Friday, May 29, 2015

Bad progressive myths

  1. Court victories preserve our rights.

    In fact, court victories nowadays delegitimize the courts. The courts these days are called upon to rule on controversies that are live and bitter in our polarized society, and the courts therefore are often seen to be as partisan as any legislature or executive. Moreover, court rulings often lead to reactive legislation to correct what the courts are seen to have gotten wrong. The so-called Religious Freedom Restoration laws at the federal and state levels are notable examples of such legislation. They're also examples of why such laws are such bad ideas.

    Rather than relying on the courts, progressives need to change the hearts and minds of the public. The far right has been pretty good at doing that, or at least at changing the terms of our political discourse far to the right. Progressives have to match that effort. We have some hope of success, too: on issues like income inequality and grotesquely unjust treatment of different races (and classes) by the criminal justice system, progressives hold the high moral ground and can muster far better arguments than the far right, which clings to the policy prescriptions which got us into our current mess.

  2. The do-nothing Congress is the primary obstacle to getting things done.

    Progressive news outlets love to bandy about the statistic of the last Congress being the least productive in history in terms of bills passed. First, it's juvenile and it trivializes Congress' role in our democracy to gauge its performance by a meaningless but easily-ascertained quantity. The more important objection, though, is that Congress is precisely as good and as bad as the electorate. The electorate is divided. Nobody is happy that more laws weren't passed, but what laws could have been passed that wouldn't have antagonized nearly half the population? The laws your average Tea Partyer wants are hardly the ones I want. Do-nothing may be better than do-bad.

    More to the point, to focus ire on Congress is to miss the bigger point: progressives must change the hearts and minds of the public. You change the public mood, you make it possible to elect better politicians. (Possible — not inevitable.)

  3. Stringently logical arguments will win the day.

    I'm really sad about this. Logical, rational argument is supposed to trump all else. However, the truth is that people know what is rational — but they don't always care. Enough studies of human behavior have confirmed the non-rationality of our decision-making processes that to deny this truth is, well, irrational. Yet progressives keep acting as if we can bludgeon our recalcitrant opponents into agreement with data and logic alone. T'ain't so. We need complementary rhetorical strategies that take the reality of human behavior into account. (The far right is much better attuned to how people make decisions than progressives are. The far right is in trouble only because the flimsiness of its arguments on many issues is becoming too difficult to hide.)

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