contempt for whom?

There’s been a lot of commentary since the election about how the Democrats need to rethink their identity in order to capture the voters needed to have a meaningful presence again, that they lost so badly because they’ve turned away from “heartland” American values. What the Democrats face reminds me of the old joke:

Two friends are backpacking in the woods when they are surprised by a bear intent upon eating them. One of them pulls his running shoes out of his backpack and starts lacing them up.
“Are you crazy?” his friend asks. “You can’t outrun that bear.”
“I don’t have to. I just have to outrun you.”

I do believe that the Democratic Party needs to articulate its positions better (paging George Lakoff), and to do so in a positive rather than a reactive way. However, let’s be realistic. The Democrats don’t need to win that many people over to their side for the midterm elections in two years or the presidency in four.

The 2004 election no more represents some sort of sea change in American politics and culture than the 1996 election did. In 1996, Bill Clinton received 47 million votes to Bob Dole’s 39 million. In 2004, George W. Bush received 59 million to John Kerry’s 56 million. The second election represents a much slimmer margin of victory than the first. (Note: I’m not denying that Bush won in 2004. Nor am I denying that more people voted for a candidate other than Clinton in 1996 than voted for Clinton. But did you notice how many more people voted for Kerry this time around than voted for Clinton for his second term?)

My own opinion is that if the Dems can succeed in reframing the debate, as Lakoff suggests they should, they do not need to act like conservatism-lite; they can actually stand up for the progressive values that those of us on the left end of the political spectrum believe are central to the American identity. At the very least, if progressives don’t start learning who Frank Luntz is and what he does and why it works, then we don’t have anyone to blame but ourselves for our failures.

Finally, Dems are currently enduring a lot of lectures telling them that they are elitist and out of touch, that they have contempt for middle-American values, that the urban centers that are their power base are not the true America. Let’s call these lectures what they are: political posturing intended to put the Democrats on the defensive and to continue to define them negatively against their will. Bush won by a margin of only 3 million votes. Kerry received more votes than Bill Clinton in 1996. These numbers do not tell us that the Democratic Party is out of touch or that American voters are turning away in droves.

As for the values in New York, in Philadelphia, in Washington D.C., in Chicago, in San Francisco, in Los Angeles…these are American values, too. People from all over the world flock to these cities and become American citizens because of the promise this country offers them. The people living in Peoria, in Iowa City, in Charlotte, in Topeka…these people, hardworking and respectable to be sure, do not have a monopoly on what it means to be an American.

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blog for kc september project

