How the Left can better market its message
a proposal for Washington State liberals
by Don Smith

Executive Summary

Liberals and progressives need to build an effective media presence that they control. Without such a media presence, all other policy efforts will be thwarted.

Superior marketing and media access allowed conservatives to control the narrative about taxes and government.

We can ameliorate the problem locally: adopt a standard, shared, community-owned website where Democrats and progressives can communicate and coordinate. The website could evolve to be a source where policymakers, reporters, and the public come for the progressive perspective on news and issues. We needn't necessarily create a new website; standardizing upon an existing one may work.

By sharing editing responsibilities among multiple groups and leaders, we can make sure that no single faction or person can monopolize power, and adoption and quality will also be improved.

Visit Washington Liberals for a prototype blog and website realizing the vision behind this proposal

Brief Analysis

The disappointing outcome of the 2010 general election was a result of various factors: the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, an influx of corporate cash into the elections, superior organization and party discipline on the Right, and weak leadership, messaging, and media access on the Left.

This is true both nationally and in Washington State, where the defeat of the income tax initiative, I-1098, and the passage of I-1053 (requiring a 2/3 majority in the legislature to raise taxes) underscore the failure of the Left to explain the role of government and the unfairness of the current tax system.

The middle class continues to vote for candidates and initiatives that transfer wealth and power to the super-rich.

The Left's inability to market its message is largely due to the conservative bias of much of the news media. Fox News and most AM radio talk radio are reactionary. The Seattle Times was solidly against I-1098. Suburban and rural newspapers are even more conservative. The downsizing of the Seattle P-I dealt a severe blow to our ability to get our message out.

But the failure of the Left to market its message is also due to disorganization on the Left.

There are left-leaning news outlets and websites such as AM1090, Real Change News, the Stranger, FUSE, Washblog, slog, publicola, Horse's Ass, Majority Rules, Puget Sound Liberals, and NPI. Plus there are numerous lefty advocacy groups (MoveOn, PDA, DFA, anti-war groups, SNOW, health care reform groups, EOI, Sightline, environmental groups, women's rights groups....). But no website or news source is widely adopted, and most of the existing ones are controlled by one or a few people. The various sites and groups compete for support.

There is great value in having such diversity, and I have no desire to create a monolithic organization that would stifle dissent. Furthermore, the Left doesn't need yet another organization. But the lack of media focus greatly dilutes the Left's message and makes it hard to speak with an audible, coherent voice to lawmakers, the press, and the public.

Numerous state level races were decided by a few percent of votes or less. Better marketing may have made the difference between victory and defeat.

Nationally, President Obama and the Democrats failed to hold Republicans accountable and failed to lead. They let the conservatives control the narrative. They blew a great chance to set the record straight, make a clean break with the past, and teach the public about who's really to blame for the mess we're in. Instead, the President, in particular, protected conservatives, surrounded himself with Bush-era advisers, and repeatedly angered his base. He blew a once-in-a-lifetime chance to expose and end corruption, corporatism, and militarism.

Republicans never compromised. Obama only compromised. And so his major accomplishments (such as saving the country from a depression and reforming health care and Wall Street) were corrupted hodgepodges for which he failed even to get credit.

Hence the shellacking. And now most voters blame the recession and their woes on the Democrats' alleged wasteful government spending.

The GOP coalition involves an unholy alliance of neocons, libertarians, social conservatives, and corrupt capitalists -- such that the coalition partners disagree on many issues. Yet they coordinate well and often vote in unison. The Left is much more ideologically united, but they don't cooperate so well.

The Reagan Revolution Redux has a longer analysis.

The Proposal

Washington State (or Seattle-area) Democrats and progressives should adopt a standard, community-owned website. When I say "community-owned" I mean that no single person or faction controls it. Rather, representatives from various lefty groups sit on a board of directors.

The site should be edited, to maintain quality. That is, only high quality content should appear on the front page. Editing should be a shared, or rotating, responsibility. This will encourage wide adoption and discourage monopoly. But the website should be as open as possible. Deciding which opinions are too "extreme" is always a tricky matter.

At first, the website would likely be used for communication and coordination among liberal activists. Eventually, the hope is that it grows to be a formidable media source that the public, lawmakers, and outside journalists visit to get high quality progressive content.

In the long run, the aim is to develop a coherent, powerful progressive media site that the Left controls, so that we are no longer at the mercy of the editors of the Seattle Times and other closely controlled media outlets.

Sandra VanderVen characterizes the idea this way: "Create a web based marketplace of ideas."

In addition to blogs and articles, the website could have calendars and calls-to-action and videos and humor and links to other sites.

Website participants needn't all agree on priorities or details; they need only to agree to appear on the same pages and to respect the rotating editors' decisions about which content gets more visibility.

Other people have tried building standard lefty websites that do aggregation. I think that what's needed for success is a critical mass of support and a few smart, dedicated contributors. And no bigshots. That doesn't mean there won't be a meritocracy. It just means that progressive values, not just the market, will help determine influence.

If anyone is interested in this project, please email me, Don Smith, or enter your information below, or join the Yahoo group Washington Liberals. Already several dozen people (including former editors and reporters) have expressed interest in such a project.

It is within our power to effect change, but we have to be more organized.


Is the dream of organizing progressives too quixotic to be realizable?

Should the website be for all of Washington State or just for the Seattle area?

Will it be possible to get cooperation from various factions within the Democratic Party, or should this be just a progressive website?

Some progressives are Independents or Greens. Should the website be managed independently of the Democratic Party?

Should we build a new site or convert an existing site into a shared resource?

Progressives believe in public education, public transportation, public financing of elections, public health care, and other community initiatives. Can they cooperate to build a shared website? How ironic and sad if the Right can cooperate but the Left can't!

Supporters of the Proposal

  1. Don Smith (Democratic PCO, 41st LD; DFA; MoveOn,
  2. Sandra VanderVen (Seattle MoveOn coordinator)
  3. David Spring (Democratic PCO, 5th LD)
  4. Rick Aydelotte (Democratic PCO, 39th LD)
  5. Rosemarie Schmidt (Democratic PCO, 4th LD)
  6. Elena Rumiantseva (Journalist)
  7. Jack Bolton (Democratic PCO, 36th LD)
  8. David Sokal (MoveOn, J Street)
  9. Richard Champlin (Conservation NW, Gifford Pinchot Task Force)
  10. Kim Loftness (AFSCME/WFSE Local 341/OWLS/Peace Activist)
  11. Bryan Brenner (Democratic PCO, Ferry County)
  12. Bob Burr (Vice Chair, 40th LD Democrats)
  13. Jennie Peterson (Democratic PCO, 41st LD)
  14. Doreene Robinson (Democratic PCO, 41st LD)
  15. Ralph Drake (Democratic PCO, 10th LD)
  16. Robert Boehm (Democratic PCO, Greenbank, Island County)
  17. Sidney Stock (Democratic PCO, 41st LD; J Street)
  18. Paul Richmond (Attorney, Port Townsend)
  19. Paul Spencer (WA Democratic Central Committeeman - Skamania County)
  20. Sandra Castell (Democratic PCO, 41st LD)
  21. Larry L. Jackson
  22. Mel Lowry
  23. Carol Davidek-Waller
  24. David Vicks
  25. Barbara Baer

Join the Yahoo group Washington Liberals to discuss this proposal.

To add your name as a supporter of the Proposal, please fill out the information below

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