When it comes to crafting winning political narratives, progressives have a natural advantage over conservatives. That’s because progressives have a free hand to project rosy visions of the future while conservatives must constantly defend against progressives’ distorted depictions of the past.
Two fundamental techniques undergird progressives’ success at narrative spinning. The first is skillful framing of the debate through investing heavily in public opinion making machinery. This disarms critics while giving lawmakers cover to vote for bills they’ve neither read nor understood. Thus framed, policies are judged only by their stated intentions, never their actual results. This allows politicians to promote new pieces of legislation named for their lofty objectives, even if the thousands of pages of vague and contradictory content deliver just the opposite.
The second is dodging all responsibility for failure. This is accomplished by blaming insufficient resources, the prior administration, the greedy 1 percent, sabotage by Republicans, or even the people’s obdurate failure to appreciate the progressive benefits conferred upon them. When the going gets tough, reality can be dismissed with a slogan. Forward!
Progressivism has been on the rise for the past century since a pedantic Princeton professor seized the White House with a mere 42 percent of the vote. From “He kept us out of War,” to fighting a “War to end all Wars,” Woodrow Wilson became the prototype activist president. He relegated the concept of strictly limited and enumerated powers to the dustbin of history while helping to turn the Constitution into a “living document.” The federal government was set on a new course with a social, economic, and cultural footprint that has been expanding ever since.
Progressivism reached its pinnacle in the presidency of Barack Obama. Running on “Hope and Change” and claiming the mortgage meltdown was “Bush’s fault,” he went on to achieve passage of the Affordable Care Act with Wilsonian promises that will forever be linked to his name. But unlike Wilson’s “War to end all Wars,” which was not proven a lie until after its author had passed from this world, Obamacare inconveniently began unraveling before it was even launched.
If Republicans are smart enough to just get out of the way and let Democrats stew in their own juice, rather than fall into a string of self-defeating culture war traps, the 2014 midterms could become a wave election. Obama may well come to envy Wilson’s inability to carry out the burdens of office in his administration’s final days.
Should a 2014 sweep be followed up by a 2016 return of a Republican to the White House, the Stupid Party will face a difficult choice. Will it allow the old guard to continue expanding government, seeking to make the most of its turn at the trough? Or will it finally make the painful political choices required to avoid the impending bankruptcy of our underfunded entitlement systems?
Only the latter will prevent progressives from rising from the ashes of the Obama presidency, and only if pro-growth fiscal and regulatory policies start delivering visible results before the pendulum swings again. This will require the emergence of a Great Communicator who can articulate a positive vision of the future based on the proven principles of the past. Good luck with that.