Pages tagged "freedom"

How to Talk about Progressive Values


The very beginning of Voicing Our Values provided a short primer on values. This section is for those who are interested in a deeper discussion of how progressive values reflect a consistent progressive philosophy.

To articulate a philosophy that persuades, you need to understand persuadable voters. They are, in fact, extremely individualistic. Even when they say they want what’s best for the larger community, they are persuaded by how policies affect them personally.

Individualism is our nation’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness. It drives innovation and progress, but it has also consigned millions of Americans to lives spent in poverty. In the same spirit, competition is the very bedrock of our governmental, economic and social systems. Elections and court cases are competitions. Education and job-seeking are competitions. Our economy is a gigantic and complex competition. Obviously, where there is competition there are both winners and losers.

Progressives would gladly accept and espouse a communitarian philosophy. We all wish American culture was more oriented toward altruism and community—but it isn’t. A realistic progressive philosophy is one that accepts our national culture of individualism and competition and, nevertheless, seeks to make the American Dream accessible to all. How can one envision such a philosophy?

Imagine a balance scale—the old-fashioned kind with two pans, one suspended from each end of a bar. It’s the kind of scale that symbolizes equal justice under law. In a progressive world, the role of government is to help balance the scale when powerful individuals or organizations compete against weaker ones. Government should function as a counterweight on the scale of justice. The greater the disparity of power between competing interests, the greater weight the government should provide to the weaker side. Balance is justice.

A system in balance rewards hard work, efficiency, and innovation—which benefit all of society, and discourages crime, corruption, and schemes to game the system—which rob all of society. The way we apply that broad principle of balance is by breaking down public policy into three situations, where: (1) government has no proper role; (2) government acts as a referee; and (3) government acts as a protector.

Where government has no proper role, because public action would violate our individual rights, progressive policy is based on freedom. Freedom means the absence of legal interference with our fundamental rights—freedom of speech, religion, and association; the right to privacy; the rights of the accused; and the right of all citizens to vote. In other words, we use freedom as a defense of our basic constitutional rights and civil liberties. This is simple enough, but nevertheless, progressives rarely say the word freedom. They’re embarrassed or think it’s been co-opted by the right wing or don’t understand when to say it. But freedom is the most popular political value in America. Polls show it is enormously powerful. If you can’t cry freedom, you can’t explain why you are progressive.

Where government acts as a referee between private, unequal interests, progressive policy is based on opportunity. Opportunity means a level playing field in social and economic affairs—fair dealings between the powerful and the less powerful, the elimination of discrimination, and a quality education for all. More than anything, opportunity stands for a fair marketplace. Although progressives tend to stress the rights of consumers and employees against businesses, opportunity also ensures fairness between businesses—especially helping small enterprises against large ones—and fairness for stockholders against corporate officers. Americans fervently believe in the opportunity to live the American Dream. Some progressives feel it is tacky or stilted to talk about the American Dream. But that’s the vision that underlies our value of equal opportunity for all. It’s an essential part of our philosophy.

Where government acts to protect those who cannot reasonably protect themselves, including future generations, progressive policy is based on security. Security includes protecting Americans from domestic criminals and foreign terrorists, of course. But it also means insuring the sick and the vulnerable, safeguarding the food we eat and products we use, preserving our environment, and, of course, there’s Social Security. Progressives certainly support the concept of security, but we usually detour around that word. Like freedom, the word security seems to stick in the throats of progressives, perhaps because we’re concerned that we’ll sound like conservatives. But in fact, when you say security it makes you sound like a mainstream American.

You saw this chart previously in the section How to Persuade.

Say . . .

r similar values:

Basic rights
Fundamental rights
Religious freedom

or similar values:

Equal opportunity
Justice; equal justice
Fairness; fair share
Level playing field
Every American

r similar values:

Safety; protection
Quality of life
Employment security
Retirement security
Health security

Why . . .

You don’t have to say the words freedom, opportunity and security over and over. But, as this book has tried to demonstrate, you should express at least one of these three concepts whenever you argue for any progressive policy.

Moreover, you can and should put these values together to create the phrase “freedom, opportunity and security for all.” It polls well, but more important, it’s an accurate description of what we stand for. The right wing favors these principles for some—the affluent. Progressives insist on providing freedom, opportunity and security to each and every American.

Progressives also believe in compassion, cooperation, communalism, generosity and mercy. But those soft values evoke negative stereotypes associated with “bleeding heart liberals.” Freedom, opportunity and security project our strength; we accept the responsibility to extend freedom, opportunity and security to all while conservatives shirk that responsibility. 

