To the editors of the New York Times, the quality of leadership seems not to be an "issue." The ability to unite the country is not an "issue." What Obama calls the empathy deficit -- attunement to the experience and needs of real people -- is not an "issue." Honesty is not an "issue." Trust is not an "issue." Moral judgment is not an "issue." Values are not "issues." Adherence to democratic ideals -- rather than political positioning, triangulation, and incrementalism -- are not "issues." Inspiration, a call to a higher purpose, and a transcendence of interest-based politics are not "issues."
It is time to understand what counts as an "issue," to whom, and why.
In Thinking Points, the handbook for progressives that the Rockridge Institute staff and I wrote last year, we began by analyzing Ronald Reagan's strengths as a politician. According to his chief strategist, Richard Wirthlin, Reagan realized that most voters do not vote primarily on the basis of policies, but rather on (1) values, (2) connection, (3) authenticity, (4) trust, and (5) identity. That is, Reagan spoke about his values, and policies for him just exemplified values. He connected viscerally with people. He was perceived as authentic, as really believing what he said. As a result, people trusted him and identified with him. Even if they had different positions on issues, they knew where he stood. Even when his economic policies did not produce a "Morning in America," voters still felt a connection to him because he spoke to what they wanted America to be. That was what allowed Reagan to gain the votes of so many independents and Democrats.
There is a reason that Obama recently spoke of Reagan. Reagan understood that you win elections by drawing support from independents and the opposite side. He understood what unified the country so that he could lead it according to his vision. His vision was a radical conservative one, a vision devastating for the country and contradicted by his economic policies.
Obama understands the importance of values, connection, authenticity, trust, and identity.
But his vision is deeply progressive. He proposes to lead in a very different direction than Reagan. Crucially, he adds to that vision a streetwise pragmatism: his policies have to do more than look good on paper; they have to bring concrete material results to millions of struggling Americans in the lower and middle classes. They have to meet the criteria of a community organizer.
The Clintonian policy wonks don't seem to understand any of this. They have trivialized Reagan's political acumen as an illegitimate triumph of personality over policy. They confuse values with programs. They have underestimated authenticity and trust.
George Lakoff on the "Issues"
From The Huffington Post: