Newsclipping of the Day: Bill Moyers' Narrative Imperative

Moyers has written another great essay that was first published a day or two ago in The Nation, but is also reprinted here from TomPaine.com. The piece is brilliant because it hits the nail on the head: Democrats need to think BIG, not just about their first 100 hours. How about 100 years? They have had plenty of time in the backseat for soul-searching and thinking and narrative writing. Now is the time to present a clear, lasting, and compelling alternative (We're All In This Together) to the Republican narrative (You're On Your Own). Nancy, Barack, Howard, Sherrod, you all need to take a page from the interpretive planning and exhibit design field and sit down and BRAINSTORM. Invite Bill Moyers. Craft the message and hone it, and deliver it in a compelling, memorable way that changes people's lives. Get it into think tanks and college campuses and K Street and Statehouses and County Commisions and the media and keep working on it. Let it evolve, change, grow over time, truly remaining and becoming something of the people. But for crissakes do it. You are in control of the agenda, not the other guys. Forget their narrative. You've got to do it now, because, as Moyers says:

"Everywhere you turn you'll find people who believe they have been written out of the story. Everywhere you turn there's a sense of insecurity grounded in a gnawing fear that freedom in America has come to mean the freedom of the rich to get richer even as millions of Americans are dumped from the Dream. So let me say what I think up front: The leaders and thinkers and activists who honestly tell that story and speak passionately of the moral and religious values it puts in play will be the first political generation since the New Deal to win power back for the people."


Bruce said...


Thanks for posting this. I agree, of course, with most--- no, actually all--- of the points Moyers makes, and I certainly support your commentary on it.

What worries me is that I suspect that the remedy may not be in America's hands alone. The abandonment of the State with a responsibility to all those who reside within it (i.e. citizens + immigrants) is not just an American, but rather a global problem.

In Europe, the left has been in disarray since the fall of the Berlin Wall, which has been generally seen as the vindication of rampant capitalism. In Europe, for the most part, we have been able to avoid the excesses of governmental irresponsibility and brutality of the type Moyers cites, but throughout Europe there has been a general dismanteling of the social state.

In China all pretense of a social state have been dropped; they are left now with a brutal authoritarian, capitalist state without the mitigating factors of social protection. Destitute people from the provinces are now a frequent sight begging on the streets of Chinese cities. I am certainly not advocating a return to the Cultural Revolution, but now the Chinese seem to have opted for the worst of both worlds.

In an autoritarian state such as China, the government didn't have to justify the change in orientation, but in the West we are left wondering how this all happened. In the West, where we still have the formal apparatus of democracy, one wonders how the radical right (called in Europe frequently the center right, but be not deceived. Labels don't mean much--- Blair is a Labor PM). How, in short, did the Western governments push through a socioeconomic program that was to the clear disadvantage of the majority of the voters?

The US and Europe offer two different "opiates." In the US it's old time religion and sexual puritanism; in Europe it's xenophobia and the "immigration problem." These are themes that are readily appealing to the huge numbers of people in danger of being economically marginalized by the rightist program.

Add to this the ability, through globalization, of international corporations to move industrial production and even part of the service sector to parts of the world in which workers have little protection. This threat of outsourcing has put panic into the heart of the European working man, forcing him into larger and larger concessions.

And all of this was well underway before 9/11 and the Iraq War, which only increased the weakening of human rights issues.

I am, therefore, convinced that the problem can't be handled by America alone, or at least not by US domestic policy. If a change in socioeconomic orientation is really to take place, it most likely has to be done on a global scale, which means that US foreign policy has to be integrated into the picture.

Sam said...


You make some very good points. Certainly the US has done nothing to stem the tide of unfettered capitalist takeover of our political system. In fact, I would say we have been the epicenter of that, supplying a model to other countries for how, for example, credit card companies and banks are allowed complete free reign to sweepingly rewrite our bankruptcy laws here. Another example is how official energy policy has become directly aligned with big oil business interests. Yes, it is happening all over, but we my dear, are the capital I would posit.

And as for the dismantling of the social state in Europe, we have been watching the news of all the lovely, matching red tents in Paris, populated with the BCBG of the city (some I bet have VERY nice camping equipment...we have a tiny espresso maker for our backpacking jaunts), generally in astonishment, but also in glee.

Let me explain...

1.) First off, as a designer, the pictures I've seen have all the elegant carnivalesque look of a Christo installation. All the same color, very orderly, deployed in geometric perfection along the streets and quais. Honestly it is a thing of beauty, just from the physical standpoint. Rather like Paris Plage, it is just such a surprize to find such a thing in that context.

2.) It strikes me that the instinct of the everyday French ("Hmmm...How can we help the homeless with their plight...Voila, let's BECOME them, live like them, and make it a marketing moment to publicize it all in a powerful way"), however mediated and aided and abetted by some big organization (I can't seem to find who or what entity is behind the people on this one), is utterly brilliant. We need the same brilliance over here in dealing with our issues, not the same old tired and ill-attended "peace rallys." There's another on the 27th in Washington, by the way. Maybe it will be the one people finally participate in.

