Regaining focus: Growing a progressive majority-Part 2

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sun Apr 11, 2010 at 18:30


The Political Foundations of A Liberal/Reform Coalition

In Part 1, I introduced Chris's idea of A Liberal/Reform Coalition, which he introduced in his post-2004 election diary, "Eureka! Or How To Break the Republican Majority Coalition".  In that diary, Chris identified a non-ideological reform-oriented segment of the population, which has shown up in third-party presidential campaigns since the Populist era, which he talked about thus:

This segment of the electorate can be swung toward the liberal camp, thus breaking the Republican majority coalition, if the pragmatic, non-dogmatic, reformer, anti-status quo, entrepreneurial aspects of liberalism are foregrounded and turned into a national narrative and platform. Pulling this off will also require dismantling the Great Backlash narrative of oppressive liberal elites, and replacing it with a narrative about conservatism being a force that relies on pure theory, faith-based worldviews, and that supports status-quo institutions such as corporations and the media.

In this diary, I want explore what it would take to actually do that, focusing on a few key foundational thrusts.  

Millennial Foundations

To begin with, I want to argue that the Democrats have already started down the path Chris suggests, albeit not fully consciously.  The Dean campaign was the start of this, and Dean's implementation of the 50-state strategy--which Chris also talked about in a couple of related posts at the time--continued the process.  What's key to this was/is creating a vibrant grass-roots political culture in which ideas and initiative can come from below--and, indeed, are encouraged to do so.  And the evidence of the success of this can be seen in a recent Pew report, "A Pro-Government, Socially Liberal Generation: Democrats' Edge Among Millennials Slips".  This report shows both the enormous potential support among Millenials, as well how Obama's status quo presidency has undercut this support.  It's my contention that the significant difference between Millenials and earlier generations you'll see in the chart below is due in large part to their shared perception of the liberal/reform coalition as logical political development--as already demonstrated by the Dean campaign and the 50-state strategy.

Perhaps the most striking evidence of this can be seen by comparing the ideological self-identification of Millennials to other generations:

The difference here is simply astonishing.  Even the electorate the gave LBJ a 60-40 landslide victory over Barry Goldwater was significantly more likely to identify itself as "conservative" rather than "liberal" by a margin somewhere between 3-2 and 2-1, a range that the conservative/liberal ratio has stayed within ever since then.  Of course, this has been counterbalanced by the fact that a large number of self-identified conservatives actually support liberal policies, particularly on core New Deal social spending issues. But the more that politics revolves around identity, the more this ideological ratio has favored conservatives.  With Millennials, this is no longer so.  The identification ratio hovers around 1-1 instead.

Paul Rosenberg :: Regaining focus: Growing a progressive majority-Part 2
It's relatively well-known that this difference is reflected in more liberal social attitudes among Millennials:

But Millennials are also significantly more pro-government, as well:

And they are more confident of government efficacy, too:

But Obama has significantly disappointed them:

If Democrats want to regain their advantage among Millennials, and do so in a way that consolidates similar broad support among older voters as well, I would suggest three basic orientational thrusts need to be pursued.

Return To Deaniac Roots Foundations

The first order of business is the return to what worked to build support in the first place.  Obama came along and gave lip service to the bottom-up self-empowerment model that Howard Dean quite literally stumbled into, and had the good sense to fully embrace and then expand upon.  But the gap between Obama's words and his deeds--similar to that between Candidate Obama and President Obama--is becoming an ever-increasing source of political debilitation.

Obama's FISA flip-flop, exacerbated by his glib lying about it to online activists was the first high-profile illustration of this gap.  After his inaguration, we had the spectacle of him ignoring the two most prominent issues supported by his online supporters--accountability for the Bush Administration war crimes, and legalization of marijuana.

Obama treated the latter like it was a joke.  In fact, he's treated the entire notion of participatory democracy as a joke. You can participate by following orders--with your own "personalized touch", of course.  But the democracy part is strictly for the grownups.  The "grownups" being the folks who brought you this ungodly mess in the first place.

No more.

If Obama is irredeemably on the other side on this, so be it.  We need to be perfectly clear what we are for, regardless of him.  This is about movement-building, coalition-building, party-building, and, ultimately, nation-building and world-building.  If Obama is not up to the task, we need to be on our own.

This will entail all sorts of strategic and tactical decisions--such as shifting donations away from the Democratic Party and it's in-house funding organs, and toward independent institutions--giving directly to candidates, building our own infrastructure, etc.  Doing all these things will be vital.  But remembering why we are doing them will be even more vital.  We are doing them to lay claim to our democracy, our future, our world.

Part of what this will mean in terms of a governing vision is that we transform structures, processes and technological relationships to empower ordinary citizens, both individually and in groups--self-organized as well as collaboratively organized by citizens and the government together.  My diary "Can Smartphone Apps Save The World?" offers a glimpse into the technology side of what this would mean.

We can use technology to empower citizenship just as businesses promise to empower consumers.  In fact, we can do profoundly more. because we have potential powers as citizens that go far beyond any powers we have as consumers.  The means are there.  The potential is there.  We must supply the vision, the leadership and the political will.

Risk, Security & Opportunity

During the campaign, I wrote a couple of diaries showing that I was not just being negative in criticizing Obama, but instead offering positive suggestions for proposals I thought could fit well with his professed orientation.  I believe they remain excellent suggestions that can help flesh out what a liberal/reform coalition should be all about.  One was about Dignitarianism (more on that below).  The other was "The Great Risk Shift-A Substantive Fight That Obama COULD Make His Own"

As I explained:

The issue is laid out in a recent book by Jacob S. Hacker, a Yale University political scientist, The Great Risk Shift: The Assault on American Jobs, Families, Health Care, and Retirement--And How You Can Fight Back.  In it, Hacker argues that the greatest economic challenge facing Americans today is not economic inequality--though he doesn't seek to downplay that--but rather the shifting burden of economic risk.  And that what's most needed in the 21st Century is a new orientation to bringing risk back under reasonable control.

It's not simply a matter of protecting folks at the bottom, Hacker argues-effective dealing with risk is vital for creating an environment in which people feel secure enough to take on the sort of voluntary risk that helps drive the economy forward-what's often called "entrepreneurial risk," but that includes a wide range of choices to invest resources of time, money and effort in future possibilities that by their very nature cannot be certain.  These include investments in eduction, training, changing careers, starting a new business, etc.  In short, Hacker argues, a security orientation is not the polar opposite to an opportunity orientation-it is a vital aspect of an opportunity orientation.  And it's this latter argument that gives Hacker's point about countering the Great Risk Shift a potential bipartisan cross-over appeal that fits perfectly with Obama's articulated intentions.

The synergistic relationship between security and autonomy/freedom is directly at odds with the conservative narrative, and provides a powerful, commonsense foundation for a new progressive era.  But as sweeping and visionary as it is, Hacker's argument is really only part of a larger vision.

I wrote that diary in late January 2008.  Obviously there was far more risk out there than either Hacker or I discussed, but if Obama had embraced Hacker's Risk Shift thesis as a central part of his campaign, he would have perfectly situated when the financial meltdown hit.  He would not simply have been the beneficiary of McCain's panicked breakdown.  He would have been talking about the issue of responsibly dealing with risk--just as he had been for months--a perspective on the meltdown that would have been as powerful from a policy standpoint as it would have been from a political one.

Of course one cannot go back in time.  But one can look back to see how wise it would have been to take this path early on.  And that in turn can serve to indicate how wise it would be to find a way to get on that path as soon as possible.

Furthermore, a rational and responsible approach to risk is also a powerful framework for dealing with challenges of both terrorism and global warming.  From a risk perspective, it doesn't even matter if global warming is certain (even though scientists know it is).  Risk is a product of two factors: potential loss and probability.  If the potential loss is large enough, even a small probability creates substantial risk.  Thus, if one starts from a risk perspective, the tried-and-true strategy of denialists--to confuse the public over the science--no longer has any significant clout.  The risk perspective provides an end run around the status-quo special interest obstructionists and their allies.

The risk perspective is also useful in addressing how to deal with terrorism.  Historically, military responses to terrorism have been enormously costly, and they have tended to greatly increase the intensity of terrorism itself.  Police responses are far more effective from a risk perspective--particularly when combined with political responses that address underlying issues that terrorists seek to exploit.

Dignitarianism

Above I noted that I wrote a couple of diaries showing that I was not just being negative in criticizing Obama, but instead offering positive suggestions for proposals I thought could fit well with his professed orientation.  The second of those, dealing with Dignitarianism was "Rankism--An Issue Custom-Made For Obama"

In it, by way of introducing the concept, I wrote:

The fight against rankism is the brainchild of one man, Robert W. Fuller, who has written two books on the subject, Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank, and All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity, and who has a website, Breaking Ranks, which explains, quite simply:

The purpose of this web site is to discuss the social cost of rankism and to develop a grassroots capacity to defend and protect dignity in everyday life. We hope you will join us in planning and building a world without rankism!

On the website, Fuller explains:

Rankism: A Social Disorder
An undiagnosed disorder is at large in the world. It afflicts individuals, groups, and nations. It distorts our personal relationships, erodes our will to learn, taxes our economic productivity, stokes ethnic hatred, and incites nations to war. It is the cause of dysfunctionality, and sometimes even violence, in families, schools, and the workplace.

Over the course of history, the most common abuses of power have acquired special names:
   * tyranny
   * slavery
   * racism
   * sexism
   * lynching
   * rape
   * child abuse
   * domestic violence
   * sexual harrassment
   * corporate corruption
   * clergy misconduct
   * homophobia

Each of these practices is an abuse of the weak by the strong. Each of these familiar named offenses is an instance of bullying, of pulling rank. By analogy with abuses based on race and gender, abuse based on rank is given the name rankism.

