Reply to Kevin Drum on Liberal Branding

Kevin Drum latest piece for Mother Jones makes the case that Liberals have a branding problem. His argument is that Conservatives have been able to maintain a fairly strong brand message over the years with their low taxes, smaller government, Go Team America! rah, rah, rah shtick while Liberals, who have stood for many different causes over time, are hard to stick a label on.

Liberals have the opposite problem: liberalism just isn’t, by its nature, an ideology that means the same thing all the time. In the 18th century liberals supported capitalism and free trade. By the 20th century liberals mostly wanted to regulate them both. A century ago plenty of progressives were dazzled by the potential of eugenics. By the 1980s liberals would dump a pitcher of water on your head for so much as suggesting that IQ had any biological component at all.

So our brand is never going to be as strong as theirs. Sure, egalitarianism will always be at its core, but that expresses itself in different ways in different times. It’s opposition to slavery in one era, support for women’s suffrage in another, and a push for national healthcare sometime after that. These may all spring from a roughly similar impulse, but their political manifestation is so different that it’s hard for most people to see that.

So today’s liberals want to fight global warming, something we didn’t even know existed 50 years ago. We’re for reproductive rights and gay marriage, things we didn’t care about a century ago. We support more humane immigration laws, something that wasn’t even on anyone’s radar screen two centuries ago. There’s just no way to take a history like this and turn it into a timeless brand. Yes, we’re generally for the have-nots — though even that’s been suspect over the past few decades — but beyond that I’m not sure there’s much more long-term branding we can do. For good or ill, adaptable but fuzzy might just be part of the package.

Sorry but I disagree.

Liberals stand for civil liberties, gender and racial and sexual equality and looking out for the little guy. We stand for youth and growth and progress. We believe that an educated public makes a strong nation. We believe in funding and leveraging public educational institutions, particularly when it comes to science, to foment that growth and progress. And most of all, when it comes to all of these things we believe that government plays a positive role.

I don’t know about you but that seems like at least a good start.

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