Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

How Not to Talk to Progressives on the Campaign Trail

Posted in Barack Obama by allisonkilkenny on July 27, 2008

Barack Obama has clinched the Democratic Party’s nomination to run for president, and because this is a crucial election year it is only natural for Democrats to try to win over progressives — especially the disaffected variety turned off by your candidate’s hard right turns.

If you plan to do this, choosing to ignore Obama’s strategy of pandering to right-wing and bigot voters who’ll never cast ballots for him, good for you. But there are a few tips you’ll want to keep in mind as you venture forth.

  • Whatever you do, don’t threaten people with a McCain victory if they don’t vote for Obama. For one thing, people don’t like to be threatened; for another, if a voter isn’t convinced that your candidate will govern any better than McCain, it’s a fairly useless thing to do anyway. It’s best if you avoid doing this altogether.
  • Whatever you do, do NOT bash Ralph Nader or any third party candidate. Criticize if you will, but do NOT attack. The reason for this is that true progressives, while partisan in a broader ideological sense, are not so in terms of supporting specific political parties. More often than not, we vote for individual candidates who have the records to back up their rhetoric than we are to vote along party lines.

  • If you must criticize Ralph Nader, focus on this argument: “it takes an organized political party to win power, starting from the ground and working up, and though I respect Ralph I don’t think he’s going about this the right way.” Don’t mention ego or stealing Democratic votes (ballots belong to no political party), even if that’s what you think, because neither argument is true and it has a tendency to turn people off who might otherwise consider your candidate.
  • Listen to what people’s concerns. Remember, Obama is running as the pseudo-change candidate. Even if true progressives feel compelled to vote for him out of misguided notions of pragmatism, they still care about the issues that matter. Don’t brush them off or try to convince them that once Obama is elected they needn’t worry, because they have every reason to worry. Don’t be condescending; listen to people.

  • Finally, talk about the issues, know them by heart, and have solid responses to questions — especially those coming from Nader or McKinney supporters. Obama MUST be able to address their concerns. If he can’t, and if you can’t, you’re better off not bothering.

That’s pretty much it. If you follow these steps, you might succeed in swaying a few progressives. If not, don’t complain when you receive the proverbial cold shoulder.

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