3.) Now I hear that France has officially declared a national right to housing. That is so astoudingly an affirmation of the social state, and a direct repudiation of the world trend you point out so well to Moyers and me in your comment. The fiscal conservative in me (trust me, there's very little) says How on earth will that be sustainable? While the social liberal in me says Ok France is in charge of all social programs round the world now.

And you are right about China. JingXia reports that she can now see--just in the space of her recent return to China in October--crime everywhere. She has witnessed pickpockets on the bus and at the market, and she was there while someone attacked Steven's brother to try and grab his briefcase. There is a HUGE problem mushrooming in China, and it is between the new Haves, and the Have-nots. It seems to us it used to be a city vs. the country thing; all the modern city folk enjoying afflence and the benefits of the growing economy, while all the rustic and rural farmers and workers did not. Now it just seems to be a fight for money, for resources, and people are getting angry and desperate.

Thanks, as always, for your insightful ideas and comments. And Happy New Year to you!

Sam said...

Bruce, another thing I wanted to say: The conservatives around the world are certainly very good at keeping in touch aren't they? You are right in your point about the global proportions of the problems and the global solutions. We've all seen here in the US how completely united conservatives can be, even if it is in support of a completely--and patently--absurd policy, they will stay behind it. And they are VERY good at aligning policy around the world and not only understanding Blair or Berlusconi or Olmert policy, but actually having a hand in making it. They are so damnably in lockstep, it's a lesson liberal politicians better be studying right now.

Bruce said...


It's important, in evaluating the European sociopolitical scene, to distinguish between the federal or national governments and municipal governments. The three European cities with which I have a connection, Venice, Paris, and Vienna all have socialist municipal governments and conservative, captalist oriented national governments (Prodi, while undoubtedly better than Berlusconi, is no economic leveller). The tents in Paris are, of course, a product of the leftist (with an openly gay mayor) municipal government. (The "housing for all" may just be a bit of political posing before the elections.)

The city of Venice has long had an excellent program for refugees and asylum seekers, which contradicts the xenophobic incitements of the Berlusconi national government (Prodi has done little to change this). It also has a program of low cost loans to help young people buy their first apartment.

This is true electoral schitzophenia (or hypocrisy). It's not an urban/ rural split that we have in the US, with a more liberal population in the cities. The cities frequently go rightist in the national elections, but vote socialist in the municipal elections, where quality of life can be more directly effected. (It's also true that in many European countries immigrants not yet citizens can vote in local, but not national elections. But I frankly don't know if this is significant.)

This division is particularly important in Europe, where cities can access European Union funds, bypassing their national governments. That's why a certain quality of life has been maintained in European cities despite the forces of reaction and xenophobia in national governments.

As for unity on the left, Sam, I couldn't agree with you more. But I fear that our lack of unity, and the righists' ability to forge such alliences, may very well be "the nature of the goods." We are plagued by our virtues of democratic concern for the interests of all, respect for the individual and for the minority, etc. The fascists are blissfully unconcerned with such niceties.

Sam said...

Hi Bruce,

How is it that the same people (well, i'm assuming that must be the case) vote for socialist municipal governance, but conservative, give-it-all-to-the-capitalists on the national scene? I hear what you are saying, but that is a hard one for me to wrap my head around. I mean, what is the motivation?

And as for unity on the left... I guess really what i'm saying is I wish the left could repackage their inherent "big tent" which often includes disagreement and dissent among parties, and turn that into the perceived asset that we all believe it to be. In a dramatic way, as do all the beautiful orange Christo tents of Paris! I also wish they could expose the false unity of the Republicans, who squash individualism under the steamroller of their unity.

Bruce said...

The European political schitzophrenia of voting right in national elections and left in municipal ones is, in fact, hard to understand. It seems that the majority of voters have fallen for the xenophobic and rampant capitalist nonesense of the right in national elections because they don't see what happens on a national level directly effecting their lives. In Europe there is the myth of centrism, that is to say, people believe that no matter who wins, things will not change much, since both the left and the right will automatically move toward the center. Hence, in voting in National elections they can give vent to capitalist and racist fantasies.

On the local level, however, where programs effecting the local transportation system, the schools, building codes and rent control, etc. people are much more careful to vote their self interest, that is to say, social democrat.

I know that none of this makes much sense. The most zaney contradiction I can think of is Austria, where until recently a conservative, somewhat homophobic national government has been in power. The social democrat municipal government of Vienna, however, has restored an historically important but still gay functioning gay bathhouse with public funds (Probably with funds from the European Union).

As for unity on the left, I think you'd agree it has to go beyond framing and packaging. It requires leadership that has authentic feeling for the working man, the small businessman, and the disinhereted. The last time we saw anything like that in the US was with LBJ, despite Viet Nam.

Sam said...

Wow! Public funding to restore a bathhouse! Amazing! We can't even use public funding to use the word condom here, as you know.

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