Tell a story

Surprisingly, liberal Paul Krugman has been relentlessly criticizing liberal Barrack Obama. Krugman’s main point seems to be that Obama’s campaign strategy has been to attack Hillary from the right. That plays into conservative talking points, he says, because it weakens the progressive argument. For example, Obama apparently ran a scare ad in Iowa recently complaining that “Hillary will force you to buy health insurance, even if you can’t afford it!” Obama’s health care plan doesn’t mandate insurance, you see. Although it likely, effectively, will. It’s kind of complicated.

Obama also advocates raising the cap on wages subject to Social Security tax—currently $98,000. Although a tax increase like that would be clearly progressive and conservatives would complain bitterly–Krugman says this proposal plays into the hands of conservatives who want to claim that SocSec has serious financial problems that must be addressed immediately by…ummmm…cutting benefits. Conservative want SocSec “on the table”; Obama helps them put it there.

I think Krugman has a point.

Having said that, I think its important to note that his criticism isn’t about goals, it’s about political strategy. Or—not even strategy–its about how to succeed, how to get there. There being all those things progressives believe in: universal healthcare, solid commitment to SocSec, etc.

And that’s where I think Krugman and so many smart, technocratic, capable, brilliant liberals miss the point. To get there progressive don’t need their political leaders arguing about the the pros and cons of mandates–a minuscule number of voters understand the issue; even fewer care about it. What progressives need is leaders who can tell a compelling story.

Enter Barrack Obama. As Robert Reich puts it, every successful leader in America has told four stories about the…

  1. The Triumphant Individual
  2. The Benevolent Community
  3. The Rot at the Top
  4. The Mob at the Gates

Democrats have ceded numbers 3 and 4 to conservatives since 1980. For example, conservatives have successfully told the story that “The Rot at the Top” is big government. To counter, liberals don’t need a logical analysis of why that’s not technically true, they need a narrative. Obama can tell a story, and more importantly, he intuitively understands the need to tell a story. I’m not sure he has the right storyline yet, but his instincts are in the right place.

While we wait for Obama to find the right story, I recommend reading Robert Reich’s analysis.


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