Don’t know exact numbers, but it’s clear who’s in the minority.
  4. Religious vs. non-religious: According to a 2008 survey, only 15% claim no religious affiliation. Target the religious.

Look at the recent fight in states like Wisconsin and Ohio.

Governors like Kasich and Walker have introduced legislation to break the strength of public unions and limit their freedom to bargain so that management is effectively in control of decisions.

This was not a popular viewpoint. It is, in fact, a viewpoint of the 1% and originally had large majorities against it.

So what did they do?

They reframed the debate to divide the market differently. They reframed the fight as unions vs. taxpayers.

Because union members represent a minority (about 15% of the workforce in Ohio), you claim to be fighting for a majority, the taxpayers.

This is how conservatives fight when they have unpopular arguments.

The False Divide

A joke making the rounds on the Internet goes like this:

There’s a plate of 12 cookies sittng on a table. The rich take 11 cookies leaving only 1 cookie left on the plate. They then turn to the Tea Party and say ‘Those unions are trying to take your cookie.’

This works about equally well with Republicans vs. Democrats.

It’s why Republicans versus Democrats is largely a false divide. The monied interests would rather have us arguing Republican vs. Democrat (50/50 split) than Rich vs. Everyone Else (1/99 split).

Democrats represent the U.S. Chamber of Commerce almost as well as Republicans. Don’t forget that Glass-Steagall was repealed under President Bill Clinton.

Democrats simply play the game differently. Rather than trying to purposefully divide the electorate to play the statistical odds, Democrats try to appeal to a majority with a populist message.

The trouble is that this populist message gets undercut frequently once they’re in office.

A great example of this is the Affordable Care Act enacted by President Obama and the Democratic (at the time) majority Congress.

Rather than implement a single-payer plan or a plan that included a public option, Democrats put forward a plan that keeps health care in the hands of the health care industry.

Note that the idea of mandating health care insurance was originally proposed by Stuart Butler of The Heritage Foundation. That is, it was a corporate-approved plan.

Also observe the failure of the Democratic Party to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

Note the strong opposition from corporate-backed organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and The Heritage Foundation.

Because of this conflict, Democrats constantly undermine their brand. During elections, they market to the 99%, but then often work towards the interests of the 1%.

No wonder the voting public is cynical.

Without a strong brand, Democrats win mostly in the face of strong reaction to the opposition party - 1992 and 2008 being the two most recent examples.

The Importance of “99%”

The rich vs. the rest of us is the fight the 1% fear most. So why have we been so unwilling to fight this fight?

Three reasons:

  1. Democratic unwillingness to offend potential major donors
  2. The emergence of the Tea Party which focused much of the anti-establishment anger on government itself (rather than on those who actually caused the financial crisis)
  3. An effective counter strategy which claims any attempt to make the rich pay their fair share is “class warfare”

By claiming the 99% mantle, Occupy Wall Street is finally target segmenting the market effectively.

As hard as this may be to believe, the 99% message may encourage some non-traditional (for Democrats anyways) allies who share the same frustrations: members of the Tea Party, small business owners, and members of the Republican party who may be dissatisfied with their party’s lack of new ideas for dealing with the economy.

“We are the 99%” is a fight we should not back away from despite the attempts (and you know more are coming) to divide the electorate differently to keep those in power in power.

And to keep our government focused on the needs of the 1%.

Remember these “false divides” and the desired target segmenting (hint: 99/1%).

It helps you determine who you want to win over and who to fight. Think about that the next time you’re considering calling someone a “teabagger” or arguing among any of the numerous false divides.

Is that who your fight is really with?

Are they in the 99% target market or not? Occupy Wall Street so far has picked the right fight. Let’s continue to follow their model.

Originally posted to akadjian on Mon Oct 10, 2011 at 03:57 AM PDT. Also republished by Occupy Wall Street.


