WHY LIBERALS FAIL
1) The Liberal Stigma
Most Americans would probably not describe themselves as liberals. In fact, since the word "liberal" has been consistently used by the far right as a pejorative, most people would probably shy away from applying this term to themselves.
During the cold war it was easy to liken liberalism to communism since support for social programs could be equated with the support of a communistic welfare state. When the cold war ended, liberals were portrayed as proponents of governmental regulation which was inherently bad for business and free markets. By using the premise that unbridled capitalism always resulted in the greatest good for society; labeling "liberals" as anti-business was tantamount to calling them anti-American. In some circles the term "liberal" has come to be so derogatory that it is routinely tacked on to the end of any issue to create a noun which conveys the desired negative connotation. Using this formula, someone who favors social programs, is labeled a "tax and spend liberal" who favors big government at the expense of what is best for America. Environmentalists become "tree hugging liberals", who care more about some irrelevant species than about the livelihoods of their fellow citizens.
Yet despite this type of name calling and it's attempt
at demonization, a majority of Americans remain strongly supportive of
the issues that the name callers would label "liberal" issues.
For example, on the environment, in recent polls a clear majority support
stricter enforcement of environmental laws, reject the notion that we
must choose between the environment and the economy and prefer pro-environment
politicians to those who support less government regulation on business.
Likewise on the issue of gun regulation, 57 percent favor tougher laws
and stricter regulations. On the issue of a women's right to choose, 56
percent (averaged over the last 6 years) are in favor of keeping abortion
On these and a wide range of issues, the majority of Americans favor the so-called "liberal" point of view. So how are "liberals" consistently painted as an inferior minority? What is the origin of the stigma?
2) Vast Right Wing Conspiracy
During the Nixon administration the right wing of the Republican party began to change tact in how it interacted with the media, academia and business. Nixon desired a network of loyal conservatives who could be trusted to fight for his causes and help punish his enemies.
After Watergate, this burgeoning conservative network bolstered it's resources and in the years that followed, right wing think tanks received extensive financial support from conservative foundations for the purposes of establishing political operatives, influencing public opinion and infiltrating the media. While much of this work was done using existing think tanks as resources, the Coors and Scaife foundations created the Heritage Foundation in 1973 as the model for the influence peddling that was to come. By the late 70's aided by the manpower of the Christian Coalition, these groups and notably the Heritage Foundation would help elect Ronald Reagan.
During the Reagan/Bush years the conservative think tanks played a major role in stopping the Iran/Contra scandal from getting a foothold in popular opinion and they largely succeeded in their efforts to thwart investigators, ruin the reputation of journalists and destroy the credibility of Iran-contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh.
After the election of Clinton, the conservatives went into attack mode. Former President Nixon personally advised members of the G.O.P. to pursue the Whitewater allegations. Richard Mellon Scaife spent 2.4 million for an investigation by The American Spectator called "the Arkansas Project". And in time, Clinton bashing which began with right wing sources such as Rush Limbaugh, Jerry Falwell, the Wall Street Journal's editorial page and the Washington Times took root in the mainstream media.
Even though many of the stories and innuendos about Clinton
were spurious, the attack financed and spun by the far right paid off
in largely discrediting him. In his recent book "Blinded by the Right"
David Brock admits fabrication and embellishment in his "Troopergate"
articles for The American Spectator which directly helped spur the investigation
into Clinton's sex life. Yet while the suspicions and innuendos about
Clinton were being repeated in the mainstream press, the onus was completely
on Clinton to prove he was innocent after already being found guilty by
the right wing influence mongers.
3) Changing Politics, Changing Perceptions
As important as Clinton's centrist stance was to his election, his run from the center helped confuse the playing field in U.S. politics. By not taking tough stands on traditional Democratic issues, he helped reinforce the already growing notion that all politicians were alike. By instilling in his colleagues the idea that taking a centrist stance was the way to stay in power, Clinton influenced Democrats to sound more like Republicans and this made it harder for the public to tell the difference between the two parties.