1. n. abuse, discrimination, or exploitation based on rank
2. n. abusive, discriminatory, or exploitative behavior towards people who have less power because of their lower rank in a particular hierarchy

Once you have a name for it, you see rankism at the heart of many infringements of human rights, far away or close to home. Rankism is the root cause of indignity, injustice, and unfairness. Choosing the term rankism, places the goal of universal human dignity in the context of contemporary movements for civil rights. Reexamining racism, sexism, and ageism as examples of rankism breathes new life into the movements opposing them. Identifying rankism in all its guises and overcoming it is democracy's next step.

In that diary, I went on to argue that dignity is a core progressive value, and that it provides a an invaluable framework for political advancement. Although I was not specifically addressing Chris's thesis of a liberal/reform coalition, I believe it is quite clear that dignitarianism fits quite well into Chris's notion of the inherent consistency between liberalism and reformism, expressed in his Eureka! diary, where he wrote:

While it [the reformist constituency] is currently non-ideological, this segment of the population, which has existed in large numbers since at least the 1880's, has an outlook on politics that is far more closely allied with liberalism than conservatism because of its emphasis on reform. It is, to put it one way, latently liberal. This segment of the electorate can be swung toward the liberal camp, thus breaking the Republican majority coalition, if the pragmatic, non-dogmatic, reformer, anti-status quo, entrepreneurial aspects of liberalism are foregrounded and turned into a national narrative and platform.

First, here's the beginning of the section on Dignity as a value:

Dignity As A Core Progressive Value

Taking on rankism is a natural expression of liberalism's core values, since liberalism has always been associated with the quest for equality, as opposed to conservatism's association with hierarchy.  This is why liberals have routinely been on the side of tearing down barriers based on race, gender and class, while conservatives have fought to keep those barriers in place.

But taking on rankism goes beyond any particular such struggle, and it goes beyond simply being a laundry list of all of them.  Rather, it creates a larger framework that can help transform all of these specific struggles.  For one thing, by naming a common problem, and a common solution that addresses all abuses of rank, it transcends the tendency to fall back into simplistic identity groups.  Fighting rankism does not mean tearing down all hierarchies.  Some hierarchies have very necessary functions, others do not.  But it does mean developing values, awareness, structures and practices to combat the abuse of power that hierarchies create.

The reformist agenda has repeatedly focused on attacking hierarchies of power which are best described as insider/outsider, special interest/general citizenry, and technocrat/citizen.  Liberals have had overlap with reformists on many of these, but all of them all of the time.  The dignitarian framework provides a unifying approach for liberals and reformers to see their struggles as fundamentally alike.  It also provides for a degree of principled subtlety that has often been lacking, particularly when reformers have have lapsed into anti-intellectualism.  By focusing on abuse of hierarchy, rather than hierarchy per se, dignitarianism provides a rationale for action that embraces intellectual and technological sophistication in service to the common good, as opposed to serving the interests of established wealth and power.

I quote the next relevant section in its entirety:

Dignity As Framework--A Strategic Advance

The last 40 years have been dominated by the politics of backlash and resentment-primarily backlash against blacks and women-and it has been particularly effective in speaking to those who suffer from other forms of rankism-particularly those based on class, region and educational opportunity.  The basis for this politics of resentment is an indentity-based us-them logic: "They're getting something that we're not!"  Never mind that what they're getting is a chance to be included in us.  It's much easier to point out the specific efforts needed for inclusion, and portray them as "special rights" (a term that's far and away most prominent in homophobic politics, but is present in racist and sexist politics as well).

Expanding the framework to include all forms of rank-based abuse creates the opportunity to disable the backlash once and for all.  We are no longer talking about injustices specific to one group, and therefore requiring different attitudes depending on whether one is or is not a member of that group.  We are talking about a common perspective that can be shared by all, which has different specific applications.  This is a shift that has an obvious relationship to the rhetoric of Obama's presidential campaign, but it is much more than rhetoric alone.  It represents a perspective that can lead to the articulation of basic values, principles, and standards that can be applied across a wide range of specific issues and policies.  It creates cognitive space for all of us to experience being on the same side.

This also fits in well with Chris's vision.  The quote from his "Eureka!" diary above continues as follows:

Pulling this off will also require dismantling the Great Backlash narrative of oppressive liberal elites, and replacing it with a narrative about conservatism being a force that relies on pure theory, faith-based worldviews, and that supports status-quo institutions such as corporations and the media.

Conclusion

This is only a rather hurried, rough draft description of the possible outlines of principled, strategic way forward, not just for the immediate future, but for an entire 40-year cycle of American history.  Regardless of whatever shortcomings it may have, I believe that it is fundamentally the kind of strategic thinking that we desperately need to move forward.  Not the only kind, by any means.  To the contrary, we need all different sorts of strategic thinking.  But this addresses the broad contours of political strategy on a principled basis, a nexus that is absolutely necessary in order that all our separate victories on battles large or small can lead us forward coherently toward the blessed global community we already share in our inmost hearts, and struggle to make real.


