The liberal narrative is not working.
Telling the American people that the government is not the devil that the GOP makes it out to be -- that it is full of good people who bring you Social Security, Medicare, air-traffic controllers, and park rangers -- is getting us no more than some flexibility in allocating an unduly tight budget. It is time to go populist.
A major reason for the limited support liberals gain (even within the Democratic Party) is a basic misunderstanding of the way democratic politics work. Liberals console themselves, when they learn that for every American voter who identities as a liberal there are two conservatives, by saying, Ah, you don't get it; studies show that the majority only subscribe to conservative philosophies but they are 'operational' liberals. The majority support gun control, the social safety nets, climate protection, and many other liberal programs. As long as we remind the people of what the government really does, they will vote liberal.
This lovely thought does not have a leg to stand on, because people cannot vote for these programs. Instead, they must cast one vote that covers all the various programs and issues -- domestic and foreign -- before them. In doing so, they do not build some kind of index where they award five points for promoting Social Security, four for Medicare, three for parks, minus two for farm subsidies, and so on. Rather, voters fall back on political philosophy as a shortcut to reach their summary choice -- the only one they have. And when it comes to general philosophical leanings, the overwhelming majority of the population lean conservative, as these graphs show.
On the philosophical level, the liberal approach does not play for many because it is too abstruse. When CNN asked a group of Democratic voters to recite the Republican message, they did so crisply, on the spot. When they same group was asked to recite the Democrats' message -- they hemmed and hawed. If liberals could get away with taking the mirror-opposite view of the one the GOP is selling, they would be home free. But they dare not say the government is good, the devil is private, or the bigger the government the more it serves. Instead they engage in a complicated dance.