Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Image Behind The Name

Up until a few years ago the word tea suggested a warm beverage, the all-purpose restorative in British movies or even the preferred drink given to trapped miners when they emerged to daylight, if there was no brandy around. Tea conjured a civil conversation in a drawing room or a ritual-laden ceremony in Japan.

Now the rowdy, right-wing Mad Haters, whose preferred drink is a six-pack, have walked off with the name, Tea Party. Of course the name was plucked from the pages of history, the night of insurrection in Boston harbor. A bit of genius as coined phrases go; patriotic, simple and a long-time steeping. More like seething. Not my cuppa.

On the other side of the spectrum there’s been a name-change under our very noses. Since Liberal sounds too close to Libertarian, the left wing has re-discovered the term, Progressive. It, too, has a history. Theodore Roosevelt first called his splinter party by that name and later changed it to Bull Moose when an assassin’s bullet proved insufficient to bring him down. Twelve years later, in 1924, Robert La Follette ran for president under the Progressive Party banner and then again in 1948 it was the party of Henry Wallace.

Now I notice how Democrats, left of the administration, have taken on the name, Progressives. And why not? Since the Republicans stand for nothing more than obstruction and reactionary counterclockwise-winding, the opposition is well-named. A century of social reform, environmental oversight, food & drug protection, health and retirement benefits all fall under the agenda of the early Progressive platform.

The associations with that word, Progressive, are new and improved. Two of the advertising world’s favorites. As new voters come of age and old ones meet their maker, Progressives own the future.

Not so fast, Buster, some folks are threatened by progress and cling to other images of times gone by when horse-driven carts delivered milk straight from the cow and people watched T.V. by candlelight. There are those who think Republicans can restore Downtown before it was wiped out by Walmart or bring back the smoke stacks in Pittsburgh. Those were the days when people knew their place. A time of un-locked doors and Social Tea Biscuits. And now we’re back to that cup of tea.

Elections are won and lost by votes, not by demographics. If the youth will only stop long enough to vote their future instead of Twittering what they had for breakfast the Democrats have a good chance. Bring it on! Let Progressives run bravely on their programs, not run scared, pandering for votes. It’s alright to pronounce the g in words ending with one.

The problem may be how to translate social justice, compassion and science into non-threatening imagery. In Art, the new is necessarily ugly to most eyes. In politics it often means the shock and awe of truth which is not an easy fit for many folks. In running for president one hundred years ago Eugene Debs told a crowd. The other candidates come before you and tell you how smart you are. They do this to keep you stupid. I’m going to tell you how stupid you are, to make you smart. I wonder how that would play in Peoria today.

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