The fundamental political dynamic of our time is that most Americans are liberal but hate liberalism. By liberal here I mean the standard definition on the American political compass*: someone who believes in a mixed economy that balances private markets with government action, providing a strong safety net for tough times and social programs that support a middle class quality of life for most. Time and again we see that while people dislike the word "liberal" and don't subjectively identify as such, majorities support a liberal political platform.
Probably the best thing you can personally do to change this dynamic is to proudly and publicly declare that you are a liberal as often as possible. If there is anything the GLBT movement has taught us, it is that coming out of the closet and declaring yourself to the world only builds strength and confidence, over time. There is no need to be embarrassed to be a left-winger, we have the better tradition.
Joshua Holland examines the recent poll showing an increase in negative perception of the Occupy movement -- with the main point being that while some people are annoyed with the demonstrators, large majorities support the Occupy ideals of economic justice and greater equality. He points out that the number of people who support occupy has not dropped, only that the number of people who ahve a nagative view of it has inclreased. this is no surprise given the conservative media’s reactionary campaign to dehuamnize and demonaize the demonstrators. Holland cites Digby's spot-on explanation:
All over the country people are hearing that the Occupiers are animals who are masturbating in public and shitting in the streets. The local news is luridly portraying the protests as hotbeds of crime infested with lunatics and drug addicts.
That stuff isn't disseminated just for kicks. It's done to poison the minds of the public before they have a chance to identify with the protesters.
The disjunction between aversion to liberal self-identity and supporting liberal policy is due to the massive right-wing propaganda machine. The success of McCarthyism in the 1950s bred a whole new politics of reactionary dehumanization and fear-mongering. For decades the Right has funded think tanks and academic business departments to promulgate its doctrines. In the 1990s it monopolized talk radio and established a 24/7 cable infotainment network (I will not lie and call Fox a “news” channel). With these is has bombarded people with false information and entrenched stupefying narratives so people misinterpret political events. This ideological campaign has been so successful that, despite the Right's own bigotry and blatant bias towards authoritarian oligarchy, it has managed to reverse reality and tar its opponents as the biased, elitist element. This propaganda success is the greatest historical example yet of what Marx called false consciousness.
One of its main effects has been to make liberalism seem unacceptable by making liberals seem "Other": alien, inhuman, anti-American, insider threats the community. This is done not by appeal to facts but by repeating the narrative that the Left is dirty, weak, misguided, undisciplined, lazy, and culturally elitist.
Increased public distaste toward the Occupy protests follows the same pattern. People understand what is in their interests on some level, and they know that more inequality and banker control of government isn't. Yet they have a learned distaste for liberalism from decades of calumny and slander against it.
What this means is that progressives have to help people pierce the propaganda-induced Veil of Otherness by displaying progressivism as the truly strong and widely-supported ideology that it is. Leave aside for now that liberal policies are better, despite the evidence: policy arguments have a limited ability to win people over. Citing statistics that economic growth was bigger under liberal presidents or that countries with socialized medicine have longer life expectancies can be part of the debate, but it has to come second. Start with shared identity. People from all walks of life are liberal, or at least support some liberal positions, and if you come out vocally and confidently and proudly as a liberal, you will open up a space for the people around you to identify as liberal too.
Do so unapologetically and without caveats or qualifications. When asked what your politics is, confidently and straightforwardly state: “I am a liberal.” Full Stop. When asked why -- and this is fucking important -- discipline yourself to a one-sentence answer: “I am a liberal because liberalism supports democracy, peace, and the human rights and well-being of the common people.” Did I mention that it is fucking important to say this in one sentence, and one sentence only? Practice it. Learn to resist the left-wing habit of going into long-winded policy wonk gibberish, no one listens to that, not even us. That has its place, but in the sphere of technocratic application, not of democratic deliberation where common language is required. Come up with your own one-sentence answer while you’re driving to work or walking the dog, and practice it. Once we’ve mastered that we’ll discuss prepping a “two-minute liberalism” answer for opportunities where a slightly more in-depth explanation is appropriate.
I am a veteran, a public employee, a scholar, a member of the middle class. I have working class roots; I have worked in a factory, and got through college by making pizza and washing dishes. I have been a teacher, student, mentor, community activist. I am an American, and I am a liberal. I am certainly not alone. We need to build identification with the natural strength of working people of all colors, for we are the ones truly on their side, not the Right. And we need to continually expose the weakness, decadence, softness, and cowardice of the rich. And we keep doing that repeatedly until it sinks in.
*As opposed to the somewhat different definitions used historically or outside of the United States.