From: Dean Debnam and Tom Jensen, Public Policy Polling

To: Interested Parties

Subject: Democrats can win in 2012 by taking it to the Tea Party

Date: October 13th, 2011

Over the last few months Democrats in Wake County, North Carolina ran against the Tea Party in a strongly Republican leaning School Board district. And on Tuesday night they won, showing that the party might be able to have success in 2012 even on unfriendly turf by relentlessly hammering GOP candidates for their ties to an increasingly unpopular movement.

In 2009 Republicans gained a majority on the Wake County School Board in an election marked by complacency from Democratic voters and just 11% turnout. The new majority quickly moved to pursue policies that would have the effect of resegregating the school district, bringing enormous amounts of negative national media attention down on the county.

The actions of the School Board reawakened Democratic activists and created a sense of urgency about winning back a majority in 2011 but there was just one problem- doing that would require defeating the Board’s chairman, Ron Margiotta.  His district is so heavily Republican- 42% GOP, 34% Democrats among regular voters- that he didn’t even draw an opponent when he won reelection to his 2nd term in 2007.  It required an incredibly strong message to win his seat- and that message proved to be the Tea Party.

PPP found in September that 53% of voters in Margiotta’s R+8 district were less likely to vote for a Tea Party backed candidate, with only 24% considering that to be an asset for a candidate.  It’s a given that Democrats recoil at the Tea Party label, but independents considered it a negative by a 51/20 margin and even 26% of Republican voters said they would be turned off of a candidate they knew had Tea Party ties.

A unified Democratic base wasn’t going to be enough for the party to win this seat- it would require a significant advantage with independents and a lot of crossover support from Republicans as well. The Wake County Democratic Party and the candidates themselves relentlessly hammered home to voters the message about Margiotta’s Tea Party ties. The result? A PPP poll the week before the election found Democratic endorsed candidate Susan Evans leading 48-43. She had a 51-34 advantage with independents and was taking 22% of the Republican vote.   Those numbers held on right into election day and Evans won 52-48.

This was not a race where Democrats played nice- they took the fight to the Republican candidates and exploited their close ties to an increasingly unpopular Tea Party movement.  And it worked, in a district where Democratic victory once seemed unimaginable. Democrats will more than likely take back the majority in a November 8th runoff election in a separate district where the party’s candidate won by 10 points yesterday, but fell short of an outright majority. And they did it by running against the Tea Party.

It’s a model Democratic candidates across the country should consider following in 2012.  PPP polling in key swing states has consistently found that the Tea Party is very unpopular- its favorability is 41/49 in Florida, 40/46 in Missouri, 40/48 in North Carolina, 37/47 in Ohio, and 38/49 in Colorado, just to name a few.  And even in red leaning states like Kentucky (40/46) and South Carolina (41/42) being associated with the Tea Party is not a good thing.  It was a potent  message for Democrats in Wake County Tuesday night. And it could be a potent message for Democrats everywhere across the country next year.

Full results of our final District 8 poll here

Here’s my take on this. Some folks on the left are pointing to the campaign’s failure to adequately shoot down this story as a sign that the campaign perhaps sees political gain in riling up the left, as part of some kind of triangulation strategy to win independents. I just don’t believe this is the case. It seems far more likely that they see this kind of story as nothing but a headache, and want it to go away. My bet is they worry — rightly or wrongly — that publicly reassuring liberal critics won’t necessarily gain any good will from them, only risks giving the story more oxygen, and gets them involved in a fruitless public dispute about whether they’re triangulating and “hippie punching.”

That said, this story does provide a window into what I think is a real problem — the nature of the Obama team’s frustration with liberal critics. The problem is that some on the Obama team don’t reckon with what it is lefty critics are actually saying. Obama advisers get angry when they think liberal critics are refusing to accept the limits placed on him by current political realities, and when lefties presume at the outset that Obama will inevitably sell out. That’s reflected in Sandoval’s angry email and in other periodic explosions of anger at the “professional left.”