Don’t say . . .

Say . . .

Individual responsibility

Personal responsibility

when talking about a public policy

Mutual responsibility

Common responsibility

I’ll take the responsibility 

Why . . .

When conservatives say social problems are a personal responsibility, they are, quite literally, blaming the victim. They are linguistically shifting responsibility for societal problems from the government to the individual. You should use responsibility as a strength—you are saying that progressives champion American values while conservatives run away from them.

Political values are not just talking points. They help you explain to fellow citizens what you stand for and what you’re trying to accomplish. Instead of presenting voters with a laundry list of issue positions (as candidates have done for years), progressives should lay out policies in a manner that illustrates our values.

Here is one way a candidate or political organization could do so:

Declaration of Progressive Values

(This version highlights state and local policies)

As progressives seek popular support for our policies, it is crucial that we convey the values that underlie our political philosophy. Three pillars support our common vision for the role of government:

First, progressives are resolved to safeguard our individual freedoms. For two centuries, America has been defined by its commitment to freedom. We must fervently guard our constitutional and human rights, and keep government out of our private lives.

Second, progressives strive to guarantee equal opportunity for all. America’s historic success has come by providing all citizens, not just the privileged few, with the opportunity for a better life. We must vigorously oppose all forms of discrimination, create a society where hard work is rewarded, and ensure that all Americans have access to the American Dream.

Third, progressives are determined to protect our security. To make us truly secure, America must not only stop domestic criminals and foreign invaders, it must also promote our health and welfare. While forcefully continuing to protect lives and property, we must strengthen programs that insure the sick and vulnerable, safeguard the food we eat and products we use, and protect our environment.

Our progressive values differ fundamentally from those of conservatives. While conservatives work to protect freedom, opportunity and security only for a select few, progressives accept the mission and responsibility to extend these protections to all Americans, and to preserve them for future generations.

Our progressive values of freedom, opportunity and security mean that:

  1. Progressives stand for decent wages and benefits for working Americans. Our economy should provide the opportunity for all hard-working individuals and families to enjoy life. Therefore, we support legislation to increase the minimum wage, guarantee earned sick days, and create viable pensions for all.
  2. Progressives stand for affordable, high-quality health care for all. The security of comprehensive health insurance should be a right, not a privilege. Therefore, we support full and vigorous implementation of the Affordable Care Act and call for it to be strengthened with a public option.
  3. Progressives stand for a public education system that is the best in the world. Every child should have an equal opportunity to learn. Therefore, we support legislation to invest in our children’s education through smaller class sizes, more after-school initiatives, and universal pre-K programs.
  4. Progressives stand for a clean, safe environment. We must conserve our natural resources both to secure our own health and well-being, and to fulfill our responsibility to future generations. Therefore, we support legislation to reduce air and water pollution, including greenhouse gasses, and encourage both energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy.
  5. Progressives stand for the elimination of discrimination. Discrimination against anyone diminishes freedom for everyone. Therefore, we support legislation to eliminate the practice of racial and ethnic profiling, ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and guarantee marriage equality.
  6. Progressives stand for real security for the most vulnerable Americans. We must protect the security of our nation’s children, elderly, disabled and disadvantaged. Therefore, we support legislation to make healthcare, child care, elder care, companion care and housing programs more accessible, efficient and effective.
  7. Progressives stand for the protection of privacy. For Americans to be truly free, the government must stay out of our private lives. Therefore, we favor legislation to keep abortion safe and legal, and ensure access to all reproductive health services.
  8. Progressives stand for a criminal justice system that focuses on security instead of retribution. Tough sentences alone don’t make us safer. We also need to prevent crime with more programs for at-risk youth, education and rehabilitation. Therefore, we support legislation to strengthen deterrence programs and stop the cycle of addiction by requiring rigorous treatment instead of incarceration for non-violent drug crimes.
  9. Progressives stand for a tax system where everyone pays their fair share. Instead of following the principle of equal opportunity for all, tax policies often deliver an unfair share of benefits, giveaways, and loopholes to wealthy special interests. Therefore, we support legislation to eliminate wasteful tax subsidies and tax breaks that are both unfair and not worth the cost.
  10. Progressives stand for an inclusive, open government. Every American must have an equal opportunity to participate in our democracy. But average Americans are increasingly shut out by the influence of big money in politics. Therefore, we support laws that protect our freedom to vote, and measures to reduce the influence of money in the political process.

Juvenile Justice Reform, Pope Francis, Federal Budget, and More

The Public Leadership Institute is a nonprofit educational group organized to raise public awareness on key issues and to develop public leaders who will improve the economic and social conditions of all Americans. To join, click here.