Yet the right wing voices in the media may have been even more crucial in the shift towards the center. The dominance of conservative media had the effect of changing many people's perceptions about America as a whole. In viewing events and issues through the lens of the media, it would be easy to believe that the country had become more conservative than it really was and accordingly many people may have drifted toward the center themselves. As a result, politicians who perceived such a shift in their constituencies may have simply decided on the need to go along for the ride.
4) Voter Disenfranchisement (media
influenced, government controlled and self-inflicted)
What angered the Democrats most about Nader was when he repeated over and over again that Bush and Gore were the same. Of course Nader used the Bush/Gore comparison to gain the greatest political impact, since he was already courting some of the most disaffected among the electorate. Yet while it was true that Republicans and Democrats had grown too similar, Nader's insistence that Bush and Gore were the same, even though their qualifications where so drastically different; still seemed outlandish, if not dishonest.
Although during the 2000 election Nader provoked the ire of many people that formerly supported him, he has remained unrepentant of his campaign statements. When attacked for presumably helping Bush win the Whitehouse, Nader has responded that Al Gore lost the race all by himself; that essentially it was his race to lose; implying that only a complete idiot could have lost against such an unqualified challenger.
To counter Nader's argument, one must only look at the media coverage during the campaign to suggest the opposite: that Gore didn't have a chance from the start; that from the very beginning of the campaign, the smallest aspect of Al Gore was analyzed, magnified and distorted. Stories about how Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet or to have discovered Love Canal, even though they were based on misquotes, played into the opposition's hands and circulated for weeks. In the weeks before the election, Al Gore was painted as someone who at the minimum could not control his exaggerations and he was often depicted as an outright liar.
The media largely took an opposite tact with Bush and
some would say they coddled him. No one in the media asked hard questions
about Bush's character, background or qualifications. The problem with
Bush's SEC filings on his sales of Harken stock was already a known fact.
The likelihood that Bush went AWOL from the National Guard and the extent
of his past drug problems had long been strong suspicions. But no reporter
ever asked Bush anything difficult. On the contrary, if the media ever
distorted Bush it was almost always to his advantage. For example, the
stories about Bush's mangled use of the English language were almost always
accompanied by reassurances that despite his grammar, his meaning was
usually clear. And almost from the onset, the public was assured that
despite Bush's ineptitude on domestic issues and his ignorance of foreign
affairs; he would be able to compensate by gleaning seasoned advisors
from his father's administration.
In the aftermath of the election and the debacle that took place in Florida, Bush immediately had the upper hand because his campaign had already assembled a legal team based on his campaign's analysis that Bush might win the popular vote, but not win the electoral college. But even though the contest was ultimately decided on so-called "legal" grounds, the media coverage combined with the efforts of the influence peddlers in Washington may have played an even more decisive role in the endgame.
The unfolding scandal in Florida became a battleground for the public's perceptions and from the beginning most of the media seemed to make the assumption that Bush had won unless the Gore team could prove otherwise. Bush supporters holding Sore/Loserman placards were among some of the first images broadcast into people's homes. Conservative pundits cited polls, which later turned out to be internet polls in which anyone could vote numerous times, and claimed that the majority of Americans wanted closure as soon as possible. Countless Republican officials including George Pataki, Rudy Gulliani, Marc Racicot and Christie Whitman were paraded on television to show the strong support of the establishment for Bush. At the same time Gore supporters were told that they were cry babies and sore losers and that they should "just get over it".
It's hard to conceive that anyone living in America is
not familiar with at least some of the reasons for the problems in Florida.
Everyone has heard about the antiquated voting equipment and the confusing
ballots which caused many to lose their votes. Probably a smaller number
of people may have learned that the rate of spoiled ballots in minority
precincts was ten times that of white precincts and that optical scan
voting systems were set to reject invalid ballots in white precincts,
while this feature was disabled in black precincts. Yet even a smaller
number still may have heard about the creation of the list of over 60,000
felons who were ineligible to vote that turned out to be 95% wrong, thus
disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters. But although Florida's failed
electoral system was crucial in giving the election to Bush, there was
another extremely important factor that has gone mostly undiscussed, except
by Nader bashers; and this is that so-called "liberals" failed
to band together in their common interest and vote as a block.
