The most important part of "messaging" is picking defensible policies
The Democrats have a huge opportunity to capitalize on Republican overreach on abortion, but in order to do that, they cannot tie themselves to policies that are even less popular. And the position that a abortion should be legal at 39 weeks for non medical reasons is genuinely extreme. Just think through what that entails exactly. And the opposition of course does not need to argue that the extreme cases are typical or even common.
The idea that there should be no restrictions whatsoever needs to be dropped fast, before it solidifies as a "defund the police" style messaging nightmare.
I'm increasingly disgusted by The Groups peddling their purity tests while Republicans work towards an ever more impregnable hold on power.
In the UK, after the Conservative landslide of 2019, a working class politician gave this evisceration of the 'cultism', 'purity tests', 'student politics' and 'culture of betrayal' of activists, whose disastrous consequences end up falling on the working class. I fear a similar outcome in the US in 2024.
I feel like I need a deep dive into the psychology of people who so regularly brush off the importance of popularity in politics.
I work in academic political philosophy, and many of the people around me are far left to the point where Rawls is like, a deluded neoliberal. Obviously philosophers have a self conception of figuring out the '"truth" and being removed from practical politics, but it's still striking to me that "what people actually want" is pretty much never taken to have normative weight. Justice is something you can figure out by thinking about what "reasonable" and "well-motivated" creatures would want. (Conveniently, these imagined reasonable creatures can't speak for themselves, so they want whatever *you* want.)
It feels like this sort of thinking characterizes broad swathes of the electorate now, probably more implicitly on the right and increasingly explicitly on the left. But it really seems like a deep mistake to me, deeper than the level of pragmatics.
And once you add in the pragmatics there's a whole new set of genuinely normative reasons to care about what people actually want - namely that getting to the independently defined "justice" will require some pretty extreme tactics to bend disagreeable opponents into submission. Once those opponents far outnumber you, I really don't know what game you're playing anymore. Even if you were willing to beat everyone into submission, you wouldn't have the manpower. So - what's the psychology?
I think the fact that activists aren't paid for performance explains so much of this.
As pro-choice, I always liked the framing as “safe, legal and rare.” (If it didn’t ruin the cadence, I would also add “available”). Nobody can really be against safety. The “legal” part is policy. And “rare” is a nod to the moral aspects and can be interpreted in a lot of ways. It can mean some restrictions or encouraging adoptions to one group, or it can mean encouraging birth control and the avoidance of unwanted pregnancy to another. I gotta think that formulation would poll well, as would codifying Roe which is not as expansive as what the Senate just tried.
In my experience a lot of middle aged (not young) left wing people who should know politics better by now are kind of trapped in a cope about right wing messaging. Conservatives are able to defend their position on the ‘death tax’ or on gun rights and to a properly bubbled left of center person it just seems so mysterious that people who don’t really benefit from many of these policies would ever support them. Powerful, organized, right wing messaging becomes the explanation for most political disagreement which then implies that Dems just need better messaging themselves.
right wing messaging is important and often effective. I would say mostly at driving the news cycle and framing which issues are the important ones in the moment. And democrats probably could learn some good lessons there if willing to admit to themselves that much of the political disagreement in our country is NOT based on messages, disinfo, etc.
The last bit is the thing I thought the debate had miss. The messaging that makes sense in Ireland, wouldn't make sense in America, because America is a more libertarian country, which a greater emphasis on personal choice. I do also think you perhaps should have included your point that whilst people like to praise the campaign for changing the face of Ireland, it's more accurate to say that the face of Ireland had changed which allowed the campaign to succeed i.e. Ireland had gone from a country with a low proportion of graduates to a high proportion of them
I think Trump is actually what made the entire Democratic elite believe that words are magic. His rhetoric, which sounded pretty extremist to urban liberal types like me, brought out and solidified a new base of voters for the party.
Not understanding that this message actually resonated with Americans in a lot of ways, the left concluded that Trump somehow hypnotized people with his magic words. They’ve been trying to do the same ever since, and it’s not working.
