John Cavanagh on American Experiment

 

John Cavanagh, Executive Director, Institute for Policy Studies, Washington, DC 

I had a lot of fun reading your fascinating 15 pages.  You are absolutely right in the framing: the right is winning because it has good stories.  We need good stories in response.  Some quick reactions. 

  1. The Prosperity Story:  I also think that the key to their story Iine summed up in WalMart's tagline: "Everyday low prices."  They promise prosperity even to the poor by saying that the free market will give you everyday low prices.  And their story makes sense to people because WalMart gives you everyday low prices.  Our old story used to say that monopoly was bad because big firms would drive out small ones by slashing prices.  Then, when the small firms were gone, the monopolist would raise prices.  WalMart drives out all the competition but it doesn't raise prices.  So, I find myself giving talks where I say to people, we have a values choice: we can have a WalMart economy with everyday low prices but it comes at the price of decency and fairness.  It is screwing workers here and abroad and it is destroying communities.  We can afford to pay a bit more for the values of community, fairness, and decency.  But it is a choice.  I like everything else you have written, but I think you need to add this in.
  2. The Security Story:  Right now, I would focus hard on pointing out to people how Bush's Iraq policy is increasing terrorism in the world and it makes Americans and people around the world less safe.  But I agree with you that we need to frame our stories in terms of how to make Americans and the world more safe and secure.
  3. The "Sacred" Story:  This is hard for progressives but you are right to place it front and center.  I think our 10 principles in the Alternatives book is an attempt to lay out an alternative set of values.  And perhaps we should rename them.
  4. Social Movements: Here I think we have a big story.  You mention that the civil rights and women's movements made the country better.  I think this is vital.  As I look back over the past century, I would say that labor was key to the first third of the century, the peace and civil rights movements to the second third, and the women and environmental movement to the third third.  Each changed the debate, the culture, the measure of right and wrong, and each made the country better and brought us closer to the American experiment.  I think we need to develop this story better. 

Posted January 11, 2004