Emergence Politics and Rush Limbaugh

by: Matt Stoller

Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 15:51

Like many of us, I'm intrigued by the notion of political influence, how systemic changes get made through the political system.  As one example of how this question is debated, right-wing blogger Patrick Ruffini is making the argument that the traffic of Dailykos is overstated, with the implication that the liberal blogs aren't as important as they are treated. As for the specifics, traffic patterns across the blogosphere are in flux, with growth concentrated in new emergent systems like Facebook.  The question of influence, though, is not tied to traffic, and so Ruffini's attack will fail, as plenty of other attacks on liberal bloggers have failed before. 

But the question of influence versus reach works both ways.  Take the latest episode of Rush Limbaugh and the flame war with VoteVets over the 'phony soldier' flap.  The RNC sent out an email to its list on Rush Limbaugh, as did the DNC.  The DNC had something on the order of twenty times the response rate, and yet, the email from Republican Eric Cantor did something that VoteVets, Moveon, and nearly every Democrat did not.  It made a policy ask.  Cantor asked RNC recipients to sign a petition to kill any attempt to resurrect the fairness doctrine regulating talk radio.  Only Wes Clark on our side made an ask related to the controversy which would change the nature of the system itself: remove Rush Limbaugh from Armed Forces radio.  Cantor's request was echoed by every Republican echo chamber, so that a minimally resonant minority view was translated into policy momentum for something promoting right-wing values.

So while traffic patterns are important in understanding leverage, they are not dominant.  In fact, one of the characteristics of modern global politics is how organized minority factions are able to overwhelm majority views (something Steve Clemons noted in a session I attended a few days ago).  From the settlers in Israel to hardliners in America or Iran to Al Qaeda in Iraq, minority factions are able to overcome views, sometimes even powerfully held views by a majority.  The problem is fractal.  Bush/Cheney controls American foreign policy and pushes for a war with Iran, McConnell controls the Republicans in Congress and pushes against SCHIP, Blue Dogs control the Democrats in Congress, Mark Penn steers the Clinton campaign, and right-wing business elites control the US Chamber of Commerce or the AMA.  In every case, the leader of the group represents the minority view of the constituent group.  Hardliners control small institutions that control larger institutions that control most relevant national instruments of power.

Breaking through this pattern is vitally necessary to build a progressive economy.  It's not just that America is run by lunatics, it's that changing Congress did not alter our governing coalition because of this odd characteristic of modern political architecture.  Our efforts weren't in vain, but there's no doubt that our strategic understanding of the political system as a two party fight with power passing back and forth between then is inadequate.

Here's how I'm beginning to think through a new framework for political strategy, based on Eric Beinhocker's The Origin of Wealth.  Politics is a nonlinear dynamic system, not a traditional closed system.  Nonlinearity means that change doesn't happen in a steady fashion, but comes in violent clumps.  Much of our political leadership doesn't think this way.  Steny Hoyer thinks that Democrats will be in control of the House, and then that Republicans will be in control of the House, that there is a balanced oscillation.  Choice, labor rights, environment - these are the 'issues' upon which one must take the correct 'positions' according to polling data.  And yet, the assumptions here is that the electorate doesn't change its mind very quickly, that new problems won't arise, that pollsters tell the truth, and that priorities or intensity of feelings don't change.  We'll push back and forth over certain bills, and compromise will be the result.  The political system's contours are considered static, and linear.

This is true throughout the activist single issue world as well.  NARAL based its strategy on the idea that electing pro-choice Democratic women in swing districts would gradually lead to an increase in abortion rights, just as labor orients its strategies around the Employee Free Choice Act.  This is a closed strategy model. 

And yet, this model doesn't work.  How does NARAL deal with terrorism?  It doesn't, because terrorism is 'not their issue'.  And yet, 9/11 unleashed a dramatic change in our constitutional fabric, one that cannot be explained by a two party model of politics and one that has significantly changed the Supreme Court in a way that will negatively impact abortion rights for generations.  The disjarring nonlinear change unleashed by 9/11, the dynamic shifts in popular opinion, were just not captured by the Democratic party establishment or its substantial infrastructure.  By contrast, terrorism allowed the conservative movement to push through everything from increased executive power to tax cuts to rollbacks in consumer and worker safety, most of which were tangential to terrorism.  Indeed, the war in Iraq was completely tangential to terrorism.  I believe this lack or surfeit of adaptive capacity explains both the rise of the networked or 'open left' and the success of the right-wing in its dominance of the American political scene. 

Conservatives see politics as a nonlinear dynamic system, not as a two party system.  They take advantage of crisis moments, as Naomi Klein points out in the Shock Doctrine, or even foment them, to create positive feedback loops for conservative ideas.  Media consolidation under such institutions as GE and the gutting of antitrust create a dishonest media system that allows the country to go to war.  War allows companies like GE to make money from selling weapons.  Tax breaks for churches that become an arm of the GOP, creating corruption in government as a way to attack the concept of government, etc.  These are all positive feedback loops for conservatives.  The evisceration of the Fairness Doctrine in the 1980s by conservative Republicans allowed the rise of Rush Limbaugh, who then promoted more conservative Republican policies such as further media consolidation to spread Rush to more channels across the board, along with increased capital to fund more right-wing talk radio.  Defending Rush is about defending this positive conservative feedback loop, just as attacking the structure of media would change the feedback loop to a more progressive direction.  Less Rush means less conservative media ownership structures which means increasingly less Rush.

