Target fixation, the negative campaign and what to do about it
It is becoming painfully obvious that the Republicans are doing everything in their power to offend Democrats once in power. Oh, wait. Did I say Democrats? I meant progressives. You see, the corporate Democrats are playing right along. They are focusing our attention on all the really bad stuff that Republicans are doing when they could be highlighting the benefits of a progressive policy agenda.  

But the true progressives, the Sanders supporters, would do well to follow Bernie Sanders campaign philosophy: Instead of focusing on all the bad stuff that your opponent has been up to, stick to your positive message of hope and deliverance. We know that this works because Sanders has run a positive campaign for at least 15 elections and has won all those elections as a result of that positive message. Bernie Sanders understands the the trap of focusing on the negative attributes of his opponent: Target fixation.  

Who doesn't know the joy of watching a cat race after the elusive spot of a laser pointer on the carpet and the wall? I've used a laser pointer to entertain a cat here and there just to watch him dart all over the room for laughs. I've also see videos of cats chasing laser pointers only to collide with furniture. That's target fixation.   

Here is a more familiar example. Picture a man riding a bicycle on a busy street. While he's riding, he sees an attractive woman on the sidewalk and instead of going straight as before, his hands start to guide the bike toward the woman. That is also target fixation.  

Republicans are using this concept to great advantage. They are doing everything that progressives find offensive. Travel bans, tax cuts for the wealthy, protecting the universally hated ISPs, promoting men accused of sexual harassment for public office, threatening war with North Korea, and on and on. But it seems apparent that Republicans thrive on negative attention.  

Anyone out there seen the movie, "Get Me Roger Stone"? I have. Stone is the king of the negative campaign. He thrives on hate and negative publicity, and he has prospered handsomely from it. Even casual observers of Trump's campaign will note for the record just how negative Trump was and he still prevailed.  

Republicans in Congress are keenly aware of this. Over at Vox, they're running this article, <a href="">The GOP is trying to pass a super-unpopular agenda — and that's a bad sign for democracy</a> by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson. The key point they make is this:  

Republicans have celebrated and promoted a vicious circle in which economic inequality grows, empowering the wealthy, who are then rewarded with policies that further concentrate income and wealth. While Democrats are often torn between their business-oriented contributors and their less affluent voters, the GOP shows no such ambivalence. Indeed, a surprising number have suggested that donors are driving the GOP tax train. As Rep. Chris Collins of New York put it, “My donors are basically saying ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’”  

Republicans are even admitting to their loyalty to the top 1% (when they don't even have to) and are engaged in class warfare like we've never seen. And unless progressives change their tactics, the scorched earth policies of Republicans will prevail. Republicans insist that their tax cuts will work and they are going implement their plans despite wide and deep unpopularity. Republicans insist that their tax cuts will pay for themselves despite decades of empirical evidence to the contrary.   

Take note that their donors say, "Get it done or don't ever call again." They are admitting as to who calls the shots for them and it ain't the rest of us. Republicans are *counting* on us to notice all the negative stuff going on and to talk about it. They are counting on target fixation to help them ease implementation of their plans.  

Corporate Democrats are no better. They are following lockstep, by repeating the negative news blitz and amplifying it. They don't want to lose the money primary.  

Fear not, for as long as there is hope, there is still a chance to prevail. In the recent elections, we've seen some wins on the part of progressive Democrats. It is a cause for hope, but not for confidence. Following elections from this November, [USA Today has taken note]( of local elections in which openly transgender candidates won with progressive and positive messages. There is more evidence that positive messaging works, and it works because it takes the focus off of conservatives. It works because it does not require us to "make them change". It works because we become the change and we invite the voter to participate in that change for the better.  

In social media, I see both sides focused on Trump and a Republican agenda in Congress. Conservatives gloat about what awful punishment Trump must be for liberals. Liberals agree by complaining about the current administration and Congress. Both sides seem focused on the same thing, and both sides are negative. Conservatives seem bent on revenge against liberals, some calling for hanging, beating or humiliation of liberals. Liberals seem bent on impeachment of Trump (I'd like to see that, but I'm not set on it, and I'd like both of them impeached as I find Pence even more unpalatable than Trump).  

Yet, in all of this discussion there is very little discussion of the progressive liberal alternative to the conservative agenda. It's easy to talk about how awful Trump is. It's easy to thump on the Republican Congress and their insistence that tax cuts will create demand, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. It's easy to say that the tax cuts so proposed will never pay for themselves. Yet, there is very little discussion of the progressive liberal alternative to the deeply conservative Republican agenda.  

This is the same course that Hillary Clinton followed. Her campaign, as I recall it, was all negative on Trump and nothing to show for her agenda, her priorities. Even if she did talk up her priorities, who believed her after calling the TPP "the gold standard" in trade agreements? Clinton went on to lose the election because she spent most of her time hammering Trump with a negative message when Trump is a man who thrives on negative press and received enormous assistance from men like Roger Stone.  

This is the danger we must acknowledge. If progressives truly want change, they must refrain from criticism of the president and the conservative cabal in Congress. They must re-frame the debate and focus attention on what progressives would do once in office to take back the seats now controlled by extreme right-wing conservatives. Democrats must frame and follow through on a truly progressive agenda. No longer can they confuse the voters by playing Republican-lite. No longer can they afford to treat money as their master just as their Republican opponents do.  

It is the right-wing (Democrat and Republican alike) that lacks compassion for the poor, the unskilled and the great unwashed. It is the right-wing that tells us over and over that people are poor due to lack of motivation rather than skill, while cutting public education at every opportunity. Their idea of a jobs program is a tax cut for the ultra-wealthy, even though history has shown us repeatedly that the source of economic demand is the millions of people who spend their money, not the tiny 0.02% of Americans that hoard it.  

For progressives, this is our moment. With a truly progressive agenda, we can distinguish left from right in a party that for too long, has catered to business interests at the expense of the employees who work for those businesses. We can remind voters that it makes no sense to give CEOs a raise, in the form of a tax cut, for increased productivity due to automation and not give employees a raise, too. For who will buy the products created by robots if consumers have no money?  

Progressives would also do well to remind the voters that when a politician shows a continuing pattern of voting in favor of business interests while taking big money from wealthy business organizations and individuals, that's disenfranchisement of the ordinary citizen. Progressives can remind us all again that the Constitution says "one person, one vote", and that the Congress should be dependent upon the people alone, neither the richer nor the poorer. 

The brain doesn't understand words like "no" and "don't". So don't think about cutting a lemon in half, squeezing the juice into a glass, sipping the juice and swirling the lemon juice in your mouth. Did you salivate? If so, then your brain skipped the word "don't" and did everything else. That is how our brains work.  

So instead of criticizing a conservative, give applause to a progressive who is doing it right. Show us how progressives are winning with a positive message, with policy agendas that raise wages and living standards for the little guy, and focus our attention there, where it counts. Let the conservatives stew in the echo chamber with a lack of attention, for they thrive on attention, even negative attention. Instead, focus attention on the success stories of progressive policies already at work.  

We live in an attention economy with television, radio, and social media. Use the economic power of your attention wisely and focus it on the success of progressive policies rather than the negative attributes of your opponents. Keep your eyes on the prize.