I’d like to look at the concept of change. For the purposes of this discussion, I am going to differentiate between two types of change. The first type of change is personal change. This is any change that is made to the individual. It could be as simple as a new hair style to as monumental as choosing a person with whom to spend the rest of one’s life, and everywhere in between. The second type of change is collective, or societal change. This change could involve the changing of public discourse, the passing of new laws, or the election of a new leader (or in some countries, a coup that changes the leadership by force).
Personal change is something we all know we need, but it is also something that we are so hesitant to do. Most people recognize that they are not perfect, and that the only way to get closer to perfection is through change, usually through action, but often through thought as well. The difficulty is that personal change is something that we are each individually responsible for ourselves. If you notice something about me that needs to be improved, you can do or say anything to me to encourage the change, but nothing will happen if I don’t make the decision to alter my behavior.
On the other hand, there is the collective change. When society changes, those who don’t want the change are often at the mercy of the majority (or at least a large, loud plurality). If the majority of society wants the change, it generally doesn’t matter what the minority wants, because the change will be made, and the minority will just have to deal with it. Obviously there are exceptions to this, often in government. President Trump was elected without winning the national majority, and he couldn’t have been removed from office following his impeachment with just a simple majority. However, if we look at areas outside of government, such as culture, all you need is a majority of people to think one way, and slowly it will be accepted by large swaths of those who opposed the change to begin with. Take, for example, same-sex marriage. In 1996, the support for same-sex marriage was at 27 percent. It took 15 years. Until 2011, for it to reach 50 percent, but as soon as it hit that point, it rose another 4 percent in just a few months. The lesson here is that the majority has the ability to influence the minority.
And herein lies the issue for the Conservative movement. Conservatives, by definition, seek to conserve. They want to retain a lot of the same institutions that brought us to where we are now. The problem is that the current institutions are working well for some, but not as well for others. Conservatives seem to not have an answer for these people. The best they can seem to do is to say that the current system may need some tweaks here and there, but drastic change will only hurt you in the future. People who are struggling don’t like to hear that, even if it’s true. For instance, a plan to heavily tax richer people and use the money to help the poorer among us may initially help those who are struggling. However, over time, there will be less wealth and therefore less ability to help. Struggling people often can’t think about 10 years ahead; they need to know what can happen over the next week.
And this is where Progressives have the upper hand. Firstly, naming themselves “Progressive” is a genius marketing move. When struggling people see that there are those pushing for progress, that instills a belief that there are those fighting to help the strugglers, and the programs they are pushing do seem like a way out. In contrast, they look over to the Conservative side, and they see a brand that sounds like they just want to keep to the status quo. The name “Conservative” reeks of conserving power and conserving money, and not allowing room for the little guy to move up.
In order to change this perspective, Conservatives need to change their messaging. They need to show that even though they are not pushing for a grandiose overhaul of the current systems, the programs they are looking to conserve do actually give every American the best chance to pull themselves out of poverty, and remain out of poverty. That has to be the messaging going forward.
Conservatives must show that they aren’t simply looking to hold on to power and wealth and social norms for the sake of tradition. They must show that the reasoning behind their positions are not simply old-fashioned, and that “because that’s how we’ve always done it” is not their true motivation. The script must be flipped. Conservatives have to show that Progressives are often using the “change for change’s sake” method of reasoning, and that their proposals either won’t accomplish the goals they intend, or will have a tremendously adverse effect. The first step is to change their name. Even though there was an initial difference, Liberals began to adopt the Progressive moniker when they saw that the branding was helping their cause. And since most of what Conservatives are professing is rooted in reality, I think it’s time to rename Conservatives as Realists. This immediately provides the contrast that Progressives are not rooted in reality. If you think starting this new Realist movement is a good idea, please reach out to me on Twitter @IZwiren. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.