How to Talk to a Bush Voter
December 4, 2004
By Jason Bradfield
the election I wrote a column
in which I looked inside the mind of the Bush voter. Some of the
feedback I received from that article suggested that I write another
one discussing how to talk to a Bush voter. Considering that this
holiday season many progressives might find themselves engaged in
heated conversations with conservative family members, I have prepared
this little guide to help confused liberals talk to triumphant Bush
At this point in time we need to talk to Bush voters not to convince
them of the rightness or our cause or the wisdom of our policies,
but to find common ground and point out inconsistencies in the Bush
agenda. In all honesty, the progressive movement is in pretty rough
shape right now and the Democratic Party appears hopelessly out
of touch. Given these facts it's not the best time to push the liberal
policy agenda on people who are reflexively opposed to it. It just
won't work. Instead progressives need to focus on showing how elements
of the progressive vision address some conservative concerns and
also how the radical right in Washington supports policies that
are undermining the values of conservatives in middle America.
The best way to figure out where we share common ground with a
Bush voter is to find out what type of Bush voter you are talking
to. Conservatives can be roughly divided into three groups that
sometimes overlap and sometimes contradict one another. These groups
are social conservatives, limited government conservatives, and
nationalistic conservatives. Of course, there are other ways to
divide up Bush supporters but for the sake of simplicity let's just
examine these three groups.
There is indeed common ground between social conservatives and
liberals. For example, I engaged in an email dialogue with a social
conservative who had read my previous article. I agreed with her
that there is a coarsening of American culture thanks to excessive
sex and violence. However, I pointed out that this has not been
caused by gay conspiracies and abortion on demand but by corporate
America and its manipulative use of sex and violence in advertising.
She wrote back and said:
"If I would have heard your quote come from a Democratic
candidate that would have made me pay more attention to them as
a candidate. I probably still would not have voted for him but
to me that tells me that he has convictions about what is being
marketed and broadcast and he is willing to speak his mind from
his heart. That makes a difference to people."
I don't entertain any illusions of convincing diehard Bush supporters
to vote for our guys, but it is vitally important to get Bush supporters
and others to understand the very real concerns liberals share with
their fellow Americans. Why not offer your conservative friends
a leftist critique of how corporate greed undermines genuine human
relationships? It is major media corporations such as Fox that promote
a promiscuous sexuality that treats human bodies, especially female
bodies, as mere commodities. Advertising is especially bad in this
regard. Why not propose ending the tax break corporations get for
advertising? This is much better than following the advice of misguided
conservative Democrats and compromising our own very moral support
of gay marriage and a woman's right to chose.
Another issue to bring up with social conservatives is the huge
toll that right-wing economic policies are taking on family life.
Studies have shown that children who have no parental supervision
after school are more likely to engage in sexually risky behavior.
It is impossible for parents to take more time out for the joys
of family life when they are forced to work long hours because major
corporations have so much power and labor is virtually impotent.
Many parents must simply do what they are told at work for fear
of losing benefits or becoming unemployed. Frequently, what they
are told is to work longer hours with no guaranteed overtime pay.
Liberals have many solutions to the problem of the overworked family.
Perhaps you could direct social conservatives to the Take
Back Your Time Movement. It's a small progressive effort but
it's a start.
How about limited government conservatives? A good place to start
is to agree that corporate welfare must end and trade agreements
need to be unbiased and not favor large multinationals at the expense
of small businesses and working professionals. Another issue an
economic conservative might see eye-to-eye with us on is the excessive
influence military contractors have on foreign policy. Mention how
the US military budget is larger than is needed to defend the US
from aggressors and how war is actually bad
for the economy.
While it is important to search for points of agreement I find
the best way to talk to limited government conservatives is discuss
the massive growth
of government under Bush. Spending under Bush has grown at a
rate greater than that of any of the last four presidents. This
means that Bush is a bigger spender than the despised Clinton and
the ridiculed Carter.
I think increased government spending happens to be a good thing
since I support a government that does its job, which is to protect
and promote the general welfare as the Constitution states. Why
don't liberals give Bush a round of applause for expanding the reach
of government? Of course, this doesn't mean I like Bush, but it
does mean I like to see the faces of Bush's most ardent conservative
supporters when a liberal praises the Bush Administration for expanding
government. Trust me, this will really get the conservative you're
talking with to grumble about their man Bush. I have yet to find
a conservative who does not start griping about W when his profligate
spending is brought up.
Make a note that even though you disagree with Bush's approach
to education policy you think it is a great idea to get the federal
government involved in education and now all we need to do is properly
fund the schools that need it. Most limited government conservatives
will really begin voicing their discontent with Bush at this point.
Of course, you can also bring up the fact that you think it's great
to expand Medicare coverage for seniors. Although Bush's prescription
drug policy sold out to HMOs it nevertheless confirms in the public's
mind that the government has a responsibility to provide for the
welfare of our senior citizen. Again, this is something small government
conservatives hate being reminded of.
Can progressives find any common ground with nationalistic conservatives?
Admittedly sometimes these conservatives can say things that are
very hateful and disrespectful of foreign cultures so it may seem
impossible to relate to them on any level. Nonetheless, we can do
Perhaps the best issue to discuss with nationalistic conservatives
is the anti-American trade policies the Bush administration has
favored. In particular mention how companies such as Wal-Mart are
now so heavily
dependent upon trade with China they can no longer be considered
American companies. Many American corporations in fact no longer
consider it their duty to be loyal to America. Yet Bush's Republican
Party continues to endorse pro-corporate trade policies that weaken
America's industrial infrastructure, destroy factory communities,
and lower American wages.
Another sore point for nationalistic conservatives is the fact
that the Iraq war has no significance for American national interests.
Do conservatives support liberating every tyranny on earth? Do they
support American boys dying to bring democracy to a people who hate
For progressives the goal of any conversation with a Bush voter
is two-fold: convince them that progressives can address some of
their concerns and that the Bush Administration is actively working
against their concerns in some areas. It is important for progressives
to show conservatives that the political world is not easily divided
into good guys and bad guys. Indeed, there are some progressive
ideas that conservatives can sign onto such as opposing big media,
helping families take back their time and regulating corporate trade.
On the flip side there are elements of the Bush Administration that
really upset true conservatives. For example, Bush's out of control
spending, his expansion of government, nation-building in Iraq,
and his support of corporate advertisers who commodify human sexuality.
Understand how progressive policies can address some of the concerns
of Bush voters and explain that to them. Whatever you do don't just
dismiss conservatives as "JesusLand" freaks with whom it is impossible
to communicate. That attitude will get us nowhere. More importantly,
never compromise on your progressive ideals. Nobody respects someone
who will not stand up for his or her values. Never surrender on
the ideals that have guided progressives to our triumphant victories
over slavery, robber barons, disenfranchisement of women, fascism,
segregation, and anti-choice laws.
Our progressive values are not an obstacle to talking with conservatives,
they are the foundation that will help conservatives understand
us and ultimately respect us.
Jason Bradfield is a 27-year-old former conservative activist
and is happy to answer any questions about how progressives can
reframe certain issues to appeal to a conservative mindset. He lives
in the Washington, DC area and his blog is at jaybradfield.blogspot.com.
Comments, criticisms, and suggestions are highly encouraged and
may be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.