One of the things that people remember most about the Reagan years was his push for smaller government. This Republican mantra has served the party well because people believe in it. In fact, in many ways, it defines what it means to be a Republican.
Whether Republicans are actually creating smaller government is another question, but what this two-word phrase gives Republicans is justification for almost any initiative that they want to pass. All they have to do is say that it’s for “smaller government” and people believe it. Whether it’s pushing for lower taxes or trying to dismantle social security, one of the arguments has been about lesser government.
If progressives could clearly define what they stood for in a manner that people bought into, they would have a much easier time passing legislation. For example, if they stood for a “successful end” to the war in Iraq and stated that they want a successful end to this war. If the public bought into this vision (which I think is what most people really want) they might be able to pass better funding bills for the troops, or bills containing milestones to get to this goal.
The problem is that the current Democratic vision is to simply end the war. This vision does not have the same level of support. Why? Because most people feel some level of responsibility to the people of Iraq. We started this mess of a war, do we want to yank our troops out before there is stability? To have a vision that most people will buy into, what we need to stand for is a successful end to the war.
The message to progressives: Focus less on the policy details and more on the vision. Once you have buy-in for the vision, you can determine the details of how to accomplish it.