All of us, together

Via Political Animal: this is an interesting post from someone who took part in a focus group of Ivy Leage Democratic Party activists. I’m really curious as to who is running such a thing (and why!), which the author declines to get into. The whole post is a little boneheaded, and has the ring of a very smart person thinking about this problem for the first time:

Take the issue of being pro-market, for example. Not one person at the table listed a commitment to either entrepreneurs or free markets as a core part of the Democratic agenda. Yet everyone at the table was basically pro-market and pro-business BUT believed that America must pay more attention to those left behind by markets and businesses.
Given that Republicans always identify themselves as the party of markets and entrepreneurs, could Democrats make any headway with this kind of “yes, but” approach to the subject? But if framing isn’t enough, how can Democrats alter the substance of their agenda without simply becoming more like Republicans?
In the final analysis, there was no answer to this question. Even a table full of Ivy League-educated Democratic activists couldn’t come up with an answer to the question of what the Democrats want to offer America as a whole, and not just the disadvantaged. But the question itself is important, because it has the potential to force the Democrats to approach every major policy debate from a fresh perspective.

Absolutely this is an important question, and in the final analysis we’re going to find an answer to it or continue to lose until we do.
I don’t suppose there is much reason to think any particular subset of Democratic activists (Ivy League trained or otherwise) would have sat down and figured out what comes next. One of the problems with the current political moment is that fewer numbers of lefties – people who would ordinarily be bringing in new thinking – are politically engaged. Much of the citizenry has been distracted by the sound and fury of haywire American capitalism, sucked into eddies of techno-utopianism (been there!), run off by repeated exposure to withering blasts of anti-government rhetoric emanating from the right wing noise machine, or some combination of all of these. All three are massively powerful undertow currents in American civilization and there are surely other forces at work as well.
The reasons why some small but not insubstantial portion of those who are left choose to participate in our democracy are sometimes less than wholesome. I’m not necessarily saying that this guy was stuck in a focus group with a bunch of apple polishers, but it’s possible. A more charitable explanation could be that they were just all too busy working the campaign gypsy lifestyle to dig into some of the more structural and philosophical issues feeding the ongoing implosion.
But I take strongest issue with the implication that no substantive Democratic alternative economics could possibly exist. It’s a question of both framing and substance. Twice in the past week (both here and here) I’ve had to go into considerable detail chewing out Republicans who accused me of offering nothing more than “the usual liberal establishment talking points” or whatever. Too often we don’t engage, but that isn’t working. Republican policies haven’t even been good for what they claim they’re good for (like growth). By God, if we can’t come up with an alternative to the supply-side horsepucky they’ve been shoveling at us for the past few decades, we really don’t deserve to win!
I don’t know if it’s the high road (my preferred term), the moral economy (George Lakoff’s), the “we’re tired of getting trickled down on” economy or whatever the heck we’ll end up calling it, but there is not a shred of doubt in my mind that an alternative exists. Whatever other features it has, I am absolutely certain that solidarity between the lower, middle and large chunks of the upper-middle classes will form the backbone of it, and this is an important tactical consideration to keep in mind.
The kleptocracy this poor country has become is nothing like the best of all possible economic worlds and it is borderline ridiculous (and indicative of how far gone things are) to suggest that it is. This assumption is omnipresent; it’s why I can’t ordinarily read more than a few pages of the Economist.
This dynamic is especially explicative here in California, where overwhelming majorities of voters are with the left on social issues. Economics is the only reason we lose here. Our wins will be few and far between until we have destroyed right-wing economic policies, frames, narratives and conventional wisdom by presenting a positive and hopeful alternative. I was first assured of our side’s capability of delivering on this while hauling across frozen Iowa cornfields in a minivan full of Ph.D (and one Republican!) Dean supporters during the 2004 primary. It might take a while – conventional wisdom isn’t replaced overnight. But it will happen.