Democratic donors are a big part of the problem. Republican donors understand their desired policies are unpopular and let their candidates be cynical. Republican politicians can assail corporate greed and billionaires as long as there are no major tax increases. Up and coming Democratic politicians have no room for maneuver. Only those who self fund can advocate limiting second trimester abortions or banning biological men from women’s sports. Biden, a two term vice President widely seen as electable, had anemic fundraising during the primary because he had once supported Hyde Amendment and similar compromises on cultural issues. And yet these compromises are precisely what would give Democrats the cultural credibility to win back white, working class votes.
Wasn't this the problem with Lakoff?
The idea that it was all a question of framing?
It is built on the supposition that all left wing politics are really really popular and it is only bad framing (or money) that is holding them back.
I think that federalism / regionalism is going to make it hard to achieve a national compromise on abortion.
Pro-choice folks want abortion to be legal at any time and in any circumstance in New York and California, and they aren't willing to give that up in exchange for guaranteeing a minimum amount of legal abortion in Florida and Texas.
Meanwhile, pro-life activists want to ban abortion under all circumstances in red states and don't want to give that up so that they can moderately curtail abortion in blue ones. I think that this is especially hard for serious pro-lifers given that the vast majority of abortions happen in the "compromise window" (<= 12 weeks), so accepting that window wouldn't reduce abortions by much.
They can’t possibly be genuinely worried about the outcomes that they claim to worry about while behaving this way. They can’t be.
When I was growing up (high school/college, etc) the sort of right-thinking liberal perspective was that the Supreme Court was good because it was willing to do unpopular shit like enforce a relatively broad version of free speech, uphold the rights of criminal defendants, and maintain separation of church and state.
But over the last 10-15 years there has been a much larger emphasis on the role the court is taking in striking down economic and environmental regulation, probably because the court has been doing a lot more of that. Additionally it is pretty clear that procedural criminal justice rights like Miranda and the 4th amendment have done nothing to protect vulnerable people from being abused by law enforcement. So the consensus has evolved to be that the Court has limited value in protecting vulnerable people and does a lot of damage to important and popular regulations.
Roe/abortion rights are a throwback to the earlier status quo where progressives think the court was doing something good and legislation would be bad.
But nobody likes to appear inconsistent so the consensus has coalesced around 2 arguments:
1. Roe is popular. This is a fine statement as far as it goes but as Matt and others have pointed out the holding in Roe goes a lot further than is actually popular. And the whole point of Roe is that it upholds a right that would be violated by legislation from the elected branches if it didn't exist, so it sort of elides the primary reason why liberals like it.
2. It is bad to have backsliding of rights/creates uncertainty to lose rights... this is a good argument if you are trying to prevent the rights from going away. But I think once Roe is overturned and like 20 states have "heartbeat" laws or whatever it ceases to really work.
This is a long way of saying that the arguments in favor of Roe, which basically amount to going back to an old school liberal view of judicial review and the supreme court, aren't very well suited for a world in which abortion is contested in the political realm as opposed to at the court. A lot of people say Republicans are like the "dog who caught the car" in terms of not knowing what to do now that Roe will be overturned. But in some ways Democrats are also not well prepared for this situation either, but this better change quick...
After Roe gets struck down the focus, including national media focus, will quickly shift to purple state legislatures. New battle lines will get drawn in the legislative process and this year's legislative elections, with perhaps something like "freedom of choice up to 20 weeks" emerging as the defining issue in many states. If so, that framing may take over, no matter what the Groups would prefer.
It’s kind of sad a post like this had to be written. This is elementary-school level political action. The fact that so many in professional politics need this kind of basic politics 101 lesson says a lot - mainly that the incentives for in-group signaling are still much more important than anything else - especially actual progress.
It's also worth noting that in the Roe era America had the most liberal abortion laws on earth and some states passed genuinely insane "abortion any point before birth" laws. Activists should realize they're wrong on the merits and the framing. Very few people are comfortable with late third trimester abortion and saying "no women gets one unless she needs it anyways so no need for any regulations ever" is genuinely a really weird argument. It's also weird when people try to turn it into "lol men don't understand how birth works" when people make the point that some laws technically allow it the day before birth. People have all kinds of laws based on preventing people behaving in ways they don't like but suddenly every single women in the us will, in every single context ever, only ever get a third trimester late term abortion if it's medically needed and that axiom is so true we shouldn't even legislate that it be the case?
We all know the real reason liberals like this sort of thing is that they see it as a solution to poverty instead of addressing the cost of raising a child