May 5, 2022·edited May 5, 2022

I think you skipped a step in the Jackson speech, Matt. I have a not-quite-fully-formed theory that political persuasion today tends to go in one of two directions. The Jackson speech is an example of persuasion by a sympathy-to-empathy pathway: you invite listeners to imagine the struggle of the hungry kid or the underpaid, overworked janitor, and feel those feelings of sympathy, and then you make an empathetic connection--these people are hard workers Just Like You. It plays on an unstated premise. Of course You imagine yourself to be a Hard Worker, which means both that you should feel for the janitor / want to support them AND that you should get worried and support change, since America is a place where this stuff could definitely happen to you.

That sympathy-to-empathy theory of persuasion is fundamentally rooted in vibes and emotions. It invites people who you don't like or agree with to join the team--Jackson's audience at the DNC contained a lot of rich, privileged people who definitely had no idea what it felt like to be an underworked, overpaid janitor. But in that moment, they imagined a kinship and shared experience with that person, which was Jackson's goal.

By contrast, I think that progressive movement today tends to rely on theories of persuasion more rooted in intellectual analysis. They USE lots of emotion words, but if you look at the fundamental claims, they are intellectually-driven, in part because the issues themselves kind of require an intellectual framing. Climate change is a problem that you cannot easily empathize into. Structural racism is literally a problem that runs straight INTO empathy, because the whole problem is that you are trying to explain how the actions of people who are sure they aren't racist can lead to racist outcomes. And so on down the line.

You can see a clear sign that someone is engaged in "intellectual" framing when they start relying on accusations of hypocrisy as an argument. Hypocrisy is only a problem for a very, very rationalist mindset; it basically requires you to think about long-term downstream outcomes and results in fairly abstract ways. College-educated people get pretty used to that sort of thing, but it's actually a very complex and slightly weird way to view the world. That's how you end up with the Sunrise Movement's odd positions on stuff like racial justice. It's not that their positions are nonsensical; if you ask, they can clearly articulate the logical pathway. But normal people do not actually think that way without a lot of training.

People who take these two different approach tend to dislike or look down on each other for what I think are understandable reasons. Each approach is better suited to solving some problems and poorly suited to solving others, and each one has real shortcomings. But I think the Democratic coalition has tended to underweight the empathy-to-sympathy approach, which is precisely what you would predict for a party ever-more-dominated by highly-educated elites, and it leaves them highly, highly vulnerable, because the majority of voters (and humans) tend to think more emotionally than rationally.*

Trump was nothing if not a vibes guy, and the modern-day GOP is increasingly embracing an all-vibes approach. It has real weaknesses, which is why Trump lost in 2020, but it also has a lot of persuasive power.

*I get a lot of these ideas from my work in global and public health. For a flavor, check out Slovic's 2007 article, "'If I look at the mass, I will never act': Psychic numbing and genocide" (http://journal.sjdm.org/7303a/jdm7303a.htm). It's a classic that I assign at the beginning of all of my public health classes.

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"That there is a huge untapped pool of non-voters waiting to be mobilized by a left-wing message."

I don't know how many times this has to be shown to be false for left wingers to drop this. Defeat after defeat and nothing can change this belief. This belief of a youth vote in particular tsunami heading to the polls if we just promise free healthcare and free college and free whatnot for everyone never dies.

They even use it as their standard argument when normie Democrats do not win in tough races.

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Tony Blair had a great line in one of his last speeches as party leader:

"People say I hate this party and its traditions. But I love this party and the only tradition I ever hated was losing."

I wish more Dems thought like that. There was a huge difference between having a Labour government and a Conservative government.

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I read the first sentence and was immediately disappointed that this was not going to be a critique of the Downloadable Content recently released for Civilization VI, and how Firaxis has failed to put out a full expansion in more than 3 years.

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"More than anything else, this is the big thing the DLC has been right about all along — there’s no cheat code that lets you do politics in a way that is detached from the contours of public opinion, including the reality that self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals by a large margin, so to win, Democrats need to secure large margins among self-identified moderates."

+ 1000. This should go on a sticky note on every D's desk, along with the one about the median voter being a 50-something white person living in the suburbs of an unfashionable city.

I was not a little kid in the heyday of the DLC, but I was a young policy nerd working in DC, on issues (trade policy) on which they did excellent work. It didn't seem like any kind of pinnacle of policy or political nirvana at the time, but I look back on this era with deep nostalgia.

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I know a lot of leftists think Clinton and Blair were big old sell-outs, but consider this: Democrats were 1-5 before 1992 -- and 1976 was a close win and 4 were bad, bad losses. Tony Blair is the only Labour leader to win since about 1976 (!).

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I keep saying this. Where I live and have lived for decades, about 1/3 to 1/2--it's hard to know exactly because they cram a lot of folks into a house--of my neighbors are immigrants & PoC. They work incredibly hard, go to church on Sunday, make educating their kids a priority, and are at bottom culturally and economically conservative. Dems have to appeal to their needs and preferences if they want to win elections.

