Published on Sunday, May 16, 2010 by Raw Story
‘There is a Narrative that’s Missing’ Laura Flanders Tells Grassroots Radio Gathering
by Gavin Dahl
Television and radio host Laura Flanders ripped into what she called “the all-about the-money media” and encouraged 150 radio enthusiasts to work harder at storytelling in a keynote address to the Grassroots Radio Conference May 14.
She stressed that there is a failure in the media to report on important news from the perspective of the public, and insisted that those stories can be told better at the grassroots level. “There is a narrative that's missing,” Flanders insisted. “Rupert Murdoch bought the narrative when he paid $5 billion for Wall Street Journal… And we are being played and played and played and played.”
Her most recent book Blue Grit looked at an upsurge in grassroots activism during the previous presidential administration. She said Friday night that there was more progressive politics than anything reflected in the Democratic party. On keeping President Obama accountable to those who elected him she said, “We're not doing any better job than the civilians of Afghanistan.”
via ‘There is a Narrative that’s Missing’ Laura Flanders Tells Grassroots Radio Gathering | CommonDreams.org.
Had a narrative.
During the healthcare fight, whenever I’d see a politician up on the TV screen, usually a Democrat, talking about the “cost curve,” I’d groan.
It wasn’t like controlling costs wasn’t important to me — it definitely is, and why I’m an advocate of a Medicare-style program for everyone — but it was the wrong way to talk about health care. We needed to stress the fact that people are dying without health care, and that the government through programs like Medicare provides insurance cheaper and better than a greedy corporation.
That’s what gets me to Laura Flanders’ speech here. Flanders is a wonderful radio host, and I highly recommend her daily GritTV. She often gets to the heart of issues in a way that a lot of the fluff-commentary on TV doesn’t, and that’s what makes her such an illuminating voice.
What she points out here is that progressives have yet to build a “narrative.” Narratives are powerful tools in politics — they allow you to not only campaign on policies, but on an outlook on policies and politics. A narrative is what lets you set yourself in history and say, “This is what I’m about.”
The right certainly has one. Ronald Reagan came to power on demonizing the government — let’s ignore the multiple times he raised taxes or expanded tariffs or drastically overspent — and it was a simple narrative in that it was easy for people to understand and had a very simple premise: the government is bad, so cutting taxes is good. It captured the minds of millions of Americans and is still the defining story of the conservative movement today (even if its leadership, like the most recent Bush, didn’t unhypocritically follow it).
So then what’s the counter-story that progressives have to tell? Usually, when progressives are tasked to tell our narrative, it falls into two categories:
- We Need To Help People: Under this narrative, progressives appeal to emotion: we tell people that it’s their moral duty to help those less fortunate than them. There are often appeals to religious faith or simply having a good heart that accompany this one.
- Our Policies Work Better: Under this narrative, progressives say our policies simply work better for the country. This is usually encompassed in tons of wonk-speak.
Both these have been used to some extent by progressives for years. Individually, they’re an appeal to the heart and to the mind. What we need is a narrative that can tie these together. What we’ve seen so far since the Bush years is essentially separate policy battles have brought together disparate coalitions and where progressives has won, it’s because we’ve managed to make our case based on individual issues, but we don’t have any sort of thread tying together what it is we’re trying to do for Americans and the globe.
If we want to make the same kind of change in the American political psyche that Reagan and the rest of the New Right made, we’re going to have to have a new narrative. My suggestion: We need to build a progressive narrative that says we believe in the public sphere, and we believe in our country. That means giving people decent pay for a decent day’s work, and it means not letting people fall through the cracks when they’re working their butts off. We want to take on big interests, because we want this country to work for everyone who’s willing to work for it — not just a wealthy few.
President Obama so far has not built a story. He’s said we have to move away from dog-eat-dogism, but towards what? He usually throws in some liberalish rhetoric in his speeches, and notes the value of working for the public, but he isn’t the fierce public champion that say, Franklin Roosevelt was when he named Four Freedoms that defined liberalism for decades: Freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Where are our freedoms? What are we, at the end of the day, trying to do for the country?
As a part of the answer to that question, we have a proud legacy to build on: Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting, FDR’s New Deal, and Johnson’s Great Society. If the right wants to attack government, we should bring up the success of Medicare. If labor unions are under attack, we should remind everyone they gave us the 8-hour workday. Really, progressive achievements are so woven into the fabric of American life that we don’t even think about them. By building on a history of success and expanding that legacy, we will have our narrative, and the demonize-the-government shtick pushed by the opposition will pale into comparison to our tried-and-true ideology. The question is, how are we going to get this narrative out to the public? I’m open for suggestions.