Acton Institute Powerblog

When It Comes To Messaging, The Left Gets It (And We Don’t)

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The passage of Obamacare in 2010 remains one of the most contentious legislative battles in recent memory. It was such an “attractive” bill that in order to garner the final few votes needed for its victory President Obama had to promise certain senators that their states would be exempt from its regulatory measures. It was unpopular when it passed. It’s unpopular today.

But members of the progressive-Left in this country possess two specific qualities that enable them to move forward with their political and cultural agendas, regardless of the political or cultural climate:

1) They understand that messaging is everything

2) They’re willing to fight the “long war” for what they believe in

From The Hill:

The White House is working to recruit Hollywood celebrities to help promote ObamaCare, a top celebrity political adviser told The Hill.

Trevor Neilson, a veteran of the Clinton White House, said he’s in talks with the Obama administration and that his clients are “looking at ways to be involved.”

Neilson represents Eva Longoria, John Legend and many other stars as president of Global Philanthropy Group. His past clients have reportedly included Shakira and Madonna, and he has close ties to Bono and Bill Gates.

“I think the White House is very wise to identify partners to help market the Affordable Care Act,” Neilson said Tuesday.

“Just like any good product, when people are aware of the many benefits it provides, there will be increased demand.”

The story continues:

The Obama administration is working on ways to sell its signature healthcare law to the public over the next six months.

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Monday that she’s in talks with the NFL to promote ObamaCare. The HHS has also reportedly reached out to the NBA.

Forget conservatives who believe in free enterprise and limited government – most religious Americans don’t have the vision and/or conviction to proselytize with such vigor on behalf of their theological beliefs as do progressive liberals when it comes to their political ones. I’m not implying that communicating Christianity (or even free market conservatism) should be modeled exactly after how the Left markets its own ideology. And clearly progressive dogma is easier to promote in sectors of society like the entertainment industry where, like a geometry equation, it is the “given” in most folks’ minds.

But the undeniable reality is this: we always lose the messaging battle. Always. Almost without fail. As Frederic Bastiat put it: “The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is not for it to be skillfully attacked, but for it to be ineptly defended.”

There are multiple (and multi-layered) reasons for why the United States is currently on such a determined march toward European-style socialism, but an inability to effectively communicate both the flaws in the Nanny State and the virtues of a “free and virtuous society” is tops on my personal list.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”  – 1 Peter 3:15

How many of us can actually explain our beliefs – political, theological, or otherwise? If we can’t explain them to our neighbor or co-worker, we’ll never be able to convince a nation of 300 million people?

R.J. Moeller R.J. Moeller is a writer and podcast host for the American Enterprise Institute's "Values & Capitalism" project. He's also a regular contributor at and Originally from Chicago, he currently resides in Los Angeles, CA where he serves as a media consultant to nationally syndicated columnist and talk show host, Dennis Prager.


  • Curt Day

    First, neither Obama nor Obamacare, nor the Democrats represent the Left. Many of us Leftists objected to Obamacare because of its private sector dependencies. These private sector dependencies make caring for the proposed clientele destructive to the economy while enriching a select few.

    Second, for as long as we have a society that worships heros, we have one that worships celebrities and thus we can always opt for the lazy man’s way of communicating. It is lazy because there is inverse relationship between the work needed to persuade people and the number of people you can persuade when you rely on celebrities.

    Finally, we are not headed towards European socialism. In fact, many socialists would point out that Europe’s economics is more of an attempt to save capitalism than to institute socialism. But I guess the assertion that Europe is socialistic is made by those who work with an overlysimplistic definition of socialism.

    • RogerMcKinney

      So no one on the left supported Obamacare? Republicans passed the law by themselves with no help from the left?

      • Curt Day

        Yes Roger. BTW, there is a difference between the Left and the democrats. And the problem is that conservative can’t tell the difference and yet use the terms liberal and left interchangeably.

        • RogerMcKinney

          You have yet to share your definition of what constitutes the left/socialism. You merely disqualify most who consider themselves on the left. I’m beginning to think your definition is so narrow that only you qualify.

          • Curt Day

            I have already defined what is the Left in other places. You are simply trying to cause trouble. Simply put, the Left consists of anti-capitalists. The democrats are not capitalists. They might want to put in a regulation here or there or increase spending on safety nets, but they are still solid capitalists. And, btw, you will find a plethora of groups who belong to the left. Some of them include socialists, anarchists, revolutionary syndicalists, national liberation movements, and the global resistance movement are just some of the anti-capitalist groups.

            There is no one in the House of Reps who belong to the Left

          • RogerMcKinney

            Are any politicians on the left? Can you name a person whom you consider to be on the left beside yourself? Would you consider Marx to have been a leftist?

          • Curt Day

            Bernie Sanders is the only elected official who leans toward the left.

            Marx was leftist but many socialists have key points to disagree with him about. Chomsky is basically a leftist. Bill Fletcher is a Leftist. Robert Jensen is a leftist. I could go on but if you look in the right places, such as ZNet, you will find plenty of leftists.

