I couldn’t escape the impression that last week’s GOP convention was just a big bust — and that was before Clint Eastwood talked to a chair. There was no compelling single message other than that President Obama has been a disappointment. Doubtless a lot of people feel that way, but there was no way forward offered, no real alternate vision. As Jon Stewart riffed magnificently, the empty chair was the perfect embodiment of the GOP’s strategy: They’re fighting against a strawman, a caricature, a figment of their own imaginations. Ironically, the gridlock and hopelessness that they themselves created in Congress has foiled their ability to craft an alternate vision. Obama failed, and we’ll do better because we are Obama minus x, where x is whatever they’ve projected onto him.
The Democrats need to do better than that this week … and that’s where Massachusetts comes in.
Elizabeth Warren embodies the center-left’s confrontation of a wildly unjust economic/political order. Large corporations, especially banks, have abandoned a business model in which their own bottom line grows in direct proportion to the satisfaction of their customers; and instead depends upon deception, obfuscation, and exploitation of their market power to squeeze ill-gotten gains from their marks, er, customers. She is a voice of outrage against an exploitative game, but perhaps even more importantly, of a need to set things back into balance: The meltdown didn’t exactly work out well for most banks, either. Her message will doubtless speak to the lingering sense of injustice among a public suffering for someone else’s hubris and stupidity.
Deval Patrick is one of the few Democratic elected officials who actually dares speak in a language of values. He has always spoken a language of neighborliness, as in the sense of the Good Samaritan. And who is my neighbor? It is not merely a sense of empathy or pity that is redemptive; rather, neighborliness is enlightened self-interest — that we benefit when those around us benefit, that reciprocity and interdependence makes us even stronger than mere self-assertion.
Properly developed, this theme can redirect the “we built it” theme of the GOP convention and infuse it with a theme of common purpose. There is no necessary distinction between the necessity of hard work, initiative and ingenuity on one hand; and the need to strengthen the broader community at large. As Henry Ford realized as he doubled workers’ wages in 1914, a producer needs customers, and broadly-shared prosperity makes more customers.
Massachusetts can deliver this message to the country this week. Our state’s leaders can determine the theme of the national election. Watch closely.
Update: Wow, jconway and I must be Vulcan mind-melding. Didn’t see the NYT article or his post before I posted … weird.