But the lefty critique goes considerably further than this. It’s an argument with Obama’s team about tactics and strategy, about what might be attainable if he handled these negotiations differently. The case from these critics is if Obama approached negotiations with a harder line, it would be better politics because it would juice up the base and show indys he’s a fighter. They also advocate for this course because the current dynamic is hopelessly broken — and they think a more aggressive approach has at least a chance of broadening the field of what’s substantively possible. (There’s a segment on the left that also thinks Obama wants what’s in the deals he keeps securing, but the points above are broadly what many lefties agree on.)

Whether you agree with this critique or not — people make persuasive cases in both directions — Sandoval’s email shows a broader failure to reckon with what it is that has lefty critics so ticked off. That’s the real problem here — and it’s one of the key causes of the tension between the left and the White House.

UPDATE: I should add that there are plenty of signs lately that the White House is gearing up to show the kind of fight the left is hoping to see.

We have to start winning elections in ways so that the majority of political observers believe the defeated candidate lost because s/he opposed one or more progressive legislative priorities. Just defeating someone who opposes progressive legislation with someone who supports it is not enough. A wide array of pundits, candidates and political professionals must believe that opposition to progressive policies was the primary reason an elected official was removed from office. That is the only way we are going to start convincing people that opposing progressive legislation is truly bad idea for someone’s political career. As such, it’s also the only way we’re going to start getting progressive legislation passed on a regular basis.

If political observers think we won an election because our opponent had corruption issues, it won’t build progressive power. If political observers think we won because the other side had crazy candidates, it won’t change legislative outcomes. If people think we won because we were well-organized or because we used clever new tactics, then they will come to our seminars about how to run a campaign–but they will not pass our desired public policy into law. Hell, even if we win because the country is in the dumps and we get a wave election, that will give us a brief shot at power but nothing over the long-term (see 1977-1980, 1993-1994, and 2009-2010).

Totally depressing.  But if you are a liberal/progressive, you really should read and think about it.  We have to figure out how to come together to fight back.

When you cut right through it, right-wing ideology is just “dime-store economics” – intended to dress their ideology up and make it look respectable. You don’t really need to know much about economics to understand it. They certainly don’t. It all gets down to two simple words.

“Cheap labor”. That’s their whole philosophy in a nutshell – which gives you a short and pithy “catch phrase” that describes them perfectly. You’ve heard of “big-government liberals”. Well they’re “cheap-labor conservatives”.

Once you understand the general concept, you will frequently find yourself in debate over specific issues, like healthcare, social security privatization, public school vouchers, the “war on drugs” and of course the war in Iraq. What better way to put your conservative opponent on the defensive than by exposing the true motivation for his position – “cheap labor”. Can you really find the “cheap labor” angle in every conservative policy initiative, and every conservative position on any particular issue?

Yes, you can. Here is a catalogue…

Cheap Labor Conservatives Issues Guide

My only quibble with this piece? The author should replace the word “conservative” with “Republican;” there’s nothing “conservative” about radically regressive policies designed to create cheap labor.

(via ryking)

Conceptual Guerilla” is an old activist buddy of mine - one of a group of five who met in 2000 on Micheal Moore’s old forum and joined together via a Yahoo Group to fight the right during the build up the Iraq war.   We organized to try and counter the right wing arguments on newspaper forums and places like Hannity’s site.  It was in those place the ‘Cheap labor conservatives’ meme and ’ Defeat the Right in 3 Minutes’ were developed. 

Conceptual Guerilla” brilliantly developed most of the themes and then we tested and refined with actual folks.  We even sent a set of interrogatories to the Project for the New American Century re their part in planning and pushing for the Iraq War, and then copied the White House Press Corp and other media before posting them online.  We pushed and pushed until we started hearing our questions being asked on the Washington Journal and by a few brave journalists.

Joe, (aka “Conceptual Guerilla”) can be brilliant and I really wish we could have gotten him hired by some Dem team - because on his own, he just isn’t consistent enough with his writing to keep growing.  Good to see that he is writing on his site again.