Sunday, August 06, 2006

False Choices Versus Real Political Dialogue

Many of us get tired of the false framing and false thinking of the White House. We've heard too often Bush's notion that, to paraphrase, "You're either with us, or you're against us," or his other framing, again to paraphrase, "We're for staying the course and the Democrats are for cutting and running." These aren't policies but just bromides that avoid Bush's failed policies and misstate Democratic calls for returning to reality. Bush sometimes wins his minor public relations battles not because his has better ideas but simply because he can overwhelm the airwaves with his nonsense. Framing isn't good or bad. It's simply a way of communicating. Franklin Roosevelt was famous for framing some of his policies in a way that most Americans could understand. There is a reason why his poll numbers remained high in his era.

Within progressive circles, it's sometimes necessary to change the framing just to get a proper dialogue going among different groups. A problem I've seen too often in the last few years are Democrats in the center letting Republicans and even neocons frame the dialogue. David Schorr of Democracy Arsenal suggests a different approach and talks about framing that might get a better dialogue and partnership going between the left and center-left; here's the first few paragraphs:
The more I talk to fellow Iowans, the more optimistic I am about the potential for consensus-building across the progressive spectrum, even on some difficult issues. If moderates and those with a more sweeping critique just take a step toward each other, they may be surprised to look down and find themselves on common ground.

The classic FDR quote about fearing "fear itself" used to sound like a historical echo, but now it rings in my ear with a today kind of relevance, every day. Those of us involved in the national security debate are positively spooked by the fears of our fellow citizens (or the fears we imagine them to have). How can we convince the fearful that we're worthy of their trust? In some of our more flinty statements, you can hear the clenched jaw, not because we don't mean it, but because we're trying too hard and leave out the leavening of wisdom.

And we're even afraid to talk to each other -- about military strength or international trade, for instance....

Basically I'm picking up from Suzanne's stirring call for common cause and will try to give it some content based on a limited sample of conversations with flesh-and-blood non-wonks.

When there's been too much wonkishness among foreign policy types, attempts at being straight-forward are going to take practice but I see signs of real discussions taking place. I hope it keeps up. Foreign policy is not an either/or proposition. It requires people of different temperaments and philosophies working together to make it work.

I read a lot of criticism of Franklin Roosevelt from both the right and the left. People forget the times he lived in. Republicans pretend to be 'idealists' but what they want is a world that goes back in time, before Roosevelt. People on the left sometimes criticize Roosevelt without remembering where our country was and how much Roosevelt not only moved his era forward but made it possible to move even further forward. Roosevelt was way ahead of his time.

Roosevelt was considered a liberal in his time and that's true but first he worked on what was possible. What's possible in a forward direction is all one can expect from a foreign policy in any given era.


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