Juvenile Justice Reform Act: This model combines three urgent reforms. The Juvenile Justice Reform Act restricts pretrial confinement to youths who pose a danger or may flee from justice; it limits the circumstances when judges can transfer defendants from juvenile to adult courts; and it protects accused children by ensuring that they do not waive their constitutional right to counsel.

Pope Francis Suggests a Progressive Freedom of Religion! Last Saturday the Pope gave an address on religious freedom in Philadelphia. Instead of hard-line opposition to abortion, contraception and LGBT rights, Pope Francis said not a single sentence that could not be embraced by progressives. What is this progressive view of religious freedom? Read about it on IdeaLog, our blog intended to raise eyebrows and engage minds.

How the federal budget (and any future shutdown) affects you: TODAY! Thursday, October 1 @3pm Eastern, 2pm Central, 1pm Mountain, Noon Pacific. Right wingers have been trying to shut down the federal government supposedly to defund Planned Parenthood. Campaign for America’s Future co-director Bob Borosage will explain what’s going on and how it will affect state and local governments, as well as individuals everywhere. Register for the webinar here.

Most voting machines are obsolete or nearly so: Voting machines operate well for only 10-15 years and most jurisdictions use machines at least that old. The Brennan Center issued a recent report surveying the problem—see if your jurisdiction needs to go shopping soon.

Toolkit for enacting Ban the Box: The National Employment Law Project recently published a tool kit for Ban the Box—legislation that removes questions about criminal history from job application forms. Nineteen states and more than 100 cities and counties have banned the box; you can too.

See us at upcoming conferences: The Public Leadership Institute will participate in the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) conference October 1-3, WiLL/WAND conference October 4-6, Local Progress conference October 26-27, and National League of Cities November 4-6. If you’ll be at any of these, please alert and we’ll look out for you. 

Pope Francis Suggests a Progressive Freedom of Religion

Last Saturday, Pope Francis delivered a homily at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Billed as an address on religious freedom, conservatives hoped and expected the Pope to praise their hard-line opposition to abortion, contraception and LGBT rights. Right wingers could not have been more disappointed.

There was not a sentence, not even a word, in the Pope’s speech that cannot be embraced by progressives. We all understand that Francis wants Catholics to follow church teachings in their daily lives. But the Pope never said that Catholics should impose their religious beliefs on non-Catholics. In fact, he said the opposite.

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The flag that offends 100 million Americans

We’ve had this discussion before. Over recent years, state and local governments have gradually recognized that flying the Confederate battle flag is offensive and inappropriate. For example, Florida took down that flag in 2001, and even South Carolina took a partial step, removing it from the top of the state capitol building.

Idealog_(3).jpgBut because of the horrific massacre at the Emanuel AME Church, perpetrated by a Confederate flag-waving racist, the issue is back—as well it should be.

Even Mitt Romney has now joined the debate, tweeting “Take down the #ConfederateFlag at the SC Capitol. To many, it is a symbol of racial hatred. Remove it now to honor #CharlestonVictims.”

The issue is simple, really. Symbols can express political values. The Statue of Liberty stands for freedom and a welcome to immigrants. A balance scale stands for equal justice under law. An olive branch symbolizes peace. What political values do the Confederate flag communicate to Americans?

A recent poll asked, “Do you see the Confederate flag more as a symbol of Southern pride or more as a symbol of racism?” Thirty-one percent said that flag is a symbol of racism. That represents about 100 million Americans who see the confederate flag as racist.

But, some might argue, more Americans (41 percent) answered the question with “Southern pride.” Shouldn’t we believe that flag’s supporters when they claim an innocent explanation? No. Those who display the Confederate flag are not stupid and neither are we. They know perfectly well that millions of people abhor that flag; they are displaying it, quite intentionally, to provoke.

After all, that was its purpose. The Confederate battle flag was hardly ever displayed from the end of the Civil War until the beginning of the civil rights movement in the 1940s and 50s. Segregationists and the Klu Klux Klan resurrected that flag—as historians tell us

as part of a massive resistance campaign against the civil rights movement. It wouldn’t exist in our national popular culture without this moment, when African Americans fought for their equality, and the battle flag was recovered and redeployed as a symbol of opposition to it. What was once a very blatant, full-throated defense of white supremacy has now become this gesture to heritage and history that is presented as though it has nothing to do with the civil rights movement. But it has everything to do with the civil rights movement.

