By Scott Wittkopf
Since his state of the state address, Scott Walker has been attacked by Democrats as “stealing their best ideas” in an effort to “buy votes.” Wisconsin Democrats’ continued adherence to outdated political strategies are resulting in a critical failure that could again cost them votes in November. Because most of the Democratic strategists in Wisconsin view politics only through the narrow lenses of issues, personal identity, and celebrity, they are actually helping Walker by claiming that he is “stealing their ideas” on issues. Instead of focusing on who says what about which issue, they ought to focus on why progressive ideas matter to people’s lives, how this “why” reflects values we all share, and how Walker betrays those values with WHAT HE DOES.
No matter the issue – public education, infrastructure, economy, health care, etc. – Walker is consistent in terms of the conservative values he evokes on each. In every case, he and his Republican allies are focused on a set of values which view our government as immoral (overreaching, intrusive, anti-freedom, etc.), places personal liberty to do what you want without regard for others above the common good, evokes hierarchies on everything from economic status to gender to race to religion, and views one’s success (or poverty) as a measure of one’s discipline and moral position. While this worldview is dominant today, it runs against what makes us human, and able to prosper as a nation and people – empathy.
The vast majority of people have the moral capacity and need to act with empathy towards others. Who among us didn’t learn to adhere to “The Golden Rule” (or the equivalent in any religion)? The focus for progressives ought to be that Walker’s actions as governor have betrayed our values to care for others.
In order to do that, progressives and Democrats first need to communicate from the heart about WHY the policy positions we believe in show that we care for others, and how they demonstrate living by The Golden Rule. Most importantly, progressives must start connecting with people through our core value of empathy. A good first step is to understand that Walker and his supporters are not stupid or evil. They have a different moral view on the same issues we care about, and see THEIR view as the one which will make people’s lives better. In the face of such a powerful, dominant moral view as conservative Republicans have in place, the facts are irrelevant. As we have seen over and over, people will ignore them to maintain the more powerful self-interest, authoritarian worldview.
If Democrats persist in playing the “no, that was our idea” game, they will lose. Why? Because Walker is evoking a conservative view of why those issues matter. The only way to counter and defeat the well-established conservative Republican worldview is to do the following:
1. Communicate and show WHY our view on those issues matter to people’s lives and freedom – and frame it through empathy every time. Progressives care about other people’s lives and freedom.
2. Back up the empathy frame with true, personal stories that show people how our values have meaning on issues.
3. Communicate and show how Walker’s actions betray and violate our values of caring for others. Show how a very few people have acted to enrich themselves at the expense of others’, and have harmed their lives and freedom. This should be easy to do once empathy is evoked as a foundation.
While this might seem to be relatively easy (it is), for many Democrats and progressive this will be very difficult to accomplish. For the most part, many Dems are still adhering to the outdated tenets of rationality, and view political campaigns through the narrow lens of specific issues. All politics are moral. We only believe what we do on issues because of our shared values.
Starting with the core progressive value of empathy shows people that our policies are about caring for them and their communities. It also provides us an easy way to point out that what Walker has done shows that he just doesn’t care about other people – beyond the few who enrich themselves at the cost of most people.
If you want people to see the truth, you must first bring the moral frame (worldview) to light. That’s how we show people a positive, progressive vision for the future; and that’s how we weaken and beat Walker in November.