NOTE: This is Part 2 of a two-part series, “Successful Marketing for Political Revolutionaries.” Part 1 was published as “The Progressive Resistance: ‘Woke’ on Politics, Comatose on Marketing.”
Why Do Progressives Need an Umbrella?
In response, the wiseass side of me is irresistibly prone to say, “Because it’s raining bullshit.” And indeed, that’s a pretty apt assessment of the nonstop propaganda spewing from the pie holes of establishment politicians and media flacks for both major parties.
But because my audience consists of principled progressives—the politically “woke” in the language of my Part 1 article—I’m not especially concerned with our own protection from the raging bullshit storm. Instead, the umbrella I invoke here is an offensive weapon, rather like the poison-tipped or bullet-firing umbrellas that are the cliché fixture of so many spy thrillers. And that weapon, while certainly useful in offering cover from the bullshit storm, is designed far more to end the storm altogether, by mortally wounding the parties responsible for it. And when I say “parties,” I, of course, mean individual and group actors, but I above all mean our two worthless political parties, Democrats and Republicans.
So in speaking of an umbrella narrative, I mean a compelling, unifying story under which the diverse groups of the Progressive Resistance can gather and win the minds and hearts of the latently radical public—the “partially woke” folks who, perhaps unbeknownst to themselves, are ripe for political revolution. And the umbrella party I sketch here—tentatively called the Peace and Prosperity Party—is both the primary vehicle for spreading that narrative and, best of all, the source of popular hope that folks who embrace the narrative have a forceful political voice capable of influencing policy.
Together, the umbrella narrative and party will form a potent political weapon, much like the deadliest poison-tipped or bullet-firing umbrella ever devised for a spy flick. And our weaponized umbrella is specially designed to exploit the fact that our Democrat and Republican enemies are already suffering grievously from self-inflicted wounds, both doing their utmost to commit political suicide.
That we of the Progressive Resistance should embrace the role of Dr. Kevorkians—though not necessarily merciful ones—assisting at the political suicides of both major parties is a point that deserves its own section. Just remember: we deliver the needed lethal drugs via our umbrella.
Our Unique Opportunity: Assisting the Suicide of Both Major Parties
Every comparison or analogy is limited, and in invoking the “political suicide” of Democrats and Republicans, I don’t mean to imply our deeply unloved duopoly will disappear altogether from the national map any time soon. In ever-weakening form, they could easily haul their rotting carcasses across our political landscape for a decade or more. And it remains possible—and hardly undesirable—that an onrushing political firestorm will drive them to reform beyond recognition, as enough people within the parties awaken to realize that the only alternative is political death.
What I do mean here is that both major parties keep inflicting on themselves such grievous harm with the voting public that the previously unthinkable—a viable third party—now seems politically possible. And not just possible but necessary, for reasons I will soon state. But the needed party can’t be a party of the deeply loathed recent past (sorry, Greens); it can’t seem a fixture of a status quo voters now rightly detest. Rather, it must package itself as a special creation responding to political emergency; only such packaging will convince mainstream voters to take the deeply uncomfortable, unaccustomed step of voting for a third party. Fortunately, both major parties, by their corruption, have unwittingly conspired to create such an emergency, and the winning narrative for the progressive resistance—and the single third party associated with it—consists in villainizing Democrats and Republicans for creating that emergency. The required party must from the get-go be a predator, one that has astutely sized up the fatal weaknesses of its unwittingly suicidal prey.
A Predator Party—with a Positive Message
At this point, the sunnier-tempered members of the Progressive Resistance—as well as those with a keen sense of marketing—are apt to push back, saying, “People are so damn sick of negativity. Do you really expect to succeed with a party that’s about nothing but attack—in your own words, ‘villainizing’ and being a ‘predator’?” And both groups would have a point—except for forgetting that the proposed “umbrella” party is tentatively called the Peace and Prosperity Party.