There’s another poll by the Pew Research Center just a few years ago. They asked people, what is your “reaction when you see the Confederate flag displayed—positive, negative or neither?” Only nine percent of Americans answered “positive.” Thirty percent (almost identical to those who say the flag is “racist”) answered “negative,” and the rest said neither or don’t know. So very few feel positive toward display of that flag. Let me suggest the likelihood that means people are fully aware that the flag doesn’t symbolize Southern pride; people are smart enough to know that explanation is a fig leaf to cover up something ugly.

Ironically, it was just a couple of weeks ago when the state of Texas won a case in the Supreme Court by being on the right side of this issue. In Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., Texas sought to keep the Confederate battle flag off of specialty license plates.

The state’s agency for specialty license plates explained why it rejected the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ proposed design:

[B]ecause public comments have shown that many members of the general public find the design offensive, and because such comments are reasonable. The Board finds that a significant portion of the public associate the confederate flag with organizations advocating expressions of hate directed toward people or groups that is demeaning to those people or groups.

If the state of Texas understands this, why doesn’t the state of South Carolina? And if the Charleston mass murderer understands that the Confederate flag represents his racist cause, why doesn’t everyone? Finally, if you sincerely believed that the flag symbolizes Southern pride but understood (as Texas does) that it is highly offensive to millions of your fellow citizens, wouldn’t you find some alternative way to communicate that pride?

It’s not something I say too often, but—Mitt Romney is right.

Neo-Cons, Fast Track, Contingency Fees and More

The Public Leadership Institute is a nonprofit educational group that helps turn state and local elected officials, advocates and grassroots activists into progressive champions. To join, click here.

Prohibit Contingency Fees for Economic Development Act: State and local governments spend millions of dollars on economic development subsidies. California SB 434 (enacted 2014) prohibits the practice of lobbyists receiving a percentage of an economic development grant as compensation for their work. This is a simplified model bill that accomplishes the same thing.

Neo-Cons are wrong about “freedom” and “security”: Recently, some war hawks have defended the invasion of Iraq as a necessity of national “security” while others promoted the war as a defense of “freedom.” Read why it’s dangerous to let them use this language unchallenged on IdeaLog, our blog intended to raise eyebrows and engage minds.

Fast track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership is wrong: Tuesday, June 2 @1:00pm Eastern, noon Central, 11am Mountain, 10am Pacific. Campaign for America’s Future Director Bob Borosage, Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI) and others will explain why Congress should reject “fast track authority” for the TPP which will be on the House floor next week. Register for the webinar here.

Against fast track authority for the TPP: As Senator Elizabeth Warren explains here, the Trans-Pacific Partnership includes an “Investor-State Dispute Settlement” (ISDS) provision that would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. law—including state and local laws—in special tribunals that are not part of the U.S. system of courts.

Progressive municipal officials: Join Local Progress! There is a terrific organization—Local Progress—which is exclusively for city and town elected officials. It’s a great place to get policy information and network with like-minded municipal leaders. Sign up here!

Latest Compendium of State and Local Legislation in 2015: What’s happened so far in 2015? Read about it in our Compendium. If you have additions to suggest, please contact Michael Weiss at

Neo-Cons are wrong about “freedom” and “security”

Some war hawks have defended the invasion and occupation of Iraq as a necessity of national “security” while others promoted the war as a defense of “freedom.” Poppycock, in both cases.

“Values” have real meanings, and when our ideological opponents misuse powerful language, we have to call them on it or lose the debate. (Sadly, since 9/11, we have usually lost this particular debate.)

First, the Iraq war had nothing to do with American “freedom.” Our freedoms as citizens of the United States—to say what we want, practice our religion of choice, associate with anyone, enjoy privacy and due process rights, and have access to protections if accused of a crime—were never jeopardized by Saddam Hussein or al-Qaeda.

Sure, the freedoms of individual Iraqis were affected by the war, not necessarily in a positive way. But, as we know perfectly well, the proponents of the war did not care a whit about the rights of Iraqis. The invasion had nothing to do with “freedom” and when we let neo-cons misuse the word that way, we hand them a powerful weapon and walk away.

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Policy Models, Bill of Rights, Ballot Initiatives, and more

The Public Leadership Institute is a nonprofit educational group that helps turn state and local elected officials, advocates and grassroots activists into progressive champions. To join, click here.

Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights: San Francisco enacted a first-in-the-nation package (Hours &  Retention bill and Scheduling & Treatment bill) to protect hourly workers. The package promotes full-time work while protecting part-time workers, it encourages predictable and reasonable hours, and is focused on the largest and most profitable retailers and fast food businesses. Read more here.