By citing that Bush "officially won" Florida
by only 537 votes, it's been easy for angry Democrats to point fingers
at Nader and make the plausible argument, that many of the 97,488 votes
he received in Florida came from potential Gore voters. Yet it's surprising
that no one ever mentions the 562 votes for Harris, the Socialist Worker's
Party candidate or the 622 votes for McReynolds, the Socialist Party candidate
or the 1,804 votes for Moorehead, the Worker's World Party Candidate.
The amount of votes these candidates received might seem trivial when
compared to the 5,963,110 votes that were cast by Floridians, but with
Bush being declared the winner by only 537 votes, any one of these other
minority candidates could be blamed for being the spoiler, almost as easily
The high stakes of the 2000 Presidential election seemed clear to many people as soon as Bush Jr. was named the Republican candidate. In noting how high the stakes really were, many analysts and activists pointed to the likelihood that a Supreme Court Justice would retire during the next presidential term and many feared that a Bush presidency would be a decisive factor in overturning Roe v. Wade. Environmentalists pointed to Bush's involvement in the oil industry and to his pro-business/anti-environment positions while he was Governor of Texas. Others simply pointed to the people that Bush would likely appoint to key positions and warned us that it would be the Reagan administration all over again.
From many angles and many interests there were calls for voter solidarity to block Bush from the Presidency. Initially many people had hoped to convince Nader to not campaign in close states. Yet Nader's final campaign stop on the night before the election was in Florida. Had the Florida election system not failed, Gore would have been president. Had Nader and perhaps other candidates relented, Gore would have been president.
5) What the right has done right,
the left has not even begun
The effort to shape the political agenda and shape public
opinion by conservatives over the last 30 years has cost millions of dollars
which was readily supplied by conservative foundations. At the same time,
nothing comparable was spent by the foundations in support of the left.
This is largely because most of the foundation money given to "liberal"
causes is offered for the purposes of social programs and when grants
are earmarked for media or influence building, they are primarily given
to grassroots organizations. On the other hand, many right wing foundations
offer nearly all of their grants for the purposes of opinion building,
policy development and agenda setting. This results in a disproportionate
amount of money being supplied directly to the conservative media. For
example in the period from 1990-1993, $2,754,263 of grant money was given
to just four conservative media outlets and during the same period only
$269,500 or 1/10th of that amount was given to the top four progressive
The influence by the right in manipulating the media has
been further aided by the mergers of media companies into giant conglomerates.
In 1982 there were 50 corporations that controlled more than half of U.S.
media holdings. By 1986 that number had shrunk to 29 and by 1993 the number
was only 20. By 1997 there where only nine mega-corporations, which dominated
most of the world media. Notable on this list is self-described conservative
Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation which owns among other things, the Fox
News channel that unabashedly features only conservative voices and only
tolerates dissent from easy to defeat "straw men".
The advent of fewer and fewer major media companies reinforced the stranglehold that the right already had on the free flow of information. Fewer media companies resulted in fewer editors, fewer writers, fewer voices and ultimately less dissent. This has resulted in the even greater complicity of the remaining media with the right wing influence brokers. The continuing prospect of less go-betweens and fewer voices has made the job of right wing groups all that much easier. The combined effect of centralized media ownership and right wing influence in the media is perhaps one of the greatest crises facing modern democracy.
The far right in America has played its cards well. They have been succeeded in making their agendas sound better than they really are and part of their method has been to stay in attack mode and make their enemies seem worse than they really are. These are the same people who have given us such terms as "pro-life", the "marriage penalty", the "death tax" and "tree-hugging liberal"; all catchy phrases deftly manufactured to further their agendas.
The conservative right has been diligent in promoting
it's vision and it has succeeded in building an empire. So far their crowning
achievement has been in the installation of Bush Jr.; an occurrence that
could not have happened without them. It's clear that Bush's support by
this group cannot be ignored by Bush himself and accordingly he has spent
nearly all of this administration rewarding them.
Although perhaps less than 10% of the population are members of the far right, their combined effort through the influence of right wing foundations, think tanks and media was directly responsible for handing Bush the prize. The Bush tax cut, the breakdown of environmental sanity, the simple minded foreign policy of military dominance, the doctrine of unilateralism, the attempt at faith based initiatives and the attempt to pack the courts with conservatives have all been preliminary efforts by Bush to reward his sponsors for a job well done. If roughly 60% of the population is "liberal" on the issues, then the 10% which thrust Bush into power has succeeded at exerting a tremendous amount of power over the majority.