Readers of Part 1 of this series will recall its discussion of cognitive scientist George Lakoff and his insistence on the importance of framing in political messaging. Well, as noted in the Salon article just cited, Lakoff had earlier authored a book titled Moral Politics. Lakoff’s thesis is that political discourse is moral discourse through and through, and that liberals and conservatives have remarkably consistent systems of moral values underlying their political narratives. He notes, however, that conservatives often have an advantage, because they tend to be more conscious of the moral values backing their narrative and less hesitant than liberals to frame political discussions in flagrantly moral terms. The proposed Peace and Prosperity Party would consciously take a page from Lakoff’s book and frame its political narrative by moral values reflected in the party name—values that automatically paint today’s Democrats and Republicans as moral villains.
Or rather, the “painting” in question wouldn’t be ours at all; the “peace and prosperity” framing would simply highlight how both major parties have suicidally painted themselves into an indefensible moral corner based on the donors they inflexibly serve. After all, it’s simply a normal, sane expectation of modern democratic citizens that their governments should seek to provide peace and general prosperity; that neither of our only two electable parties no longer even tries to meet those sane, normal citizen expectations amounts to moral insanity—the type of insanity that amounts to a civic emergency. Offering a policy agenda highlighting peace and prosperity should not be a political niche market, yet the corruption of our political system by global corporate and war lobby interests—let’s stigmatize them as “Wall Street and War Street”—has made it one. A party name like Peace and Prosperity Party (based on such crucial values being political orphans) is itself a screaming argument that we face a civic emergency where the unaccustomed act of voting for a third party is now essential. A compelling argument to vote third party is built right into the name.
Will the Resistance Accept the “Killer Umbrella”?
What worries me frankly about current progressive resistance organizing, as I’m aware of it from social media, is that it’s based on a coalition. In a sense, this is wonderful news, since it implies a willingness by diverse groups of principled progressives—not members of the Democratic Party “McResistance”—to work together for a common cause. But in another sense, it strongly suggests a democracy of groups that’s simply a cacophony of voices, with each group shouting to promote its own favored issue, and nothing like a unified “umbrella” narrative, tailored for maximal appeal to “partially woke” voters, ever transmitted to the general public.
The instinct for participatory democracy is, of course, good, and no progressive worthy of the name can reject it. But respecting the favored issues of individual coalition groups and creating an umbrella message—and party—designed for maximal appeal to a neglected majority of voters are two entirely different things. While the appeal must not contradict the beliefs of any coalition members, it must focus much more strongly on the issues that mean most to the neglected majority. Here, a sharp distinction must be drawn between issues teaching, a crucial service provided by coalition members, and umbrella messaging, which temporarily suppresses the preferred issues of individual groups in favor of basic issues that the coalition members share with the “less woke” general public.
And, beyond correctly choosing the basic issue to emphasize, what makes the umbrella message most powerful is its framing: its skill in weaving the basic issues together into a moral story—with heroes and villains—that average voters find compelling. The name “Peace and Prosperity Party” was meticulously chosen on that basis. It takes three issues that Sanders and Trump showed to have deep resonance with the public—economic insecurity, corruption of government by political money, and resistance to military interventionism—and skillfully weaves them into a moral narrative with heroes and villains. The heroes are the members of the Progressive Resistance, the Peace and Prosperity Party itself, and all its sympathizers. The villains are above all Wall Street and “War Street” and the political lackeys of both parties, corrupted by their money, who serve them. Individual billionaires who corrupt policy in favor of austerity or war—like the notorious Koch brothers, Pete Peterson of Fix the Debt, or pro-Israel fanatic Haim Saban, are especially good candidates for the devil’s horns in this narrative.
