Liberty and Justice For All: A Frame for Democrats

So the early conclusion on the election is this: We Need A Coherent Message. I couldn’t agree more. Now the big question is, “what is our message?”

Simple. Liberals, progressives, and Democrats as a whole can differ on various aspects of the philosophy, but the basic meme is fair play. Republicans and the conservatives who enable them (not to be confused with classic conservatives) like to say “life is not fair.” We need to respond “we can make it fair.” The package for this is simple: the classic phrase “liberty and justice for all.” How does that fit? Again, simple.

Liberty is, hopefully, self-explanatory. Civil rights, equal rights, and most especially the basic freedoms granted by the Bill of Rights. You can say what you want, write what you want, believe what you want, and get together with any willing group you want, as long as you don’t hurt anyone doing it. The modern Republican party is, basically, against this now. We need to point out the large freedom gap.

Meanwhile, justice covers the rest of our policies: there is more to justice than arresting muggers. Economic justice means those who benefit from society the most pay their fair share, and those who might otherwise be left behind by society are given help. Social justice is working to end discrimination, and goes hand in hand with civil rights. Ecological justice means protecting our basic needs — air, water and food — from polluters. Dumping tons of poison into the air is at least as bad as dumping your garbage into your neighbor’s yard, only it’s everyone’s yard. Global justice means helping the weak when we can, and using military force when we must, but being humble enough to realize that using violence unnecessarily is inherently unjust.

“All” is the final, important piece of the frame. Liberty for only some is unAmerican, as the long, hard fight for equality in our great nation proves. There is no such thing as “justice for some” — such a state is inherently unjust. The best thing is, when you say “all,” you can’t say “all, but,” and this is where we can nail them. How just is it to throw the GLBT community into a political firefight for short-term electoral gain? How fair is it to fight minorities’ right to vote? How free is a Muslim-American held in Guantanamo Bay without being charged with a crime? It also conveniently unites all the “special interests” under one unified whole: Americans who stand for every citizen’s rights.

They want to make the (50s revision of the) Pledge of Allegiance sacred, word-for-word? Fine. Let’s beat ’em into the ground with it. It’s a simple phrase that will resonate with the vast majority of Americans, particularly those “heartlanders” so many Democrats want voting for them, and if the Republicans are foolish enough to demand we explain ourselves…we can. They say “one nation under God.” We need to tell them to finish the sentence.

Their battlecry is “God, Guns, and Gays!” (It’s really Greed, Guns and [hating] Gays, but we can start defining them better once we’re on more solid rhetorical ground.) If ours is “Liberty and Justice For All!”, who sounds more American? It recreates the frame almost entirely, helping take back patriotism, letting us fight back in a clearly principled way across the entire spectrum of Democratic causes, and allows us to talk about values in an inherently inclusive and undeniably American way. If we can succeed with this frame, I believe it will be a powerful first step in taking back our country.

(/) Roland X
“We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.” –Barack Obama, July 27, 2004

(Also on the Justice Log and Daily Kos)

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