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Boomers and Millenials (0.00 / 0)
Being a boomer, I remember my generation being pretty liberal back in the late sixties/ early seventies. My point being that as folks get older their political views change (for better or for worse). Better get those mellenials while they're hot!

We've already been won over (4.00 / 1)
The question facing Millennials is whether we'll be convinced to continue our social reconstruction project through the political and governmental system, as we would much prefer, or whether we'll feel the need to build it outside of the government because the government has been hopelessly broken by those who absolutely refuse to accept the need to change the status quo.

My guess is that any move away from politics would be temporary, at least until the Silent Generation is gone and enough of the Boomers are off the stage. I've always believed that the 2010s will be characterized by "hanging on" and that the real changes won't come until the '20s, when Millennials will be in enough positions of power and influence to start overriding Boomer/Silent refusal to abandon the 20th century.


[ Parent ]
Yipes! (0.00 / 0)
That pretty much dooms us on the global warming front, Robert.  I really don't think we can wait that long.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
"Silent Generation"? (0.00 / 0)
No surprise, perhaps, never heard the terms before.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."


[ Parent ]
Money will do that to you (0.00 / 0)
I know plenty of boomers who were McGovern supporters who are teabaggers now.

The difference between then and now is the amount of money they have.  


[ Parent ]
That's sad (0.00 / 0)
That's sad.  I'm a boomer without much money, and I remain a "McGovern supporter" - so in my case, I can't disprove your hypothesis.  

[ Parent ]
And, being a hippy was fun when it was easy (0.00 / 0)
but, alternative lifestyles are hard work for little pay, so most boomers couldn't be bothered once they sobered up and came down.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."


[ Parent ]
Notice The Peaks And Valleys Of that Chart? (4.00 / 2)
"When Something Is Run By Government It Is Usually Inefficient and Wasteful"? Notice that when conservatives hold power the right backs off that theme (in general) but the instant that when there's a threat that Democrats will take office they crank up the propaganda?

Thus, the "gummint is the enemy" crap reaches a peak in 1992, just before the election of Clinton, who spends the next 8 years battling this theme (not terribly successfully if you look at the slightly declining graph (showing a slow increase in trust in government).

Then Bush comes in and DISTRUST of government peaks in 2007-08, right when Democrats had taken over Congress!

The right cranks up the "government is the enemy" propaganda organs and goes to work, but Democratic governance creates a slow increase in the number of people who say "hey! They can do some things right!"

The problem is that centrists like Obama NEVER DIRECTLY CHALLENGE THIS PATTERN! They never take to the air with a "government is good!" campaign. They tacitly accept the "government is bad and wasteful" line and try to say "Yes! BUT MY PROGRAM is as efficient as possible!"

That's like admitting to a distrustful father of a teen-age girl before her first date that "yes, teenage boys are all potential rapists! But, I'm not so bad!" That's not going to be a convincing argument!


[ Parent ]
Not so tacit (4.00 / 3)
Rather than attacking the very large waste in private insurance. Obama did the Republican thing and slimed Medicare "fraud and waste."  Was he sold by decades of propaganda or cowed by corporate power, real or perceived.

We see the same frames being pushed very hard when it comes to schools and to "entitlements."

A direct challenge to this self-serving self-enriching baloney has been long since called for.


[ Parent ]
um Obama was attacking Medicare Part D (0.00 / 0)
when he did that.  

[ Parent ]
This is an excellent start Paul (4.00 / 2)
This is the type of simple to understand and yet powerfully far reaching narrative that progressives need to develop across our multiple issue fronts. The part that I find most interesting is on the risk, security, and opportunity. Business propaganda is so powerful in this country: tax cuts create jobs, businesses are too regulated, etc etc. We really need to make a proactive case for liberal economic governance that weaves throughout all of our fights. HCR gave us a good amount of rhetoric about saving people from bankrupcties, but that is still buying into the us-them dichotomy that the right can easily demagogue, that its only 'losers' (to quote Santelli) who can't make payments or don't have health care. Single payer health care is such a powerful idea because it puts everyone in the program, but also can allow our other industries to compete better globally, best example being the auto industry, by allowing business to focus on business and not health care. Of course the Dem's went another route then single payer, which is unfortunate given the realignment of massive proportion that could have happened had the Dems campaigned for single payer from the start. You made a similiar point on financial reform and the possibilities had Obama been talking about risk prior to Sept 2008.

As a millenial, I was initially enthralled with Obama, and became politically active around the same time he was starting his campaign. The chart showing millenial disillusionment with Obama mirrors the patterns I've been seeing among my friends and other students at the college I attend. What I suspect it might be missing is just how dissatisfied so many I know are with the mainstream political parties. That 10 point bump for Republican/Lean Republican to me seems to be almost entirely Lean, not reaffiliation. Many young people who are political active but don't consider themselves liberal have been tuning into Ron Paul and the libertarians. The energy I see for liberalism/progressivism so far is pretty well channeled into support for Obama, as opposed to the Greens or some other figure, reflecting Chris's argument last week that Obama has simply won the argument (whether through soft or hard persuasion) among the liberal base.