As part of the KC September Project, Im looking for thirty volunteers from the Kansas City area to write one blog entry each for a KC September Project blog, one for each day of the month.
What kind of guidelines should you follow in writing your entry? The September Project site has this to say: “Share and discuss your ideas about democracy, citizenship, and patriotism through public talks, roundtables, and performances” and “The September Project is a collection of people, groups, and organizations working to create a day of engagement, a day of conversation, a day of democracy.” I think readers’ needs would be best served by you sharing your thoughts about, for example, key terms like “democracy,” “citizenship,” and “patriotism.” But there are also other key terms that are at stake in American public discourse right now: “freedom,” “terrorism,” “strength,” “rights,” “courage,” “marriage,” and “leadership,” to name just a few. Take a look at the much-blogged NY Times graphic comparing “The Words Speakers Use” from the two conventions.
Consider the following some very gentle suggestions, rather than hard and fast rules: The best writers have a distinctive voice that comes through in their writing, and I don’t want to suggest anything that would change the nature of that voice in your writing for this project. I would like to see all of us be as persuasive as we can to as wide a range of audience members as we can, and this means avoiding polemic and ranting (and if you’ve read my blog long enough, you know that I’ve done my share of both though I’ve started moving away from that). If our goal is “conversation,” then we must leave room for other voices. When public discourse relies upon vituperation, a large part of the audience just automatically tunes out. Start by attacking gay men and lesbians and you’ve already lost the die-hard liberals; use terms like “radical right” or “wingnut” and there go the conservatives. Your audience becomes smaller and smaller until you’re in the oft-mentioned “echo chamber,” talking only to people who already think like you. And what’s the point in that?
Political candidates have a vested interest in attacking their opponents, not in listening to them and perhaps being persuaded by them. Citizens, however, have a vested interest in being persuaded by the best ideas and proposals. I would argue that these interests are diametrically opposed to each other. I am more interested in creating an environment that fosters conversations among citizens about ideas of substance. I am not interested in creating an environment in which we argue about the candidates or (worse yet) repeat the talking points to each other that are handed down to us from the candidates’ campaign managers.
We are so divided in America right now that I believe it’s time we start to work on finding or establishing common ground. This is not about civility or “pinky-in-the-air” manners; it’s about getting as many people as possible to agree on something, at the very least to listen to each other. (You can see that my reading Deborah Tannen has influenced my thinking about this.)
Please keep these suggestions in mind as you write about whatever it is you write about. I will not reject anything that you send in to me. If a wide range of political positions is represented in a thoughtful way, then I will consider this project a success. I would, however, like you to avoid endorsing or atttacking particular candidates or parties, because I believe that is the quickest route to turning an exchange of ideas into a shouting match. People automatically respond to you in a particular way if they figure out you are for one side or the other. Discuss ideas instead, however, and I believe you have a greater chance at a rewarding conversation.
Please send me your entries via email as soon as possible, and I will post them to the blog day-by-day.
If you know other bloggers who might be interested in participating, please email them directly and forward them the above suggestions.
I also hope that you will be able to make it to some of the events taking place on 9/11.
Thanks again for your involvement in this project, and enjoy your weekend!

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what’s kansas city doing on 9/11?

[Update] Visit the website: http://www.kcseptemberproject.org. [/Update]

On September 11, 2004, people from all over Kansas City will share and discuss their ideas about citizenship, democracy, and patriotism.

At the University of Missouri-Kansas City (call 816-235-2559 for more information).

  • Open forum & Bring-your-own-picnic, 11-2
    University Playhouse (51st & Holmes)
    Come have your say, listen to speakers, singers, poets. Bring a picnic lunch and have a conversation on the grass.
  • Roundtable Discussion, 2-3:30
    Oak Street Residence Hall
    Professors, students, and community members will discuss “Civic Responsibility in Light of September 11.”
  • Voter Registration
    Miller Nichols Library
    Exercise your right: register to vote.

Johnson County Public Libraries (call 913-495-7514 for more information).

  • The Continental Soldier, 10-11 a.m.
    Antioch Library, 8700 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Merriam, KS
    Storyteller Mark Armato brings to life the soul of an army soldier facing the discontents
    of war.
  • Patriots and Poets, 12-1 p.m.
    Lackman Library, 15345 W. 87th St, Lenexa, KS
    Kansas City Star book editor and poet, John Mark Eberhart will read several poems celebrating freedom and democracy and mourning the losses of war.
  • Patriots and Poets, 2-3 p.m.
    Central Resource Library, 9875 W. 87th St, Overland Park, KS
    John Mark Eberhart will read several poems celebrating freedom and democracy and mourning the losses of war.

The September Project is a collection of people, groups, and organizations working to create a day of engagement, a day of conversation, a day of democracy.

The September Project is for all people.

To learn more:
http://www.theseptemberproject.org
Contact George Williams at williamsgh[at]umkc[dot]edu

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do you believe in democracy?

Then you should register to vote, no? And consider becoming someone who can register others to vote, too. Here in KC, the Election Board can make you a deputy registrar in one short training session, if you’re a registered voter in the KC part of Jackson County.

You can also help keep the hanky panky at bay by getting involved in the non-partisan Election Protection program.

Heidi filled me in on all this over lunch, yesterday.

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