Netroots Nation is where progressives go to re-charge their batteries to prepare for upcoming political work in their communities, said Raven Brooks, one of the organizers. That seems to be the case for this gathering in Minneapolis, where there is a lot of energy. One of the odd things about the conference is that it is shadowed by a similar conference of right wing bloggers, which takes place at the same time in the same city. We gather to listen to liberal heroes like Russ Feingold, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Al Franken, and Howard Dean. They have Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty and Andrew Breitbart.
Of course suspicion and rivalry exists between the two events, but also some interaction. Because I'm all for dialogue between right and left, I was interested to go to a cocktail party at which attendees from both conferences were invited. I met some journalists covering both conferences, as well as a few right wing bloggers. Unfortunately, there were not as many righties as lefties at this party, I think mainly because the Right Online event doesn't really get going until tomorrow, whereas Netroots was in full swing this morning. But I can report that no fights broke out that I could see, and a good time seemed to be had by all.
I also heard some interesting discussion of the Citizens United case today, both at a panel where a lot of people were urging a campaign for a constitutional amendment to repeal it. One panelist, John Nichols, suggested that such a campaign has political value even if it takes many years to succeed, or never succeeds, just as the campaign to overrule Roe v. Wade has political value for those who advocate a right to life. In Russ Feingold's keynote speech, which was mainly about campaign finance reform, the former senator also talked about how all the efforts to limit the corruption of money in politics are now threatened by corporations taking advantage of Citizens United. Feingold was more optimistic that this decision could actually get overruled if President Obama gets the chance to make another Supreme Court appointment, replacing one of the five conservative judges. If anybody needs another reason to re-elect the president, that one is as good as any.
I also want to mention another interesting panel I attended about how to talk about the economy. Generally I am skeptical of talk that one faction or the other's political problems are the result of their inadequate framing of the issues, but this panel raised some good points, backed up by linguistic research conducted by Anat Shenker Osorio, one of the panelists. Anat suggests that people on the left need some better metaphors to talk about the economy, because the right is winning the war of words by describing the economy as if it were a body that should not be punished by taxation or regulation so that it will get back to health. Or describing the economy as some kind of God that makes moral judgments on us, a metaphor that can be used to justify the current vast disparities in wealth in our society. Instead, liberals might try talking about the economy as some kind of machine that needs intervention by people in order to function properly, or as a vehicle that will take people on a life journey. The idea of the economy as a made-made device also has the virtue of being true, in addition to being a more conducive metaphor to justify the kinds of policy prescriptions that liberals favor.
Anat Osorio made another point backed up by cognitive research. That is too avoid assertions which someone resistant to one's ideas will simply block. Thus, instead of asserting something like "Government plays a critical role in regulating the market," a statement that is likely to be resistant to those in the sway of free market ideology, try pre-supposing that point, by saying something like "When government reins in excessive speculation, the market functions effectively." This last point is good to keep in mind in thinking about how to be persuasive. It might also help promote more civil discussions between people of opposing views, instead of the kinds of arguments where people are just butting heads. As I can attest from my right-left cocktail party this afternoon, alcohol and a friendly setting can be helpful for that purpose also.
(Howard Dean photo by moi)