One of the great truisms of history is that whoever has the best words, wins the power.
The movement against slavery was a leaf in the wind, until it allied itself with the eloquence of giants like Abraham Lincoln, William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass. These men, with the precision of a great novelist, found just the right phrases to show why that vile institution was abhorrent to everything Americans held dear.
The same dynamic held forth in the two great fights of the 20th century, against fascism and Jim Crow. The reactionaries were on top decisively, free to commit whatever crimes they could possibly imagine. The world looked on in horror at the scenes coming out of Auschwitz, Selma and Birmingham.
That is, until Winston Churchill and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. entered the scene.
Yet the sad truth is, today, progressives are losing the battle of words. Our rhetoric is academic, ideological and too often devoid of poetry. Instead of coming up with an approach that appeals to the common man first, we use arguments that are largely only comprehensible to the cultural elites.
For example, this country is suffering greatly. At a time like this, we need leaders to speak in a universal way that acknowledges everyone’s pain. We must let the people know that their lives are of equal value and deserve equal support. Instead, the left has gone down the path of identity politics, and decided to divide citizens along lines of race, gender, and sexuality.
Under this framework, compassion is meted out based on which social group a person belongs to, meaning a Black trans woman will receive more empathy than an unemployed white man in Ohio. This is justified under the theory that said trans woman — since she belongs to a more marginalized demographic — deserves a greater share of attention.
Americans don’t like this stuff, however. It’s just basic common sense. When a person’s in pain, they just want to be taken care of.
They don’t want progressives making them feel like their suffering doesn’t matter as much because someone else is doing worse.
Just like the fellow with a broken leg doesn’t want to be told he’s not as important as the man dying of cancer.
Furthermore, there is a great timidity to the left’s approach. Leadership entails drawing stark contrasts. The world is messy, and most of us don’t have the time to make sense of it. So we rely on our politicians to do the job, define the era we live in, and point the nation where to go.
But that acquires boldness, and being unafraid to speak the truth, which is something Democrats currently lack.
On the subject of demographic change, for example, we typically speak in vague generalities and say things like “we are a nation of immigrants” or “diversity is our strength.” However, these are bumper stickers, not words that summon a country’s better angels.
The correct approach would be to define the issue for what it is.
And that would sound something like this:
“America is on the cusp of a great transition. Since the founding, we have dedicated ourselves to the proposition that all men are created equal.
“Stemming from that belief, we have embraced diversity in every aspect of society, from housing and civil rights, to the school and immigration systems. As a consequence, the white population is in a process of decline, but that is nothing to fear. For while the color of our population is changing, the soul of America — its compassion and courage, selflessness and devotion — has never burned brighter.”
Now I’m not saying those words are Shakespeare, but they pack more punch then the sort of nonsense we typically hear from Washington liberals.
Unfortunately, the GOP understands these matters much better than the left does. Republicans have the confidence to make their case with vigor, clarity and passion; as a result, many voters see them as being stronger leaders than your typical Democrat. That’s a tragedy.
The Democrats are like the nice dorks who pine for the pretty girl from the bleachers, and spend all day dreaming about how well they’d treat her.
We write long, detailed plans in our notebooks about all the dates we’d take sweet long-legged America on, if only she would give us a chance.
Yet our desire is sated with fear. Instead of just telling this fetching woman how we feel, and being confident in our delivery, we hem and haw and over-analyze. Our flirting comes out like a jumbled mess, a cliche here, a platitude there.
From the girl’s perspective, it all seems too neurotic to be worth considering.
By contrast, Republicans are like the jocks. They are less romantic than we are, more simple. Their philosophy — of wanting America to please their own self-interest — is downright dastardly and about as sentimental as a colonoscopy.
However, the one thing jocks don’t lack is confidence. They make their case boldly and clearly. And of course, whenever a girl is presented with either a nice boy who’s a hot mess, or the wolf in sheep’s clothing full of confidence, we all know who she will choose.
So get yourself together, Democrats. Because if we let Donald Trump back in the White House, and he breaks America’s heart once more, she may never recover.
Joshua Heath is a Santa Clarita resident. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats.