The Republican Party owns America's values. To be honest, they have earned them.

The progressive movement in this country has ceded the terms of the political debate, and until they can claim ownership of American values, the Democratic Party will at best be only a facilitator of repudiations of conservative political ideas.

Regardless of intellectual merit, the contemporary incarnation of American liberalism does not have the capacity to capture America. Quite simply, the Democratic Party has no emotional staying power.

How has this happened?

Confidence wins in America, and conservatives in this country are winning. Conservatives are not unlike the boisterous members of our English or history courses who believe what they are saying is unquestionably valuable—students that feel this way simply because they are the ones who are speaking.

And they damn well should feel that way.

Though commitment to unshakeable values has not been the author of effective policy, it has been at the core of political success in America. Passion before substance is what motivates Americans; this passion is fueled by the reliable and enduring human ego.

With great success, the Republican Party has bear-hugged this American narrative. In the face of adversity, there is no hesitation or looking back. As far as the Republican base is concerned, Republican ideas are always right and always American.

Midway through George W. Bush's second term, his presidency was on the slide toward historically low poll numbers. Yet in the debate over counterinsurgency surge policy into Iraq, Republicans were nearly unanimous in their support. They demonstrated a commitment to and confidence in a policy, making it appealing even before a discussion of intellectual merit could be had. In the face of criticism and an unpopular president, Republicans did not balk. They did not shiver, shrink or direct fire toward members in their ranks. They were as bold as ever. They talked louder and louder about how their policy was patriotic and steeped in American values.

Meanwhile, the Democratic base is easily infected with self-doubt. As a result, it is easily distracted and its message is weakened.

Liberals have waged two health care debates in the last two decades, both of which have created tremendous discord within the Democratic Party. In the face of criticism, liberals analyze; they reflect. They question their leaders and their policy details, exposing themselves to easy body shots.

Faced with the opportunity to commit to their version of American values (fairness, equality, a governmental obligation to provide access to the American dream), progressives have time and again rehearsed policy facts and searched out their own failings to the benefit of the opposition.

I believe this happens because much of the liberal base is made up of educated intellectuals, citizens with faith in the power of models and facts. These Americans have an unfortunate concept of political perfection: liberals attempt to articulate the merits of their policy so effectively that every American has no choice but to agree.

In the face of criticism, this unrealistic expectation causes many progressive intellectuals to analyze the missteps taken in the presentation of the policy. Republicans, meanwhile, yammer on and on about their absolute moral goodness and patriotism in the face of criticism. Lo and behold, conservatives seem ideologically consistent while liberals seem frazzled and disingenuous.

The health care debate serves as a prime example. Republican opposition to the health care bill was nearly unanimous. They kept values at the forefront: big government bad, individual empowerment good. No matter the problems with their math or honesty, the conservative message did not waver.

In contrast, respected liberal voices in Congress and the media turned introspective at the first sign of trouble. They began insecurely searching for flaws in the way that President Obama presented the bill to the American people. There was sniping, inconsistency, and very little focus on the ways in which the bill was directly derived from a progressive conception of American values. No matter how many times Democrats repeated that the bill would reduce the deficit over 10 years, they could not shake the claim that the health care bill was an unwarranted increase in the size of government.

They wanted to rely on their facts to win the game since they had no confidence in their values. As a result, they were unable to persuade Americans on an emotional level.

The bill ultimately passed, but no one can make the argument that core progressive values captured the hearts and minds of the American people. There was just barely enough anger felt towards the previous administration to ensure passage. Conservatives still retain possession of American morals.

To improve our political debate and its outcomes, the progressive movement needs to find the courage to challenge the conservative hold on "American values." Liberals need to display the confidence in their own moorings that gives Republican leaders incredible emotional vigor and appeal. So far, the emotionally-inspired have moved America. Yet, without a check to Republican dominance of our values, America is only left with right-wing extremism followed by murky recoils to Democratic rule.

We have two ideological poles in this country: each should bring a megaphone to the debate.

Judah Isseroff is a member of the Class of 2013.