I am worried though that if Obama continues on the path he is on with a number of issues, he will discredit progressivism among millenials and prevent this type of unified narrative from gaining credence, especially given the forces of the status quo in both major parties that would capitalize I have already gone on for too long, but my question in short is: how do we build a political movement for dignity and justice that can resist cooption and stands on its own feet? How do we translate this narrative into political reality?


The answer is there (4.00 / 2)
Millennials need to get more experienced at building our own political power. Disillusionment with Obama might be the best possible thing, since it forces us to realize we're the only ones who can bring the change we all agree is necessary.

[ Parent ]
Good point. (0.00 / 0)
Obama has turned out to be a neoliberal DLC corporatist in progressive (fake) "clothing" (during the campaign), sadly.  

[ Parent ]
Also Stirling Newberry wrote a similar piece (0.00 / 0)
in 2009 entitled "Three Polar Politics in Post-Petroleum America" that argues for what he calls a Progressive-Confederate alliance that involves progressive institution building in preparation for a time when progressives can become the dominant coalition partner. His construction of Confederates and your idea of reformers I believe are similar people. http://www.correntewire.com/th...  


[ Parent ]
Robert's Short Answer Is The Key (4.00 / 1)
An important adjunct is to focus on identifying local struggles with wider interconnections where you can win concrete victories, and thus validate what you're doing.

One example might be local global warming regulations & mitigation planning.  Imagine if every municipality and county in the country had to go through a process of analyzing how it would be impacted by global warming, and what it would have to do to respond.  This could have a very profound bottom-up impact on the national and international politics of global warming.  

I wrote about a prototype example of this in my diary "A Three-Pronged Strategy On Global Warming" last summer:

My third line of strategy was suggested by the words and work of Bob Doppelt, director of the Climate Leadership Initiative at University of Oregon.  Doppelt is a social scientist working on climate change.  He caught my attention with a couple of comments in the discussion of a post at the RealClimate blog, "A warning from Copenhagen".
In his first comment,  Bob wrote:
Bottom line: we must rapidly mitigate emissions but the world must now equally prioritize rapidly preparing for the consequences of rising temperatures. The term adaptation should thus be used much judiciously than in the past. Its not likely that most societies can adapt to 2 C in one century or less, unless you call constant crisis management adaptation. We can, however, prepare for the consequences much like we now prepare for natural disasters. My experience in the U.S. is that by focusing on preparation people become more interested in mitigation-which is quite the opposite of what was first thought. {Emphasis added]

In his second comment, he wrote:
We have long know that information alone-no matter how credible- is not sufficient to motivate fundamental change. In fact, too much information without the other keys to successful change (which I think can be summarized as sufficient tension, efficacy and benefits) often triggers the reverse-people deny, ignore, or rationalize away a problem. If we are to make significant progress in addressing climate change we need to make a major investment in cognitive, behavioral, economic and other factors that motivate change. This does not mean that the biophysical sciences are less important-of course they remain essential. However, I think today that the emphasis is out of balance given the challenges we face. {Emphasis added]

I followed up and did a brief phone interview with him for the piece I wrote, and I looked  some of his work documented on his website, particularly the report, "Preparing for Climate Change in the Rogue River Basin" (pdf). The end result of all this is that I came away with the impression that if we could engage local officials in processes similar to the Rogue River Basin study all across the nation, we could make huge progress in changing how people think about the problem, and create the foundations for a bottom-up strategy within the structures of government, as well as making the realities of climate change very concrete for people in terms of what it will mean for their immediate communities and way of life.

As progressives, we all know that we have not paid enough attention to politics at the state and local level.  This is a clear example of how we can bring about significant global change by focusing more attention at the local level.  I believe that it can play an absolutely crucial role in changing the political climate around climate change, and I think that Doppelt is absolutely right about the importance in changing how people think in order to solve this problem.



"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
"local struggles with wider interconnections where you can win concrete victories" (4.00 / 3)
Okay, I like this solution. Sounds somewhat like Alinksy's model of organizing, in fact. Mountaintop removal is another issue that has wider connections as well, and is a great topic for talking about the social connections between distant communities. The hard work of local organizing coupled with educating and changing people's perceptions.

Still, I am somewhat pessimistic in the short run. The betrayals of Obama, the inanity of our political discourse and media, the power of the forces arrayed against us - perhaps it is my age, growing up under Bush, but I just cannot seem to envision an effective accountability mechanism without national political change to institutions such as the Senate, the Constitution, the judiciary, to name a few. Past progressive movements have fought for and won changes that have solidified their victories - Constitutional amendments giving women the right to vote, Brown versus Board of Education, right to form a union. Filibuster reform is a parallel, but I'm thinking something bigger, something that can truly break the hold that the economic elite have on our politics and alter the direction of history. I think Obama's promise to confront this culture, to change how Washington does business, was his most effective campaign promise, coupled with his relative outsider status that gave that promise some credibility, unlike his major opponents. People are hungry for a voice. I think we need to find ways to feed that energy and then institutionalize it. Perhaps I am thinking in the wrong direction from the one you intended with this Paul but the simple elegance of your diary coupled with the messy reality that we find ourselves in leaves me worried.  


[ Parent ]
I'm Not An Either/Or Kind Of Guy (4.00 / 1)
I'm not saying to abandon the struggle for truly momentous change.

What I am saying is that given the breadth of Obama's betrayal, and the influence he still holds, it's important to cultivate the experience of winning tangible victories on our own--especially for those new to politics in danger of giving up completely.  This is part of what can keep people motivated for the much bigger, rather thankless task of wrestling with the giants.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Agreed (4.00 / 2)
I didn't mean to imply a dichotomy. Winning tangibly is key - perhaps this was the cause of the health care poll numbers ticking up after it became law. Showing people, not just telling them, that victory is possible is priceless. Theres a need, though, for a type of galvanizing moment that points in the direction we need to go, with courage and clarity. The Communist Manifesto, or Rick Santelli on CNBC. Something that applies both to the local and national. This is what drives some towards third parties, I think, the desire to begin anew that is of course so American. I think a book would be a good place to start, as mitchipd mentions downthread. Van Jones is a good example, with his book The Green Collar Economy (even a good bit of framing in the title alone).

Obama did an excellent job of building a political institution (OFA) while capturing others. Simon Johnson and others talk about the ideological capture of Washington by Wall Street. What we need is a compelling force, a la gravity, that pulls the momentum of political weight towards us without being coopted, that increases our bargaining power relative to the right AND blue dogs/DLC Dems.  To quote two of Versailles' favorite "journalists", what we seem to need is a game change.


[ Parent ]
Indeed (4.00 / 2)
We need a different game.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Excellent Start (0.00 / 0)
I agree that Obama has disappointed the current group of Millenials who were originally the vanguard of the campaign. If you assume that 2010 will be a difficult year, the most pressing concern is defending incumbents who would fit within this cause. I know Grayson was mentioned in the comments to Part 1 as an example, but would you be willing to name other names?

I Really Can't Answer Now (0.00 / 0)
I haven't looked closely enough.  But one reason is that this far out, I think it's just too hard to tell.  However, Swing State Project has a long history of being a good place to keep your eye on in this regard.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
gawd....you're such an idealist. (0.00 / 0)
One would think that the disappearance of racial differentiation is only a matter of time & evolution. But in reading your essay...I'm optimistic as hell for the near term!

Politics has to be simpler to be effective. Elitist think tank intellectualization has merely yielded topics for targeted Republican sloganering & talking points of the day that gin up idiots and militias, the malign discontents and the mentally ill. Republicans would just as soon see the Council on Foreign Relations blown up by some asshole as an object lesson for Progressives in their new principled argumentation for 2010.

I'd think we should give them and John Boehner a more diffuse target, something harder to hit and wipe out. We need another Obama waiting on the sidelines.

Grayson may be the one. He doesn't scare easily, either. He's a walking-talking think tank on his own dime, too. I'd rather see him as vice presidential backup than Joe BFD Biden! Somehow, I'd almost expect BFD from Grayson if he said it out loud! Not so from the white-haired Biden.

They only call it class war when we fight back.


Great stuff!! (4.00 / 3)
Paul...I'd encourage you to turn this line of analysis into a book (maybe with Chris as co-author/contributor), while at the same time continuing to encourage readers to turn it into a movement.  I think you really have tied together the key foundational elements for a "principled strategic way forward...for an entire 40-year cycle of American history."

Your discussion of Risk, Security & Opportunity and Rankism/Dignitarianism strike me as embodying a healthy balance and synthesis of the progressive underlying principles reflected in both capitalistic and socialistic thought and systems, while abandoning the dysfunctional and destructive elements to which both have been prone--and providing a framework and language around which such a progressive synthesis can evolve.  

And, as you describe with your stats and graphs, this kind of worldview seems to come fairly naturally (and thankfully!) to Millennials.

Your first post was also very helpful to me, since I was intrigued by Markos' (and others') earlier commentary on potential links between liberals and libertarians.  As you very clearly explained, recent events have highlighted the problems/limitations with this perspective, while also clarifying the more substantial opportunity associated with Chris' case for a liberal-reformer coalition.

My brain is too tired from a weekend of tedious work to say more, but I'd strongly encourage you to keep working on this, both as a theory and in terms of a basis for organizing.  I could feel my own mental tuning fork starting to resonate with what you were saying, and I suspect there may be many others--including many who don't read OpenLeft--who might have a similar reaction.  

And, since I don't yet see Obama as a lost cause, I'd suggest you consider ways to get the arguments contained in these two posts in front of anyone close to his inner circles who might be receptive to it.  I'm at least hoping that such persons exist, though I really don't know.  

In fact, I'd suggest an OL project in which community members help you figure out how to do that and, if needed, to help you edit and expand on your posts to maximize their ability to penetrate the hearts and minds of those with access to bigger megaphones and budgets, as well as the millions of citizens wanting to help create a better world.  Though my time and abilities are limited in that regard, it would be a pleasure to contribute them in some way toward such an effort.


