Howard Dean's keynote at the just-finished California Democratic Convention was amazing! Yes, I am a rabid Howard Dean fan. But I don't think my judgment is being clouded by my enthusiasm here. So hear me out.
The most important part of his message might have been this part: "We have got to stop talking from here [points to head], and start talking from here [pounds left part of chest]." That's what Democrats need to understand. They have got to talk from their heart and not just from their heads. I might mention that when they went with their heads and put up Mr. John "Electability" Kerry against Bush, we would rather as soon not be reminded of the result that followed. It's not that programs and numbers are not important, but if you don't have a vision, and set of basic, uncompromising, fundamental values that you truly believe in, your numbers and programs ring hollow. Politics is not for the dispassionate. You have to speak from your heart; you have to tell people what you really believe in your heart. It is not enough to say that you support "early childhood intervention." It's a policy. But why? What is it that you believe that makes you support this policy? Please DON'T confuse this question with why it's a good program because of all the numbers available on it. If you believe this thing not just works but is good at a basic level, you should be able to explain why without looking into statistics. My answer to this is that I support this policy because of my basic sense of fundamental fairness, responsibility and opportunity. All children should have a fair shot at a decent life, equal opportunity to succeed, and Americans as a community share the responsibility to help provide that fair shot and opportunity to every child who needs it. That means providing parents with the help they need - whether it's just a friendly face or finding an affordable daycare program nearby. This is fundamentally about the future.
You see, once you have explained your values as above, by all means use your numbers and statistics to prove your point. Now, people will listen, because agree or not, they understand that you really believe in this because of your core values. But don't talk about statistics first; that will not just confuse people, but you have failed to convince them that you are a person of convictions and a moral core.
That's Howard Dean's message. Ask questions, see the values behind everything you stand for, find what's really in your heart, and don't be afraid to talk from your heart. It's not easy. But we have to do this. It's hard because we progressives are so damn used to talking in numbers and programs. After all, numbers don't lie, right? Well, here's number: it spells MINORITY STATUS. If you don't like that number, YOU have to change it. How? Find your core values. Find your heart. Find your principles. Then tell people in terms of those values and principles why your idea is a better one than the right wing's. People are hungry to listen.