How to Talk About Our Progressive Values

Americans believe that values are more than right-wing religious principles. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, “values” are about knowing right from wrong, being fair with others, telling the truth, and living up to one’s personal philosophy. In other words, it’s the progressives, not the right wingers, who stand for American values.

Don’t say . . .

Say . . .

Compassion

Communalism 

I favor freedom, opportunity and security for all

Why . . .

The phrase “freedom, opportunity and security for all” is a statement of values that polls very well. But more important, it’s an accurate and politically potent 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 all Americans. Yes, we have other values like compassion, cooperation, communalism, generosity and mercy, but they don’t project strength so they don’t work very well with persuadable voters. Instead, those tend to evoke negative stereotypes about progressives—that we’re weak and unrealistic. Stick to progressive values that help win elections: 

Say . . .

Freedom
o
r similar values:

Liberty
Privacy
Basic rights
Fundamental rights
Religious freedom

Opportunity
or similar values:

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

Security
o
r similar values:

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

When you’re talking about an issue where government has no proper role—like free speech, privacy, reproductive health, or religion—say freedom or use a similar value. When you discuss an issue where government should act as a referee between competing interests—like court proceedings, wages, benefits, subsidies, taxes, or education—say opportunity or a similar value. When you argue about an issue where government should act as a protector—like crime, retirement, health care, zoning or the environment—say security or a similar value.

In addition, reclaim from the right wing the concept of 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 . . .

We cannot allow the right wing to linguistically shift responsibility for societal problems from the government to the individual. When they say social problems are a “personal responsibility” they are, quite literally, blaming the victim.

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