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Citizen Dave: Why the left still needs to change its language and stories
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How does the left's rhetoric it advance its contemporary cause?
How does the left's rhetoric it advance its contemporary cause?

A lot of people liked my Isthmus op-ed about the left needing to update its image. I know because they told me. A lot of people hated that column. I know because they wrote letters to the editor.

It's human nature that people who are angry about something tend to take the effort to write down their thoughts and send them off, while people who like something are less motivated to do the same. Ever read the comments following a news story on just about anything?

But what struck me about the responses to my piece (and Isthmus shared more with me than they had room to print) was the focus on the particulars rather than the general argument.

For example, The Progressive editor Matt Rothschild is a guy I respect enormously. He's both my neighbor in the Regent neighborhood and my landlord at the Bike Fed offices where I work. In a letter this week, he comes to the defense of Bob La Follette, but if you read my commentary, I didn't actually attack Fighting Bob for what he did in his era. I wrote, correctly I think, that his day had passed and the world is so strikingly different now than it was 100 years ago that he wasn't a good reference point for modern day challenges.

What I don't understand is what is to be gained by constantly referencing La Follette and century-old battles in the context of current issues. Those battles may be relevant or they may not be, but anyway, what do those shout-outs get you? How does it advance the contemporary cause? It seems to me that these references only make progressive rhetoric sound stale, which was my point in mentioning Fighting Bob in the first place.

The same thing goes for my disinterest in using the word "solidarity," which also received a spirited response. I'm for unions and I'm for the concept of solidarity; I just don't like the word. Again, it reads out of place to me. When you add it to the many references to "standing" with something, it sounds like we're static, which makes the left not really a movement at all.

Look, you can be for unions and still criticize union tactics and language, as I've done. You can be for campaign finance reform and cleaner government and still think that bringing up Fighting Bob La Follette all the time doesn't move the needle forward.

Liberals need to ask themselves why roughly twice as many people in America identify themselves as conservatives. It's not all about the Koch brothers. That's too easy. We need to ask ourselves why, if our policies are so good for the country, our language and the stories we tell don't resonate so well with voters.

You can shoot the messenger if you want. I think it would be better to try to figure out how to improve the message.

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