Yet no matter how much money, planning and intelligence the ultra-conservative right wing has been able to muster, they could not have succeeded on their own. First they wisely spent their money on influence building and second they were able to communicate to the rest of the Republican party. the need for unity both in the battle for opinion and at the polling booth.
Liberals fail because they have not succeeded in making a convincing appeal to their base for unity over the long term. Even though the majority of Americans remain "liberal" on the issues, they usually fail to bridge the gap between their differences or create coalitions based upon the relatedness of their common cause. For this reason, although single issue politics may be effective for the purposes of lobbying and legislation; single issue politics, abstracted from the larger picture, fails to draw the left together in the desire to create a unified agenda.
Creating "liberal" unity is further complicated
by the efforts of third parties. Few true "liberals" would argue
that the Democratic drift toward the center is not troubling, but unless
third parties can organize more than a protest vote, the influence of
third parties on American politics is potentially even more problematic.
This is simply because the American electoral system is winner take all
proposition and whoever comes in second or third gets nothing. If American
politics had a form of coalition government or a provision for run off
elections, the advent of a strong third party would make more practical
sense. But under the current system, the only way that a third party could
share power is if there were more major divisions in the electorate than
exist at present.
Third parties make a lot more sense on the local level where the issues are clearer and the electorate is more attuned to local needs. Yet on the national level, in a winner take all system, unless "liberal" third party voters can band together in the support of common issues, they cannot help but perpetuate the dominance of an opposition which is likely to work against the things in which they believe. In the aftermath of the 2000 elections, it seems very likely that at least some of the voters in Florida who voted for the candidates of the Socialist party, the Socialist Worker's party or the Worker's World party or the Green party would have preferred a Gore presidency to the one they got.
6) The past is prologue, the future
is up to you
It is encouraging that more and more people are beginning to grasp the extent of the media's distortion. The next logical step for the left would be to begin to do what the right has done so well; to pool it's resources, to form coalitions that work together toward common goals and become proactive about influence building and motivating their base.
The 2002 elections will be a referendum that will create
an impetus for political power no matter who wins. If the Democrats take
additional power, it will be a referendum against Bush's agenda and although
no one should believe that a Democratic win by itself will create a more
idealized form of government, at least it may be a way to undo some of
the damage that has already been done. If the Democrats keep the Senate
but do not retake the House, it will be a referendum on the relative approval
of the Bush administration and we can expect to see more of the same stealth
tactics and creative agenda setting which has already given the extreme
right so much of what it has wanted. If the Republicans take control of
both houses, this will be a referendum that our government has not gone
far enough towards the right and it will give Bush a virtual blank check
to reward the extreme right 10% as quickly and as extensively as possible.
If you are among the approximate 60% of the population that is "liberal"
on the issues, I can guarantee that you won't like this last option one
(Note 1) Survey
Shows Pro-Environment Candidates To Do Well in 2002 Elections
Buy a button or a bumper sticker
|Other Recent Features:|
How the Republicans Got Their Groove Back
Karl Rove's notes about Republican's strategy to campaign on military issues, leaked reports about a possible invasion of Iraq from military sources, Bush's State of the Union speech citing an "axis of evil" and Bush's initial tough stand on Iraq before relenting and asking for Congressional consent on the brink of the midterm elections; are all dots that can be connected to show how impressive the forethought and planning of the Republican party's midterm campaign strategy actually was.... READ
18th, 2003 March
on Washington to Stop the War with Iraq
(before it starts) Tens of thousands of protesters? No it was really more like (at least) a quarter of a million people that came from all over the country to show their dissent against Bush Inc.'s really stupid plan to pre-emptively invade Iraq. View the slide show of +60 photos VIEW
of new voters should begin now. When you register people to vote, get their
contact information and get in touch with them before the next election.
Voter registration info. for all 50 states is available here. GO
This site contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available for educational purposes only. We feel this constitutes 'fair use' under section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.