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I saw someone protesting in front of the Supreme Court with a sign that said “Overturning Roe is (in big colorful letters) racist, sexist and classist. How exactly is that going to convince anyone who doesn’t already agree with you? Tell me earnest young protestor.

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This is an interesting piece but I especially love the Jesse Jackson speech. I had no idea he had said this kind of thing and it gives me a whole new respect for him.

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YIMBYism can teach you a lot about political pragmatism. It's hard to maintain a belief in "the lurkers support me in e-mail" politics if your politics include "free parking is bad."

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This was an excellent post that resonates deeply to those of us who were around and voting in those years (I'm old enough to have voted for Humphrey in 1968). I do fault Clinton for the over reach on health care, not that it was not needed but the tactics were completely wrong and it was so easy for opponents to campaign against it (paging Harry and Louise).

I remember watching Jesse Jackson's speech on TV and felt that it was spot on for the most part. The speech could have been given by any mainstream Dem. I will be following the Ohio Senate race with a great deal of interest. Tim Ryan is the almost-perfect candidate to go after the important issues of the day against a modern day American oligarch's (there are actually two of them but I won't name names) favored candidate .

Carville was correct back in 1992 and this is always going to be the most salient issue to campaign on, "...it's the economy, stupid."

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"As a college student, I heard Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton and Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle and Tony Blair say this was a good idea and figured naively that they’d kicked the tires on the intel and Bush had this right".

I would really like to hear what you learned from that episode.

Also - what did you think of the protests/anti-war messages of the time? I mean, the UK population was violently against the war and Tony Blair at the time? Did that register with you? Obviously, France was publicly vocal about its opposition but a huge number of countries were against the war and WMD claims (yellow cake etc) were debunked online in real time back then. Colin Powell's UN presenting lies was mocked in real time back then... Did any of that penetrate in your (your friends') information bubble?

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Nice to see a calllout of Jackson's 1988 speech. There are few convention speeches that I can remember not just that they happened and were considered big at the time (like Obama in 2004), but where I remember the words and themes. I call it the They Work Everyday part and recommend it to people.

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May 5, 2022·edited May 5, 2022

"But this faction is now on the right side of a more left-wing Democratic Party. In concrete terms, when the Progressive Caucus wanted to hold the infrastructure bill hostage as part of a crazy bank shot strategy, they found themselves fighting with their more moderate colleagues but also with the AFL-CIO. In the old days, the union position was the progressive position — but today we live in a new world."

Due to a long history, mostly in Europe and South America, of a union between the labor movement and leftist politics, there is an assumption among American leftists that if you push politics to the left you will automatically get organized labor to come along and back you up. The willfully ignores how the politics of labor actually works in the US and how it has worked for most of its history.

Like, I've read about 1968 protests in France where a huge portion of organized labor went on strike in solidarity with student protestors in Paris. The idea of anything like that ever happening in the US is laughable.

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I think it’s time to just be honest Yglesias: you were a liberal and then you bought a house and now you’re a moderate. Yglesias 3.0 will probably be pulling a full Chappelle showing up at zoning meetings talking about “the traffic” and the historic nature of a building built in 1987. This is the way.

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A very topical issue is the Democratic Party's movement away from the Bill Clinton "safe, legal and rare" approach to abortion.

Here we have a nostalgia-baked NY Times piece from 2004 with Democrats wondering whether they have gotten too far to the left of the electorate on that topic

"Democrats Weigh De-emphasizing Abortion as an Issue

WASHINGTON, Dec. 23 - Democratic leaders say their party needs to de-emphasize the issue of abortion rights, concerned that Republicans have hurt the Democratic Party by portraying it as an uncompromising champion of abortion.


Party leaders said they were not abandoning their fundamental support for abortion rights, but said Democrats should consider accepting some restrictions that enjoy popular support -- like parental notification when teenagers receive abortions.


That argument was won by progressives, who felt that "rare" stigmatized abortions. A Vox piece describes the ensuing years:

BEGIN Excerpt

But over the years, abortion rights advocates have pushed back against the phrase. “Safe, legal, and rare” implies that getting an abortion is something that “you should be apologetic for,” reproductive justice activist Renee Bracey Sherman told Vox. “It places the blame on the person who’s had an abortion, as if they just did something wrong to need one, rather than addressing the systemic issue as to why someone might not be able to have access to consistent health care or contraception.”


Today, pro-choice Republicans who support Roe are at odds with Democrats over things like legalized third trimester pregnancies. Similarly, Senators Murkowski and Collins opposed the recent attempt to 'codify Roe' (Women's Health Protection Act} because it went further than Roe. Manchin was also opposed.


Another opportunity for compromise by way of popularism may have been lost.

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