Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides.
— Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Britain’s House of Commons
One of the biggest issues in my deep red state of Oklahoma is that liberals and progressives very often shrink from the larger, harder debate about how government should be conducted for The People. You know, us.
The recent rise of nation-wide interest in progressive thought comes from a frustration with earlier generations of liberals who maybe tried, but failed to effectively engage in the debate for those who need a voice.
We have seen a transformation over time with President Obama as he tried to take the old liberal approach of reaching out to the other side. It didn’t work. It won’t.
He is just now starting to understand that this is a debate and a contest of ideas. And he seems to understand that unless we advocate for our ideas, no one else will. They won’t be understood or heard.
I wish he had known that in 2009.
Oklahoma Liberals Have Learned the Hard Way
We have seen that here in Oklahoma, where one year after another over the last 30, liberals seemed tongue-tied when opposing corporate-sponsored Republicans. Corporate tools who call themselves “conservative” rode into office on the most bogus of claims about
- reducing government (they haven’t),
- getting government off our backs (it’s even more so, now), and
- lowering our taxes (for the rich, as they raise “fees”, really use taxes, that ordinary people pay daily).
What old-style liberals found out the hard way was that strategies for trying to negotiate with conservatives so that “we all would get along” and so that “we can all be winners” didn’t work then. It doesn’t work now. All it does is buy time for the right wing, whose approach is always – and I do mean always – “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable.”
Most importantly, that strategy conceded too many points that the public needed them to stand up for. Without knowing the other options for thinking through ideas, the bulk of uninformed voters had an “oh well” approach or showed angry resignation against those politicians who essentially betrayed the cause. Perhaps they never understood that it was a cause in the first place.
In politics, there really is no such thing as “business as usual”. Either you are winning the debate or you are losing it.
The Necessary Opposition
The debate itself is important. Period.
What I mean by “the debate” is engaging the prevailing mindset and the prevailing party with the determination to not allow a temporary campaign defeat to stop the engagement at the level of ideas.
What we know from history is that groups that have started out small in a democracy can become larger and more powerful by engaging in the debate over time and insisting upon being heard.
Conservatives in general seem to understand this. So do their politicians, either intuitively or because big money donors actually listen to their think-tankers and force their puppets to listen, too.
The value of the debate itself is that more people become informed by the opposition. Most importantly, they are informed from a different viewpoint than the prevailing narrative that slick corporately-funded hired guns deliver to a lazy, compliant media.
Modern-day progressives must push to win in the debate of ideas. It does not serve our concepts or the people who need us to advocate for them if we don’t.
Will we always win? Of course not.
Will we ever win if we never try to win? Of course not.
That’s why the debate of ideas has so much value in and of itself. And debating to win in the arena of public politics and policy is critical.
Time to Participate in a Bigger Way
In earlier posts I have suggested ways in which progressives in this red state can be a part of the debate. It is time to be a bigger part of the debate in this red state.
In the post “Five Ways That You Can Have a Progressive Influence In Your Red State” I showed how you really can have positive, progressive effects on the process in a red state where the dominant Republican Party wants you to believe that you should not be wasting your time.
And since that message is often a real bummer to progressives, I wrote the post “Five Ways for Liberals to Overcome Those Red State Blues”, and posted “Decide that the Ugly Side of Oklahoma Will Note Defeat Us.”
Since pastors are often co-opted by right-wingers in their own congregations in red states, I tried to give progressives some ideas about how to counterbalance that process in this post: “Three Ways to Sway Your Red-state Pastor From Blessing the Radical Right”.
Good Examples of Political Debate
Here are some very good examples of how liberals and progressives can be the fierce, loyal opposition to conservative control of government.
Reps Inman and Pittman speak to the 2014 Education Rally at the Oklahoma Capitol (video is trimmed to start at 9:21 mark)
From Great Britain: Margaret Thatcher – Tory (conservative) Prime Minister Vs. Neil Kinnock – Labor Leader, on Education
From Great Britain: The first ever House of Commons prime minister’s question time that was televised.
The Stand-out Group: Public School Teachers
My post tomorrow will focus on how public school teachers, generally known for their cultural conservatism, and especially in “red” states like Oklahoma, are a stand-out group who are more progressive than people think because of what they see every day in the classroom.
“Enough is enough. Somebody stand up! Get up!” — Chuck D and Public Enemy