Thanks (4.00 / 1)
I have been struggling with myself over ideas about writing a book for some time, and writing this 2-part series seemed to signal a breakthrough to me.  So hearing someone else affirm that unasked is something I take seriously, along with the other suggestions you make.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
I second this motion (4.00 / 3)
I agree, this is a really nice pulling together of the tenets of principled progressivism and how we might build a strategic alliance with reformers.

I wish you had provided a succinct summary at beginning or end of this diary. Let me see if I can summarize your thesis correctly:

1. Create a vibrant grass-roots political culture in which ideas and initiative can come from below and from all over the country: the 50-State strategy,  empowering people to work for change, and working for a true participatory democracy.

2. Argue for creating a safe economic and social environment in which people feel secure enough to take on the sort of voluntary risk that helps drive the economy forward. Not only should we argue for economic opportunity for everyone (and the removal of barriers like racist discrimination), we also should argue for lessening the risk of catastrophe (health/accident, losing job, etc.) which makes virtually everyone in society -- even those near the top -- uneasy.

3. Argue that everyone should be treated with dignity (which is a way of arguing against racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, etc.) but still allows us to fight against corporations and oppression and focuses on the abuse rather than the identity.

I think implied here, but not stated explicitly is:

4. Argue for reform of our government so that it serves all people and is not beholden to special, powerful interests like corporations, rich people, the military-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex, etc. Reformers are primarily upset that the government seems out of control and focused on helping the powerful against the rest of us instead of the other way around.

Are these the main points you are making?


[ Parent ]
Very Good (0.00 / 0)
You're right, a summary would have been helpful, and this is a good one.

Thanks!

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Possible follow-up steps to consider (0.00 / 0)
After reading the Sterling Newberry piece cited in this thread and rereading your two posts, a few additional thoughts come to mind.

First of all, as I said above, I think you've laid out a strategy foundation worthy of further collaborative and focused development.  This suggests to me that the discussion and evolution of your two posts merits an electronic space more permanent and expansive than these two OL blog threads.

Among the topics/areas that strike me as worthy of ongoing development as part of a strategic whole are:

1.  Further analysis of statistics/trends regarding citizen segments (and segmentation approaches), building on your analysis of generational differences; the liberal/reform alliance dynamics; your and others' analysis/stats on the size and sub-sectors of the libertarian segment, as it relates to these others, and to the different sectors of the conservative movement; Sterling's "three polar" analysis and his related estimate of segment percentages; Lessig's suggestion, as noted below, of cross-segment common cause/action among "angry voters;" as well as your earlier writings on cognitive levels/styles, among other things.  This analysis should be closely tied to the themes raised in your posts and the evolution of messaging and change strategies tied to them.

2.  Further development of the key value themes you discuss, specifically "Risk, Security & Opportunity and Rankism/Dignity.  I haven't read Hacker's book, but my sense from your post is that this element of political value definition/messaging has great potential, but may need more work in terms of how best to present it.

3.  Development of specific message formats in addition to and complimentary to your blog posts and the discussion threads they generate.  As I suggested earlier, I think a book is one option (ambitious as it is) that should be considered.  Part of this process should be collaborative development of content outlines, and clarification of targets, goals and purposes for specific message formats, etc.

4.  Development of specific content targeted at Obama and his inner and outer circles, making the strategic case you and Chris make, and pointing out Obama's mistakes and shortcomings.  I'd suggest that this focus on decisions and issues that are most directly relevant to the "building a liberal/reform coalition" strategy (and the value themes you discuss), and that the critiques be presented in ways that try to strike the balance between being sufficiently clear and specific, while also avoiding language and speculation as to motives that's likely to trigger unhelpful defensiveness on the part of Obama supporters.  My guess is that Mike Lux's influence could help strike that balance in helpful ways.

5.  Discussion of practical strategies and tactics to move this agenda forward in the context of other activities that OL members are involved with and aware of.  This should include discussion of the kind of structural, technological and financial factors you briefly discussed in your posts, as well as in "Can Smartphone Apps Save the World" and other diaries.

6.  A focused discussion of the role and views of Millennials, which would presumably be led by members of that generation, while also giving us older folks a chance to better understand and support this future generation of leaders (and maybe also feel a bit younger than our chronological age would suggest).

This is all a bit vague and off the top of my head, but hopefully some of it points in useful directions.


[ Parent ]
I'll Get Back To You, I Promise (0.00 / 0)
Unfortunately, a combination of deadlines for Random Lengths and TERRBILE internet connection problems prevent me from responding right away to this.  But I will chew on it & get back to you, hopefully by day's end.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
thanks for the response Paul (0.00 / 0)
but no hurry as far as I personally am concerned.  Like you, I'm swamped with work and deadlines and may fade in and out as I deal with them. You obviously have strong motivation and lots to offer and I'm just trying to offer some encouragement and ideas that might help focus you and us as a group (defined as broadly as we can achieve) in productive ways.  I confess to having far more ideas for action than I can even think seriously about executing, so I don't expect anyone else to do so much of the work to make them reality.  