When progressives cry “freedom,” what does it mean? Freedom should be fairly easy to understand—it’s a defense of our basic constitutional rights and civil liberties. This is very intentionally a limited definition of freedom, often called “negative freedom.” Why? Read IdeaLog, our blog intended to raise eyebrows and engage minds.

Fifty great policy models for 2015: Wednesday, December 17 @3:00pm Eastern, 2:00pm Central, 1:00pm Mountain, noon Pacific. We just published the 2015 edition of the Progressive Agenda for States and Localities. In our next webinar we’ll describe some of the great legislation that lawmakers should consider in 2015. Register here to participate.

Progressives plan multiple ballot initiatives in 2016: Expect to see minimum wage, paid sick leave, equal pay, medical and recreational marijuana, and gun sale background checks on many state ballots in November 2016. The push is based on the expectation that the presidential General Election will turn out progressive voters. Read about it here.

Huge public support for police body cameras: According to a new Pew/USA Today poll, 87 percent of Americans think it’s a “good idea for police officers to wear body cameras that would record their interactions.”

Progress in the States and Localities: What happened in the states, cities, counties and towns over the past eleven months? Our new Progress in the States and Localities is now online. If you have some victories or defeats to add, please send suggestions to Michael Weiss at

When progressives cry “freedom,” what does it mean?

Where government has no proper role, because public action would violate individual rights, progressive policy should be based on freedom. By freedom, I mean the absence of legal interference with our fundamental rights—freedom of speech, religion, and association; the right to privacy; the rights of the accused; and the right of all citizens to vote. Compared to an individual, government wields tremendous power, so a progressive policy adds great weight—in the form of strong legal rights—to the individual’s side of the scale. For example, freedom of speech is absolutely sacrosanct unless it immediately and directly puts others in danger—“falsely shouting fire in a theater” as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes put it.

Freedom should be fairly easy to understand—it’s a defense of our basic constitutional rights and civil liberties. I include the right to vote because it should be as sacred as any constitutional right. The very definition of democracy—rule by the people—requires the unrestricted right to vote. So laws that keep American citizens from casting ballots should be eliminated on the grounds that they violate our most fundamental democratic freedom.

I very intentionally adopt a limited definition of freedom, often called “negative freedom.” Why? Because a limited definition keeps the word from becoming meaningless.

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Job Piracy, Millionaires' Tax, Defining Freedom, and more

The Public Leadership Institute is a nonprofit educational group that helps turn state and local elected officials, advocates and grassroots activists into progressive champions. To join, click here.

Model Legislation from ALICE

Millionaires’ tax: From 1995 to 2010, the one percent richest Americans saw their state and local taxes drop by nearly 30 percent as a share of income. State and local governments need money and it’s good politics to focus on making the rich pay their fair share. ALICE has legislation and resources on the millionaires’ tax—and 1,500 other model and exemplary bills for both state and local policymakers.

Freedom Is Free: The Fourth of July is a time for both well-meaning and evil-intending people to misuse the word “freedom.” We need to push back. Read about it on IdeaLog, our blog intended to raise eyebrows and engage minds.

Webinar of the Week

How to talk about voting rights: Wednesday, July 16 @2pm Eastern, 1pm Central, noon Mountain, 11am Pacific (Note the unusual time). Communications and elections experts will present the best arguments to support voting rights legislation. Register here to join the discussion and find out which arguments work and which don’t.

Resources You Can Use

Stop job piracy: It is all-too-common for localities to use subsidies to attract businesses from nearby communities. All this does is waste taxpayer dollars. Good Jobs First has a new report that explains the solution: anti-piracy agreements like the ones used in Denver, Colorado and Dayton, Ohio.

Early childhood education support systems: Opportunity to Learn has a new guide that gives advocates a blueprint for developing better-coordinated, early support systems using a whole-child and whole-family approach. Read about it here.

From the Public Leadership Institute

Progressive message framing: Just published, the Second Edition of Voicing Our Values. Download a free PDF of the book here or buy a printed copy on Amazon here.

Freedom Is Free

The Fourth of July is a time for both well-meaning and evil-intending people to misuse the word “freedom.”

As a political concept, the only workable definition of “freedom” is that it’s the absence of legal interference with our fundamental rights. Freedom is freedom of speech, religion, and association; the right to privacy; the rights of the accused; and the right of all citizens to vote. Freedom is a defense of basic constitutional rights and civil liberties.

Freedom is the cornerstone of America’s value system. For two centuries, America has been defined by its commitment to freedom. One poll found that Americans believe—by a margin of 73 to 15 percent—that freedom is more important than equality. But because it’s so popular, freedom is the most misused of all political terms.


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