Conor Williams wonders why fellow liberals are so bad at moving hearts (and votes). He has a theory:

But if the eclipse of the new progressive era has many causes, one stands out: the American Left has no coherent or compelling moral vision to justify its policy aims. It frequently can’t articulate why it is it believes what it does. Leftists are philosophically adrift. To a substantial degree, this is because American liberalism has become a haven for wonks. Many prominent leftists seem to believe that political debates are won and lost by econometric analysis. This undercuts their willingness (and their capacity) to justify their projects.

Andrew Sullivan adds:

I can’t think of any major Democrat who persuasively makes the case for liberalism, even at a time when, in my view, liberalism has an edge in addressing the consequences of conservative over-reach. Nancy Pelosi has never persuaded anybody not already persuaded. Try putting “vision” and Harry Reid into one paragraph without collapsing into laughter.

The point here is surely not to deride empiricism. Heaven knows conservatism could stand to quit leading with its heart and start thinking more empirically about the world as it is, not the world as they wish it to be. The point, if I’m reading them correctly, is that too many leading voices on the left give themselves over to wonkiness, and presume that their moral convictions are widely shared, such that the only reason anybody could disagree with them is through ignorance (willful or not), or malice.

As ever, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s ideas on political psychology are useful here. Buy his new book, The Righteous Mind. Here’s an excerpt from his recent interview with Bill Moyers:

Obama is such a great orator and wowed so many of us in the campaign. But then, once he was elected, you know, he’s been focusing on the terrific, terrible problems that he’s had to deal with. But I think he has not made the moral case that would back up the arguments from the politicians in Washington.

I think the Democrats need to be developing a credible argument about fairness, capitalism, American history. They need to be developing this master narrative so that when they then have an argument on a particular issue, it’ll resonate with people. And they’re not doing that. But the Republicans have.

Watch Haidt’s TED talk on why liberals and conservatives often talk past each other:

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