Monday, November 29, 2004

Out of the Ivory Tower -- Into the Pragmatic Pan -- Post by Jeff Berman

According to the website, the conference’s goal “is to set forth a positive constitutional vision for tomorrow.” I would add two related goals to consider. 

First, as we define the vision, we must also consider how the vision will be presented publicly. We have failed to muster mass popular support of late for many reasons, but one of the biggest is that we’ve been getting slaughtered in the rhetoric war. 

This is hardly a novel point (and if you haven’t read George Lakoff’s op-eds or book on the subject, they’re worth taking a look at), but it’s essential that we understand it’s not enough to have better reasoning and more persuasive logic. Far too often we assume that just because we are correct, we will win. That’s a loser’s mindset, especially in a world where right-wingers take full advantange of people spending decreasing time paying attention to an increasing number of increasingly illegitimate “news” outlets.

Forgive the paste, especially for those who read his chilling NYT Magazine piece, but here’s how Ron Suskind described his discussion with a White House aide on this point:

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That's not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’”

This isn’t to say we must fight fiction with fiction, but we must recognize how effective they’ve been and we've got to develop compelling frames for the nuts and bolts of our compelling constitutional vision. While that frame should be positive, we can't ignore the need to effectively reframe the vision they offer.

Second, progressives are not, by our very nature, inclined toward discipline. As free-thinkers, we fight being bound doctrinally. Also, frequently, as individuals approaching the law from parochial perspectives, we are unwilling to subordinate our individual concerns to the greater good. Meanwhile, Grover Norquist and Co. have done a remarkable job patching the smaller number of schisms dividing their community. 

As we articulate a constitutional vision that’s not simply a kitchen-sink recipe, it’s worth considering how we're going to get the largest possible segment of the progressive community on-board and on-message.

-- Jeff Berman