          • RogerMcKinney

            It’s hilarious that the left has a problem with Marx, the greatest socialist of all time! I doubt you see the irony, though. I scanned the list of writers on ZNet and recognized Chomsky and the late Edward Said. It seems to be a very small, little known group. I didn’t see an economist among them. Neither Chomsky or Said were economists. Which goes to show that whatever you call modern socialism is anti-science.

          • Curt Day

            Is it hilarious that we think for ourselves or are you looking for an opportunity to ridicule.

            As for leftist economists, you could read Richard Wolff or Manfred Max-Neef. And there are others.

            As for your logic, you have simply asserted the implication rather than proved it. And I think you will find that Chomsky is a bit of a Scientist himself.

            But all of your loose comments are meant to stir trouble and try to ridicule.

          • RogerMcKinney

            I told you you wouldn’t get the irony. A socialist criticizing Marx is like a Christian criticizing Christ!

            Chomsky is a scientist in a very narrow, obscure field who knows nothing about economics, but writes as if he knows everything.

            Wolff is a socialist economist, one who bends the facts to promote his ideology. He is not a scientist, but a tele-evangelist for socialism. He pretends that there has been no debate for 150 years in which socialists lost every argument that he proposes. In that sense he is simply dishonest.

            And the worker co-ops he proposes are pure capitalism: the workers own property! What does that have to do with socialism?

          • Curt Day

            there is no irony, you simply have no clue. You speak quickly about many things you have no knowledge of. BTW, Chomsky studies economics quite a bit and so he knows more than you let on he knows.

            So when are one of your comments going to be serious and show that you know what you are talking about?

          • RogerMcKinney

            Yeah, keep dismissing the truth as a mere lack of seriousness. That’s the socialist way. Keep you head stuck in the ground. Never learn anything new. Assume all critics are just ideologues.

          • Curt Day

            When you are ready for a serious discussion let me know. So far, you’ve pretend to know what neoliberal is and you said that Marx was to all socialists what Jesus is to Christians. And then you said that Chomsky didn’t know economics, a subject he studies quite frequently.

            Again, when you have quit pretending and are ready for a serious discussion, let me know.

          • RogerMcKinney

            Chomsky advertises his ignorance of economics with every article he writes. Like most socialists, he is very dishonest. He pretends that the volumes of criticisms of socialism written over the century don’t exist. He just ignores them. Only gullible people fall for his nonsense.

            Every attempt at socialism for the past 150 years has failed miserably and led to the deaths of hundreds of millions. But all socialists can do is insist they weren’t really socialists. That’s just dishonest.

          • Curt Day

            I’m waiting for when you are ready to discuss things seriously. You have already shown a deficiency of basic knowledge and you are prone to make unsubstantiated accusations.

          • RogerMcKinney

            I’m waiting for you to address any of the substantive points I have made at any time. Like all socialists I have discussed economics with, you ignore substantive points completely and just change the subject, usually doing nothing more than repeating socialist dogma.

            You’re just upset because I have demonstrated that I understand socialism better than you do and am not fooled by it nonsense.

            So go ahead, just repeat your lame insults in the next post.

          • Curt Day

            Apparently, they didn’t publish my reply so I will repost. I have addressed your point continually from what is the Left and how it is different from liberals to who are anti-capitalists to many other subjects.

            In response, you have made unsubstantiated allegations and mere guesses, such as your initial statement that neoliberalism was a form of socialism.

            And no, I am not upset but you want frame things otherwise. I am still waiting for you to engage in a serious conversation. That instead of pretending to know what you have had no exposure to, you simply admit–no shame in that. So the ball is in your court.

          • RogerMcKinney

            PS, I have read as much Chomsky and Said as I could stomach, and I have never read two people more ignorant of economics. The fact that you think they actually know something about economics is very sad.

          • RogerMcKinney

            BTW, I have no idea what you mean by anti-capitalist because there are so many definitions of capitalism floating around, most fabrications by socialists. You’ll have to define capitalism for me.

  • Rokhmon

    That you self-styled conservatives think it is a matter of “messaging” is one of your problems. Your so-called principles and your positions on matters of public policy are why more and more people reject you. Like Hilary Clinton, I was a Goldwater girl. You latter-day “conservatives” bring shame to his name.

  • If you want to see something interesting, watch the documentary “Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media.” He’s made a career out of seeing all of the conspiracies no one else could see — everywhere. Chomsky, IMO, should have stuck to linguistics.

    • RogerMcKinney

      I think Chomsky is from another planet. What he writes has no relationship to planet earth.

      I was reading an interview by a Marxist “economist” who was promoting the Mondrigan corporate co-op as an alternative to “capitalism” and Chomsky tore him apart for claiming the co-op represented socialism. I have to agree with Chomsky on that one. Co-ops are pure capitalism.

      • Curt Day

        I will look into the Mondrigan corporate co-op. But co-ops do represent socialism when the workers are in control and the co-op is run democratically rather than by management.