One final note on making peace a central issue in this narrative. Although Sanders—and to a greater extent Trump (when still a candidate)—showed that opposition to endless U.S. military interventions is an issue with legs—it’s clearly (and sadly) not as deep a concern for U.S. voters as their own economic plight or corruption of government by pay-to-play politics. But it’s deeply illustrative of the corruption issue, since the military-industrial-surveillance complex (“War Street”) gets what it wants whatever the glib promises of presidential candidates or the wishes of U.S. voters. So placing War Street alongside Wall Street as the two main corrupters of U.S. government is both the truth and a winning rhetorical flourish. And even more, it’s phenomenal niche marketing, since the market for peace is one the Democratic Party—alarmingly and hypocritically, given Trump’s supposed unfitness to govern—has decided utterly to abandon. Just ask Tulsi Gabbard.
Any resistance coalition groups who temporarily suppress the issues they care and teach most about for the sake of a winning umbrella message are not compromising their integrity. Rather, they’re embracing the only terms on which a neglected majority, preoccupied with their own economic and political disenfranchisement, will ever open their ears to other issues. Naomi Klein’s climate justice agenda seeks to care for the global majority abandoned by neoliberal capitalism, precisely in order to win their allegiance to climate action. An ardent climate activist myself, I see this as a model for addressing all other progressive issues.
A Final Footnote: Prosperity Rhetoric and Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)
In closing this article, I need to make a final point, since it relates deeply to the Progressive Resistance coalition now building. I was recently delighted to hear that Steve Grumbine, the influential leader of Real Progressives—a large progressive organization and resistance coalition member—has personally decided to back the Draft Bernie for a People’s Party movement rather than the Green Party. Like Steve, I share Green Party values and personally have nothing against Greens; also like Steve, I feel the Green Party, by its name, image, and style, is simply unsuited to attract large numbers of our “partially woke” electoral majority. In fact, in his video announcing his support for the People’s Party (see pinned post), I was delighted to hear him express the need for appealing to the “partially woke” in terms closely resembling my argument for proper resistance framing in this series.
Unsurprisingly, for those acquainted with Steve and Real Progressives, an essential condition the People’s Party had to meet for securing Steve’s support, was openness to learning about and embracing modern monetary theory (MMT) as a guide to its economic policies. Now, Steve is a self-described evangelist for MMT, and he admittedly initially rubbed me the wrong way by the force and exclusiveness of his evangelism. But the passion of his conviction also induced me to look deeper, since I couldn’t agree with Steve more strongly that a populist economic message must be the leading theme of a successful third party. With the caution appropriate to a pure amateur in economics, I’ve made MMT a working hypothesis for my own political activism (see Progressive or Bust), since it strikes me as plausible intellectually and I love its implications for defeating the needlessly cruel austerity economics I utterly detest. Consequently, I strongly urge all principled progressives to investigate MMT.
In closing, I’m delighted the People’s Party is open to MMT—and not just due to MMT’s merits, but for marketing reasons of my own. While I treasure the People’s Party as a progressive alternative to the marketing-challenged Green Party, I remain an unconvinced skeptic about Bernie Sanders accepting a third-party draft. Without Bernie, the People’s Party seems pretty thin on messaging, and embracing MMT would give it a unique product to market. But MMT itself—just as Steve describes the Green Party—is a bit too esoteric and highbrow for your average Joe or Jane. Consequently, it needs it own marketing framing. Adopting the name and marketing framing of the Peace and Prosperity Party would provide pretty paper and ribbon with which to package MMT, as well as adding a “pro-peace” arrow to the People’s Party’s marketing quiver. And a message that treats current endless war spending as “weaponized MMT” (analogous to “weaponized Keynesianism”—war spending to stimulate the economy) is a strong real-world argument for the validity of MMT. I intend to explore this argument in an upcoming article.
But for now, I strongly urge the People’s Party and its coalition allies (especially Real Progressives and the Progressive Independent Party) to explore adopting the killer umbrella name and narrative of a Peace and Prosperity Party. The fate of the climate issue—and most other progressive causes, which require winning the allegiance of “average Joe” voters—may depend on it.