Fortunately I didn't even try to write the long follow-up to last night's post; about how Democrats (liberals) should realize that, yes, they should get more philosophy; but, no, they shouldn't expect the electorate to thank them. Mark Schmitt nails it hard with this one. Liberals and conservatives fighting for the hearts and minds of those who are operational liberals but ideological conservatives. An assymetrical struggle.
What the think tanks and grassroots groups and Karl Rove and Frank Luntz figured out over the 36 years after Goldwater was how to retain the language of ideological conservatism, leave unchallenged the facade of operational liberalism, and use that combination to exercise power long enough and aggressively enough to destroy every future prospect for operational liberalism. I think they have scuttled much of the strength of real conservatism in the process, but I don't think that's anything for liberals to be glad or complacent about.
Forget all that Lakoff stuff. This is the real deal.
The immediate counter-strategic thought: how do we retain operational liberalism while leaving unchallenged the linguistic facade of ideological conservatism? (As Mark says, conservatives have already done almost all the hard work of hollowing out the ideas behind their own language. Why bother fighting them over this hollow drum they like to beat?) I think the solution is that you work constantly to expose conservatives are deeply unserious about conservatism. Expose their inauthenticity. On every front. Don't point up contradictions. Socratic logic-chopping leaves the electorate unmoved. Show the voter that your Republican is a creature who'll talk the talk but won't walk the walk. (This is the whole Luntz-Rove strategy, after all.) This is the sort of 'contradiction' that actually bothers people.
Insist at every point that your opponent prove he is a conservative, operationally. If he does, he exposes himself as wanting to do unpopular things. (Goldwater denouncing the Tennessee Valley Authority in Tennessee. In contemporary terms, all these Republicans hiding from their constituents when it comes to Social Security.) If he doesn't, expose him as a 14-karat gold-plated phoney. Practice ways of calling him that to his face.
Taking it from the top. The Dems need philosophy to know what they stand for. And you've got to have positive slogans, too. 'Vote Democrat, because the Republicans aren't REALLY conservative' is just a terrible bumpersticker. My little rhetorical plan doesn't suit all occasions. But the Dems shall pay for any positive philosophical commitment, because any Dem philosophy will be compelled to drag itself miserably through life, denying it is now, or ever has been, a member of the Communist party. The paranoid style is strong and will insist on this. So where can Dems get their own set of powerful ideological gestures? What little karate chops will shut down the discussions they don't want and start the ones they do. I say: accusations of unseriousness and ideological inauthenticity. (But for heaven sake don't say 'ideological inauthenticity'. Find a different way to say our opponent is full of crap when he talks about shrinking government.) Make these your main rhetorical devices for getting the discussion back on track: how to make the liberal form of government we've got run better. You make conservatism irrelevant to the conversation.
An assymetrical struggle. Republicans get good mileage out of accusing their opponents of standing for much more than they say they do. When a Dem advances some mild, prudent proposal, he finds himself flecked with spittle to the effect that he is Ward Churchill in disguise. Democrats might get equally good mileage out of accusing their opponents of standing for much less than they say they do. These accusations would have the additional advantage of being true.