Saturday, November 14, 2009

Will progressives ever learn?

Steve commented on a Decima poll the other day regarding opinions of the Gun Registry. I will not add much to his analysis of the poll.

However, that poll did start me thinking about why we would see this kind of result.

Leaving aside my distrust of polls sponsored by the media there is still a question of why we would see these kinds of estimates. It is a given with most progressives that gun control is a popular concept in this country. I am certain many are asking how can Canadians show such ambivalence towards a tool central to controlling guns in this country?

I think the simple answer is the political right in North America have developed a winning strategy for changing the societies that our fathers and grandfathers created in the 40 years after the Second World War. It is not just gun control. We are seeing it with other issues, such as health care, the environment, crime and taxes. It still boggles my mind that the political right on this continent has managed to convince the middle class that it is in their best interests to shift the tax burden from the wealthy and big business to the middle class. It defies all that I learned in economics about people making decisions in their best economic interests.

All of this is a neat trick since their arguments are so often wrong. In most cases progressives have the facts on their side but we are still watching the slow but steady erosion of the just society. So how do they do it? They are motivated, organized and well financed. They are masters of agitprop. They have no scruples. If it will achieve their goals they will lie through their teeth or instill fear. They just care about making their arguments sound plausible. The truth is secondary.

Little set backs, such as losing the American presidency will not deter them. It has been quite remarkable to see how people who were defeated and discredited last November still managed to put President Obama's health reforms on the brink and even though they did not kill them they still managed to water them down a great deal.

Progressives on the other hand seem to be none of these things. In addition they seem to be complacent, seeming to believe that since they have the facts on their side everything will work out for the better. Of course, when that proves to be a false assumption they are left scambling. The gun registry is a case in point. Progressives are going to be trying to prevent its abolition but they are late into the current round. The right has stolen a march on them.

It is time for progressives to change.

The first change is a change in attitude. This is not a game. This is a fight to maintain a just society as opposed to the goal of the other side to create a society that is only just for a chosen few and the other side is playing for keeps. So stop trying to play fair and play to win. I know many progressives recoil in horror at the idea of using agitprop to advance their agenda but if your goal is to maintain that just society then you are going to have to get your hands dirty. If you cannot do that then watch helplessly as that society drifts away. Bottom line, propaganda works. It has been doing so since our species learned how to talk and it really took off when it learned how to read and write. Use it and if you think doing so is somehow beneath you then I would respectfully suggest that you get over yourself.

The second change is be more proactive instead of reactive. Start setting the agenda and the frames for the arguments and stop ceding that advantage to the right. That means progressives are going to have to be as motivated, organized and well financed as the right. The dozens of progressive organizations out there fighting for different causes are going to have to unite into a progressive network and pool their resources and talent.

This should be happening now and these groups should support each other regardless of the cause, whether it be health care, taxes, or legalized drugs.

Third, keep going when you achieve a victory. Do not stop, do not think it is permanent and do not become complacent.

Fourth, come up with better arguments when confronting the right. The right are masters at coming up with the simple and punchy arguments for their positions. They realize that their audiences, whether they be their fellow citizens or legislators, are harried, time crunched people who want their information in nice neat packages that can be displayed on the screens of their mobile phones. The progressive response is usually long boring dissertations full of facts and figures that has their audiences' eyes glazing over before they finish the first paragraph.

Fifth, develop "think tanks" like the Fraser Institute. I cannot think of a single progressive think tank that takes the same approach to issues as Fraser. Certainly their work is intellectually suspect but they do not care. Their goal is not to advance academic arguments but to provide an academic veneer to the positions of the right. To give their positions the appearance of respectability.

The development of a just society was the goal of our fathers and grandfathers and although we had not achieved it we were heading in the right direction. That direction has since changed and we are actually moving farther away from it. It does not need to be that way. Progressives on this continent can still keep us moving towards that society but they are going to have to change their approach to achieving it if they want to succeed.


Blogger penlan said...

Excellent post Ottlib. I've linked this post on one
of my posts at my blog.
You are right & I can't understand why those in the Liberal Party can't seem to see that taking the so called "high road" will do them any good. Unfortunately this society has gone beyond that just wanting the bits & bytes. It's the only thing that reaches the masses any more.

November 15, 2009 5:20 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

The problem is, you assume a 'fact' then build on it. You assume that a majority of 'right thinking Canadians' want the gun registry retained. There is NO data to back this statement. maybe if you used'if' as an introduction, you would be taken more seriously.

November 15, 2009 9:11 AM  
Blogger ottlib said...


I am looking past the partisan politics in this case. That is just a game really.

I am looking more at a concerted effort by progressives, regardless of partisan stripe, to begin pushing back at what the right is doing.

November 15, 2009 9:42 AM  
Blogger ottlib said...


You are correct in one sense. It really is a minority of folks who are bringing about these changes. As I said they are motivated, organized and well financed but I did leave out that there are not many of them. That is why they need to resort to agitprop and be completely lacking in scruples.

November 15, 2009 9:46 AM  
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