Message Parity


The largest convention-related protest in U.S. history was peaceful and passionate. On August 29, as many as half-a-million people marched past Madison Square Garden in New York City, the site of the Republican National Convention. On the way, they displayed an extraordinary amount of creativity and humor in the service of tremendous anger.

They carried signs with slogans such as: “Quagmire Accomplished,†“Mad Cowboy Disease,†“Support the Troops, Fire the Commander,†“George Bush Our First Retarded President,†and “No More Years.†On their t-shirts were statements that ranged from the bawdy to the subversive to the comic: “My Bush Would Make a Better President,†“George W. Bush Billions of Corporations Served,†and “Republicans for Voldermort,†(referring to a character in the Harry Potter series). The age of the marchers ranged from toddlers to seniors such as the Seattle-based peace group “Raging Grannies.†The wealthy marched alongside the poor and the middle class. And the ethnic diversity of the crowd reflected the many colors of modern America, in marked contrast to the dominance of Anglos among the Republican delegates.

It would be easy to believe that such diversity and energy alone, working across the country, would all but guarantee the defeat of the Bush Administration and its radical agenda. But watching the Republicans work in New York City once again illuminates a powerful and troubling disparity between the two sides. Unless this difference is addressed, progressive principles might well continue to decline in the United States. In New York, GOP groups with innocuous sounding names like the Americans for Prosperity Foundation met to promote readily digestible and easily explainable sound bites such as “ownership society†and “tax fairness.†Disingenuous in their purposeful blandness, these concepts mask a well-defined plan to radically alter the obligations of our representative government toward its citizens. These phrases and many more have already been market-tested and disseminated to friendly media and grassroots activists. Well-financed efforts will ensure that they are repeated thousands of times before the election. A majority of the public that appears to have forsaken critical thinking and intellectual curiosity will never investigate the truth behind these benign slogans.

What is the progressive response to each of these ideas? What plan do progressives offer in their stead? What vision do they have for our country 20 years from now? Few answers could be found walking among the protesters in New York and listening to their speeches.

Granted, contrasting the demonstrations and the GOP confabs is inherently unfair. Disenfranchised and under constant attack, progressives often cannot afford the luxury of strategic thinking. In order to mount such a large protest, a broad common ground must be upheld, in this case, hatred of the Bush Administration. Indeed, every new radical policy out of Washington, D.C., swells the ranks of the disaffected. Maybe anger from those fully aware of this irresponsible and incompetent administration’s policies will be enough to push John Kerry to victory.

But when interviewed recently by The New York Times, White House Rasputin, Karl Rove, made a point that, painful and self-serving as it might be, has some validity. “I think missed an opportunity at his convention to inform people what his agenda is,†he said. “So far it’s all, ‘I’m not President Bush.’â€

The time to play it safe has passed. There is too much at stake. Perhaps if the Democratic Party could present a positive, simple, sound-bite-reducible but hard-hitting agenda that differentiates them from the GOP, the race would not be quite so close.

Without such a vision, it might not make a difference how many people march. —JB