Monday, August 13, 2012

Game plan

In the aftermath of Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate, I feel like a member of a good football team that has just been handed the ball at midfield. My team is down, and the opposing defense is ferocious, but we know what we're doing, we've been here before. Although I doubt that the other team will hold itself to the same standard, I don't want to win by playing dirty; instead, I want to win with superior play-calling and superior execution (yes, I follow the New England Patriots, and yes, congratulations to the New York Giants). When all is said and done, I want everyone watching to know which is the sounder team.  

And I think the game is now ours to win or lose.

I feel this way because I think that Ryan's ideas, which include reshaping Medicare and privatizing Social Security, are rigid and unrealistic, not to mention destructive. Once examined, I don't think they'll appeal to enough of the undecided voters whom Romney needs to win. But that's only if we do a good job of talking about those ideas, as well as talking about the presidential candidate who brought them back into the spotlight, in the next 85 days.

To do so, we need to educate ourselves. What were the broad outlines and fine points of Congressman Ryan's proposed budget? Why isn't a budget that features cuts of astounding severity a good response to our country's fiscal problems? If a voter protests that Democrats seek to spend at a time when the country is in greater debt than ever, how can we respond? Effective door-to-door canvassing requires knowledge, energy, and empathy. If we bring these qualities to our work, I think we can make headway with voters who think that Romney and Ryan's endorsed policies might improve the economy and empower our pursuit of happiness, but still aren't sure, and who have heard that Obama and the Democrats want to create a socialist state.

First, the big S. In the coming months, the nitty-gritty of policy debate may replace a lot of the name-calling we have heard almost since the inauguration, but if not, we can push back against the idea that progressivism is socialism in a number of ways. We can cite unusually persuasive sources who know better: Milos Forman, the Czech-American filmmaker, who wrote in the New York Times about episodes of censorship and brutality in his native country; Ruben Navarette, a syndicated columnist WNYC host Brian Lehrer introduced as "conservative-leaning," who said that his conservative friends "hate" it when he tells them that the President has governed as if he is "one of them." We can create metaphors and analogies that show the error in inflating Obama's social orientation (a crappy first draft: enjoying a drink a few nights a week doesn't make me an alcoholic, and instituting particular social programs doesn't make our government a malfunctioning ATM). And we can be forthright about and proud of that orientation, and of our own: we think that progressive social investment befits a democracy that seeks to equip its citizens with the tools they need to succeed.

Some people are not going to agree with us. (Remember Anthony Rapp's character in Adventures in Babysitting, the kinda rad Elisabeth Shue movie from 1987? "Ya think?") If, however, they're still willing to listen to you, then go for it: talk about the Republican weaknesses and Democratic strengths that appeal to you most. It's really important to me that President Obama has worked to end the war in Iraq, and I think there's a reason that his term has coincided with the Arab Spring, a movement that is resulting in a world in which more people are living in democracies that they have risked their lives to establish. Some voters may fear the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, or what might transpire in a post-Assad Syria, but they might also feel that people who have more opportunities to pursue happiness are less threatening than people who must live with less.

In terms of the economy, well, stay tuned--that's what I've got to learn more about. I do know, as I think the majority of Americans do, that trickle-down policies (especially in combination with deregulation and a lack of oversight of the financial industry) don't work, and that they most recently haven't worked under the, ahem, watch of a Republican administration. Let's talk about how many gears Pres. Obama has shifted to help us emerge from the Great Recession, even if it feels like we're stuck in the mud sometimes. Let's talk about how his policies will give more Americans a chance to stay afloat.

During a recent WNYC segment on New Yorkers' experiences hosting visitors from abroad, Lehrer responded to a caller's story by commenting that "people are people on planet Earth." Horrible acts of violence notwithstanding, I agree. I think that all of us want better lives for ourselves and our families, and in this era, with this President, we've got a better chance of persuading unconvinced Americans that they stand to do and feel better if more of their fellow citizens stand the same. We have reason and compassion and energy on our side. And we've been here before. So let's go.

That football metaphor? It's simple: We're the Patriots, and we're about to run the two-minute drill. Romney and Ryan? They're the Jets. Sorry, New York, you can't have it all.

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