That being said, if any of my suggestions trigger thoughts, plans, discussions that lead to action, I'd be happy to see it and would try to find ways to contribute.


[ Parent ]
A Contagious Condition (0.00 / 0)
I confess to having far more ideas for action than I can even think seriously about executing,

Though I must confess, I've been infected from birth.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Excellent stuff Paul (0.00 / 0)
Perhaps it's not a coincidence that I read your post right after I watched Larry Lessig argue for a cross-partisan movement for reform (fast forward to the 31 minute mark below), and for calling a constitutional convention to get citizen funded elections amended into the constitution (around the 42 minute mark). Is reform a pipe dream? I thought so, even during the '08 campaign, but Lessig suggests angry voters organize to withhold donations from congressional candidates/incumbents unless they support the citizen funding system. What if a bunch of Obama voters, and a bunch of less batshit crazy tea partiers formed a legitimate movement - say, Unity '12 (fo' realz version)? That combined with a popular movement for organizing a convention, Lessig argues, would provide the pressure on Congress to pass the bill. Just crazy enough to work, eh?




"I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that."
-Lawrence Summers


links for those interested (0.00 / 0)
Fix congress First advocacy website for the fair elections act.

How to sober up washington Op-ed by Lessig and Mark McKinnon containing some of the take-home points of the above talk.

callaconvention.org A project of Change Congress, encouraging participation to push for a convention, and not just for the citizen funded elections.

"I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that."
-Lawrence Summers


[ Parent ]
Well, It Could Happen (0.00 / 0)
But I don't really see much capacity for or interest in cooperation from the Teabaggers.

More important is simply that Lessig is out there pushing the need for radical reform.  It takes a multitude of different avenues of attack, and for that I am thankful.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Put a link in part I to part II, please. n.t (0.00 / 0)


Done. (4.00 / 1)
Your wish is my command.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Thanks, :D (0.00 / 0)
I've tweeted it and dropped links to it, which is why I wanted it connected.  

[ Parent ]
What is your vision of "participatory democracy"? (4.00 / 2)
Paul- I really liked this passage:

Obama treated...the entire notion of participatory democracy as a joke. You can participate by following orders--with your own "personalized touch", of course.  But the democracy part is strictly for the grownups.  The "grownups" being the folks who brought you this ungodly mess in the first place....

Part of what this will mean in terms of a governing vision is that we transform structures, processes and technological relationships to empower ordinary citizens, both individually and in groups--self-organized as well as collaboratively organized by citizens and the government together.

Can you elaborate on your vision of what a more participatory/democratic/bottom-up progressive movement or coalition would look like?  I've been trying to make the case that we need to build democratic, decentralized infrastructure at the local level to empower individual members of the progressive community.  

The idea is similar to that of the labor movement model, and involves a network of broad-based local chapters (which would include unions, MoveOn councils, Democratic clubs, community and faith-based groups, and members of a broad range of other groups).  These local chapters or councils or alliances would undergo a democratic decision-making process to set their own goals, priorities, strategies and tactics, and there would be a clear democratic structure for aggregating the local groups' voices at the national level.

Can you (or others) weigh in on this idea or discuss your own vision for engaging and empowering regular folks who feel disconnected from the top-down online organizing models currently being used by large progressive organizations?  


Good Question! (0.00 / 0)
I have lots of ideas, but organizing them coherently to answer you--with a really erratic internet connection on top of everything else--is a bit more than I'm ready for right now.

One thing I can say for certain, though, is that I'm sure my own ideas are partial at best.  So it's probably a good idea for me to sketch some of them out & do a diary next weekend aimed at promoting some branstorming on the subject.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Ron Paul's surprising comment (0.00 / 0)
Ron Paul is the closest Republican I can see progressives forming some sort of semi-alliance with.  As a progressive, I already agree with his desire to audit (and eliminate) The Fed.

Here is a --surprising to me-- excerpt from his speech in New Orleans at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference last weekend:

The question has been raised whether or not our President is a socialist. And I'm sure there are some people here believe it and I know this conference has talked about that already and I think that very important, he deserves a lot of criticism. But you know, in the technical sense, in the economic definition of a socialist, no, he's not a socialist. What he is is a corporatist and unfortunately, we have corporatists in the Republican party and that means you take care of corporations and corporations take over and run the country. We see that in the financial institution, we see it in the military-industrial complex, and now we see it in the medical-industrial complex who runs medicine.

The problem is that he wants to get rid of Social Security and Medicare and have "private Medical savings accounts.

Still, it's heartening to hear someone other than a progressive point out that big corporations run Obama and our government.

Oh, and the thing about ranking is - ranking in hierarchies (holarchies is a better term) (see the emerging field of "Integral Studies") isn't bad, if it is based on objective DEVELOPMENT (and the awareness that every human person is intrinsically equal and also capable of the same potential development), not oppressive categories based on prejudice (inborn traits) and serving exploitative power.


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