        • RogerMcKinney

          I co-ops like Mondrigan represent socialism, then they are a form of socialism no capitalist would complain about. Co-ops are a centuries old form of business organization under capitalism. I worked for 15 years for electric co-ops and always considered them capitalist.

          To be honest, you can’t say that the founders of socialism, Saint-Simon and Marx, weren’t socialist. That’s just silly. They defined socialism. Neither can you say Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot weren’t socialists. They were in the vanguard of socialism in their day and intended to implement Marxism as well as possible.

          What you need to say to be honest is that those earlier versions of socialism failed and you are trying to redefine socialism in a way that might have a chance of succeeding.

          The continual failure of earlier versions of socialism contrast with the history of capitalism. Wherever capitalism as defined by capitalists has been tried it has resulted in enormous success. Countries don’t even have to implement full-blown capitalism to reap enormous harvests from slightly freer markets, as China and India have demonstrated. Those countries are still mostly socialist but much richer because of slightly freer markets.

          And because capitalism is always successful in lifting people out of poverty, the definition of capitalism hasn’t changed since the Dutch created it in the 16th century: it is free markets under the rule of law.

          • Curt Day

            First, Chomsky’s complaints about Mondrigan were significant. First, even though Mondrigan is employee-owned, it is run by managers rather than democratically by the workers.

            Second, its investments include significant exploitation of others.

            Finally, who is saying that Marx wasn’t a founder of socialism. That is nonsense. But it is just as nonsensical to say that socialists must regard Marx as the Church is to regard Christ. One can be a socialist and still have significant disagreements with Marx. THat is the point you fail to grasp. And wherever Capitalism has flourished, it is because it had a significant dependence on exploitation. And you should also note that neoliberal capitalism believe that free markets are free from the rule of law. That is not true with every form of capitalism despite its dependence on exploitation. But it is true of today’s neoliberal capitalism.

          • RogerMcKinney

            Of course Chomsky had significant complaints about Mondrigan. It’s not socialist.

            Mondrigan “exploits” others only in the twisted world of socialism. In the real world it makes others the “exploited” wealthier. You should be honest and advertise to others that socialists have their own private dictionary where they define words in a way to ensure that they win all arguments. No one who understands economics would even remotely consider as exploitation what socialists call exploitation.

            And I never wrote that socialists have to regard Marx as Christians do Christ. You’re being dishonest against by twisting my words.

            Socialists cannot remain socialists if they convert to being honest.

          • Curt Day

            The dictionary of which socialists are you talking about? And tell me, which people whom we have identified as exploited are wealthier? I have had this discussion with others and it seems their message is that regardless of how you treat people, if you pay them more than what they were being paid, they are wealthier and thus not exploited. You know that that logic just doesn’t work.

            If you want to talk about honesty, you should have started by saying you didn’t know what neoliberalism was rather than try to attribute it to some kind of socialism. And there are other things you should have been honest about.

            BTW, you did imply that SOcialists have a similar regard for Marx that Christians have for Christ when you compared Socialists disagreeing with Marx is like Christians disagreeing with Christ. I am not twisting your words. If you misspoke, then say that your compariason was wrong.

            I have already asked when has capitalism, regardless of which form, flourished without it depending on exploitation. You had no real reply. Why? There is no such time. You know it.

            I am tired of answering posts that show no interest in a serious give-take discussion. I will reply again when you quit playing games.

          • RogerMcKinney

            You never tire of twisting my words to serve you purpose do you? I never said I didn’t know the meaning of neoliberal. I asked what you meant by it because you have your own private dictionary that the rest of us don’t have access to.

            I wrote that capitalism does not exploit because no one but socialists agree with the socialist definition of exploitation.

            And I never wrote that socialists have to regard Marx as Christians do Christ. What I intended, and any honest person would have understood, is that Marx was the founder of modern socialism as Christ was the founder of Christianity. You can’t tell the inventor that he made a mistake in his invention. As I wrote later, honest people would say that Marx’s invention didn’t work, but not that he was wrong.

            If I agreed with the socialist definitions of words like, exploitation, capitalism, and others, then I would have no choice but to be a socialist. But they are dishonest definitions.

            BTW, you won’t quit replying to my posts because you must have the last word even if it is nothing but a lame insult.

          • Curt Day

            You are simply trying to do damage control after writing what you have written. And quite simply, I am tired of your games.

          • Curt Day

            When you are through substituting all of the personal remarks for logic and facts, let me know.

    • Curt Day

      Actually, Chomsky makes guarded statements on the existence of conspiracies. According to him, conspiracies have existed but not problems are due to conspiracies. And he has denounced proposed conspiracies such as those coming from the 9-11 truth movement.

      In short, you and others would like to discredit him so that nobody pays attention to what he says. That is an authoritarian move whether it is done by a conservative, liberal, or leftist. But what is sad is the failure of some from each group to engage in discrediting rather than legitimate debate.