Three Principles For Dealing With A New Administration

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Nov 26, 2008 at 12:00


I am going to take a much-needed break for this holiday weekend: no posting from now until either Sunday night or Monday morning. With the election season and the early Iowa caucuses last year, there has not been a real break since last Thanksgiving. I won't even bring my computer to New York City, where I will be spending the next few days with my family.

Before I go, here are three basic principles for dealing with the new administration:

  1. Can't stop pushing from the left: I recently heard an interesting anecdote about the 1993 budget fight. While it is probably the most progressive piece of sizable legislation to pass into law in two decades, it was a grueling fight--passing both branches of Congress by a single vote--and it still could have been better. At the signing ceremony, President Clinton found then Representative Bernie Sanders, and told Sanders that he, Sanders, should have made a much bigger public display of how he, Clinton, wasn't giving enough to liberals in the new budget. Such a public display would have provided Clinton more room to maneuver on the left.

    The moral of the story is that if no one is criticizing a Democratic administration from the left, then there is no rationale or political space for that Democratic administration to operate on the left. Such criticism is thus even useful to, and desired by, a Democratic administration. If the left stays quiet, it will not be relevant.

  2. Open lines of communication: Now, even with the first point in mind, criticism must take place with open lines of communication. There need to be regular access points for the progressive left within the administration. Possibilities include press credentials, blogger conference call gaggles, White House staff that both understand and have roots in the online progressive community, and legislation needs to be posted online. Preferably, all of this will happen to varying degrees. If we can't talk to each other, than we are going to stop understanding each other, and then each side is just going to think the other groups are a bunch of idiots.

  3. Carrots and Sticks: Discussion of the new administration can never be one-sided. Positive developments, of which there will be many, need to be focused on in addition to the criticisms. While I don't anticipate this being a big problem for me, as I was sometimes happy with the Clinton administration eight years ago, it will still be important to remember. This is a tremendous opportunity to make real accomplishments, and I would like to work to pass some legislation that I find personally important. However, in order for the praise and the criticism to remain valuable, it can never be all praise nor all criticism. If it were one-sided, it just wouldn't work.

Now, I am off for a 100-hour vacation. Please enjoy your holiday.

Chris Bowers :: Three Principles For Dealing With A New Administration

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360,000 Seconds (0.00 / 0)
It sounds like a much more impressive vacation that way.

Just add another two trey of zeroes, and it would entering government bailout territory.

"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


Great suggestions (4.00 / 4)
And remember FDR's advice: I agree with you now make me do it!

Obama understands the logic of excluded middle. so he does not think in either/or. And we need to adopt that frame.

The right has been violating excluded middle for 8 years and more and the dems don't seem aware of it. We need to make them aware of it.

I have noticed that the talking heads are being forced to ask questions in a different format rather than either/or. Rachel of course knows all this and she is going to run away with it all if they are not modeling after her framing.


point 1 (4.00 / 6)
I think your first point is the key one here. By agitating from the left the center magically moves. Part of the reason that the radical right movement has been successful in redrawing the political landscape is because they don't formally acknowledge the compromise. The end result will almost always be a "compromise" so there needs to be agitation on the far left to draw that compromise where it needs to be. If we are bartering and I "know" that the fair price is $50, I can't open there because you'll say $100 and we'll end up higher than we "should". I have to open lower just so it works out.

Being reality-based too often we liberals look at the entire playing field and figure out where the balance point is and aim there while the non-reality based radical right shoots off the deep end making the compromise further right than the "natural" middle.

I think there's an Erik Hoffer or Hegel thesis in there somewhere. I just wonder what the consequences of acknowledged and planned extremism is.


Pushing the center to the left (4.00 / 1)
The Bill Clinton-Bernie Sanders anecdote is really interesting, and I think you're absolutely right that the more noise is made from the left, the more Obama's policies will appear centrist.

Being reality-based, though, should look beyond the playing field as laid out by the corporate media.  Even if we're in a situation, as over the past eight years, where what we want as progressives is logistically impossible to achieve, we need to step back and look at policies using our own honest logic.  The mainstream press will present Obama's policies as "extreme left" because it's gotten used to George Bush.  In reality, Bush's policies are extremely right-wing, and Obama is a centrist.  As progressives, then, we need to make enough noise so that mainstream journalists' political compass starts approaching reality.


[ Parent ]
A Natural Division of Labor (0.00 / 0)
I think these points are articulated well by Ruy Teixeira's article, hotlinked by Hopeful in NJ

http://www.thedemocraticstrate...

Two key quotes - from Zinn and Vanden Heuvel

.What the civil rights movement has revealed is that it is necessary for people concerned with liberty, even if they live in an approximately democratic state, to create a political power which resides outside the regular political establishment. While outside, removed from the enticements of office and close to those sources of human distress which created it, this power can use a thousand different devices to persuade and pressure the official structure into recognizing its needs.

A thousand different devices. I think the "netroots" is a perfect vehicle for this.

We need to be able to play inside and outside politics at the same time. I think this will be challenging for those of us schooled in the habits of pure opposition and protest. We need to make an effort to engage the new Administration and Congress constructively, even as we push without apology for solutions at a scale necessary.

Unless there is a significant move to "Primary Obama in '12", it is in many ways "our people" in power. Yeah, there are very few "movement progressives" in the administration, but in Teixiera's "division of labor", we're there on the outside, pulling the country to the left, so the "left of center" solutions of tomorrow are the "left wing" solutions of today.


Moving the Goalposts is a Collaborative Process (4.00 / 1)
I'm pretty sure Norquest et al had the same kind of process discovering how to work it from the right.

The main difference is that while the GOP has always been respectful to the point of deference to its right flank, the vestigial remains of the Boomer-era culture wars cause many People In Power to reflexively throw DFHs under the bus, and this has implications beyond rhetoric. MoveOn gets a Censure but Holy Joe rolls through unscathed.

Hopefully that will begin to change.

Me | My Work | Future Majority


Excellent, Chris. (0.00 / 0)
At the signing ceremony, President Clinton found then Representative Bernie Sanders, and told Sanders that he, Sanders, should have made a much bigger public display of how he, Clinton, wasn't giving enough to liberals in the new budget. Such a public display would have provided Clinton more room to maneuver on the left.

The moral of the story is that if no one is criticizing a Democratic administration from the left, then there is no rationale or political space for that Democratic administration to operate on the left. Such criticism is thus even useful to, and desired by, a Democratic administration. If the left stays quiet, it will not be relevant.



I think this is sound. (4.00 / 1)
Have a nice vacation, you've earned it.

I'm anti-whining ("Obama's ALREADY abandoning his progressive base") but pro-pushing ("Obama needs to listen to Labor and Environmentalists, not just Wall Street").

He hasn't betrayed us yet, but the pressure needs to be put.  

Loved the Sanders story, which was new to me.

sTiVo's rule: Just because YOU "wouldn't put it past 'em" doesn't prove that THEY did it.


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