Authentic Liberalism

Paul KrugmanKevin Drum asks, Who’s On the Left’s Television A-Team? This comes from Paul Krugman’s lackluster performance up against Joe Scarborough on the Charlie Rose Show. Afterwards, even Krugman said it was his Denver debate and, “I was tired, cranky, and unready for the blizzard of misleading factoids and diversionary stuff.” And so Drum (and even more a liberal friend of his who was very disappointed) asked, “Who do we have on the left who’s got the real-world debating skills to take on someone like Scarborough?”

There are a lot of people, of course. Let’s face it: Krugman is not and never has been good on TV or in front of a lectern. Even after a lot of experience, he suffers from stage fright. He just isn’t comfortable up in front of people. There are a lot of people like that: they never get over it. Yet in print, he shows himself to be an incredible rhetorician. But he is well aware of his strengths and weaknesses. This morning he wrote about someone who called him “unimpressive”: “I’ve had the experience of being overlooked by the people who were supposed to meet me at the airport, and eventually being told, ‘We expected you to be taller’.” (I’ve had this same experience with being interviewed by people; they think based upon my writing that I will be dramatic and organized; the fools!)

One thing I don’t think we should try is to be something that we aren’t. As Dean Baker says: the facts are on our side. We have to learn to be as good as possible at explaining our ideas. What we don’t need to be is more charming. I find Arthur Laffer charming as hell. But his arguments can be easily carved up. We liberals may not be fun, but we can be effective. You can’t really learn charm. You can learn right wing canards and effective ways to counter them.

This reminds me of the film Flock of Dodos, about the fight between the scientists and the Intelligent Design folks. The ID people are very charming—they’re just like your grandmother! It looks very bad for the scientists because they aren’t good at talking on TV and the ID people seem so nice: why not let them bring their bullshit into the classrooms? But at the end, it is clear that the scientists are most effective when they they toss aside all the niceties and just say, “This is bullshit. Here is how it works. You want to go off and pray to your God and think that everything was explained 2000 years ago, fine. But that isn’t science and you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

What I’m talking about is authenticity. We need to stick with who we are. Liberals don’t hold their opinions because that’s just what liberals believe. They hold those opinions because they are open to evidence—because they are looking for the best outcomes. And that is our greatest strength. If we start hiring our own Frank Luntzes and packaging talking points to appeal to the masses, we lose. The masses really are smart. They really can be convinced of our wonky ideas. And here’s the best thing of all: they already pretty much agree with us on all the issues. (Except the death penalty.)

So the only thing liberals need to do is get better at being liberals. Oh, and also: keep anxiety prone liberals off TV!


Here is 5 minutes of Baker’s lecture when he talks about this:

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Authentic Liberalism

  1. Frankly, we liberals represent all kinds of open-minded empathetic, thinking, communicative types. We have our Gregorys, Stewarts, & Colberts. We have our Zinns, Wellstones & Krugmans. We have our Maddows, Goodmans & Blacks. We have Lakoffs and Chomskys. What we don’t do is talk our liberal commonsense in everyday life- we are worried about offending someone or so bored with the republican lying platitudes that we simply don’t care to engage our neighbor. We should be talking all the time:
    at the gas pump (like"Did you know the big 5 oil companies made $341 million last year?");
    in the grocery line and in the basketball stands, at PTA, over coffee in the church basement.

  2. @Palli – I thought of mentioning Lakoff, but he isn’t nearly as important on the left as Luntz is on the right.

    I agree with you about talking in everyday life. I have an enormous number of conversations with conservatives. What I find most frustrating is that most conservatives aren’t all that conservative. They respond to the red meat of their pols and media, but apart from that, they are very often reasonable. But you can always depend on them getting all fired up once an issue is politicized. It is shocking how often I will be in agreement with a conservative, only to talk to them two weeks later and find them pushing the opposite idea and spouting the latest Republican talking points. But we must keep on fighting. It is our only hope.

  3. "Who do we have on the left who’s got the real-world debating skills to take on someone like Scarborough?"

    Lets be straight here. Scarborough isn’t a good debater, he simply hammered Krugman over and over with his talkling points. Regurgitating talking points doesn’t require good debate skills, it just requires one to memorize a few easily remembered bits of pablum.

    Therein lies the problem with this debate and so many others when Left meets Reich: We debate the issues with facts, and the Reich wing flings poo like a monkey.

    Theres no way such a "Debate" can ever be fair, because you can’t debate flung poo.

  4. @Cthulhu – We can win these debates. We [i]do[/i] win these debates! The truth is that the right’s dependence upon talking points makes them particularly vulnerable in debate. In my mini-debates with conservatives, the hardest thing is waiting for them to finish speaking [i]because after a few words I know what they are going to say[/i]. In this way, Krugman would do very well in a rematch.

    I want to be clear: my problem with Krugman as a talker has nothing to do with the substance. He is just very nervous in this situations and it shows. I would rather he do what he does best: think and write.

    The conservatives can fling poo all they want, as long as we clearly show that it [i]is[/i] poo.

  5. I believe that the Occupy movement helped to bring thoughtful, lengthy Progressive ideals into short slogans and easy to understand marketing… like the conservatives use with sound bytes and talking points. Progressives are getting better at this on stage as well as in local communities. I have seen more "Jesus riding a dinosaur" t-shits and "Like weekends? Thank a union" bumper stickers than the tired old GOP slogans lately. Also, I’ve noticed many more women in my neighborhood feel compelled to speak on gun control measures and education initiatives. That’s the beauty of being a Progressive. We don’t rely on just a few donkeys to speak for us, who only know a few lines. We create the conversation by continuing to analyze, discuss, include and research better outcomes to problems.

  6. @GG – I like Maddow but I don’t think she is that strong on economic issues. I know it is just a question of focus: I care most about economic issues and she cares most about social issues; it isn’t that we don’t care about the others. But to my mind, if you solve the economic inequality issue, you solve pretty everything else (or at least make everything else much easier to solve). No amout of law will matter if the rich are too rich and the poor too poor.

    But she [i]is[/i] very good.

  7. @Julie – I completely agree. Our job is just to get the facts out. The truth is that we would agree with a lot of these policies even if they weren’t optimal. The fact is that what is kindest and most egalitarian is (in the vast majority of cases) also what works best.

    And I as I keep hammering on: the people agree with us!

  8. Maddow is also cute as hell. Orwell once wrote that at 50, everyone has the face they deserve. O’Reilly has the face he deserves; a middle-aged madman with high blood pressure poking out from every pore. Maddow just looks like an utter sweetie. Most of my friends are gay women, so I’m allowed to have this crush.

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