Because of these feedback loops and the nonlinear nature of change, complex adaptive systems are very hard to understand and are full of uncertainty.  In such systems, there is a strong sensitivity to initial conditions, and accepting that means accepting our lack of explicit control over political change.  Were Al Gore in the White House on 9/11, the world would look very different; the attack on America could have come a year earlier, but it didn't, which is a random and seemingly small shift in time lapses with large consequences over which we had no control.  And path dependency, or history, matters.  The argument Eric Cantor used about the Fairness Doctrine builds upon an argument that has already been made for forty years, but if Iraq had not happened, it's likely that he would be able to make a much more credible claim about an attack on Rush being an attack by the 'liberal' media.

All of this is a way to say that our movement, which really is an emergent phenomenon, should begin to prepare for small shifts that produce outsized effects with discrete asks to change the contours of the system.  The Rush Limbaugh controversy was used by the right to further drive a stake into the heart of the Fairness Doctrine.  And yet, there is a fight at the FCC later this year on media consolidation, on who owns the media.  Commissioner Adelstein wants a 'independent, bipartisan panel, representing broadcasters, female and minority owners, investors, advertisers, and the public to investigate ways to have a more diverse ownership of the airwaves.  This is the change in the system we want.  Rush Limbaugh can be taken down, but we must take advantage of nonlinear events such as the Imus controversy, any number of Limbaugh scandals, the Fox News controversy, the Wall Street Journal takeover by Murdoch, or the Judy Miller scandal to push for this change.  Why aren't antiwar vets given a chance to respond to Rush?  The answer is that the FCC allows Clear Channel to make money through regulatory decisions denying it to them.  That's the leverage point.

There's a generic issue here, which is that we must tie our policy asks to the media moments.  Hurting Limbaugh was a media fight, but the Steny Hoyer's delay of the FISA expansion was an internal Congressional and activist fight.  The point is that there are leverage points everywhere in our political system, once you stop seeing the fight as a fight between two teams and begin to consider politics as a dynamic system with regular nonlinear events that can be used for the institutionalization of our values.

Anyway, I don't have an answer as to why right-wing minorities are controlling larger entities right now, but I think that their capacity to work within an adaptive framework and push for their values consistently, to see the totality of the system instead of barriers they must not cross, is a key part of it.

Matt Stoller :: Emergence Politics and Rush Limbaugh

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Good analysis (0.00 / 0)
I'd say they are more ruthless, more focused on the big picture, which for them is getting and holding power (and money) to rework the system to enable them to get and hold more power (and money) to enable them etc., and more disciplined.  On the Dem side too few understand the dynamic, and there is too much ego, not enough discipline.  But since it is really the Dems who stand for freedom (most of the time), it is not sourprising they do worse on discipline.  But ego is something that could be self-controlled.

The media moment part sounds like an elaboration of the Daou triangle, and is soemthing we don't pay nearly enough attention to.

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

Different angle on the same analysis... (4.00 / 1)
One way to look at it is that Democrats today are believers in the system that Democrats and a big chunk of the Republicans at the time put together in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.  The entire post-New Deal, Eisenhower era concept of government is one that the Dems and GOP then accepted.  (This is borrowing heavily from Perlstein's Unmaking of the American Consensus, of course.)  This conservative movement didn't accept it, they slowly purged the GOP of the oldline types that did, and now the GOP is 95% composed of people who literally want to destroy the concept of government that was developed back then.  The important contrast is that Dems don't.  So they play within the rules of that system, they don't exploit its weaknesses, they don't act in ways that might undermine it, and they generally keep their behavior constrained within a lot of the common understandings that used to constrain both sides.  In this way, the Democrats are literally conservative; they like the old order that they created enough to conserve, protect, and retain it.  They care about its health.  They act carefully within it, so as not to damage it.  Democrats would never imagine pulling shit like the nuclear option, because it would damage the institution of the Senate, damage comity, further politicise the judiciary by allowing the appointment of more radical judges who could only muster 50 votes, etc.  The nuclear option is bad for the system of government that Democrats built, so they'd never ever even think of doing it, much less try to execute it as Frist did.  But modern Republicans are concerned with pulling down the old order and erecting their own, so smashing the opposition and smashing the old barriers of systemic restraint are both good for them.

One visual is arm-wrestling.  Dems think that our government is a nice two-party contest within rules and boundaries and common understandings (that used to really exist).  The Democrats engage in a nice arm wrestling match to see who wins various fights of prescribed consequence; meanwhile the Republicans offer one hand for the arm wrestling match, act like they accept its rules and are playing normally, and once the match is at a critical moment, they'll reach out with the other hand and slap the Democrats on the head.  Obviously that's completely unacceptable and unsporting if you believe in the value of an armwrestling match, but the GOP doesn't.  They don't believe in the value of the existing system at all, they strictly believe in victory, which means, as Mimikatz said, money and power.  Nothing more or less.

So Democrats are trying to play within a system that they believe in strongly and that they want to conserve; meanwhile the Republicans are actively trying to tear the Dems and the system down.  It's a very difficult dynamic.  Being the preserver and facing down the destroyer is not easy, because you are constrained in many ways your opponent is not.  Imagine two kids who have erected a huge tinker toy fort around and between them.  The kid who wants to preserve it is in a very difficult position if he's trying to beat and block the kid who wants to tear it down.  It's a hard fight to win.

And Dems liked the system where politics was a (relatively) civilized arm wrestling match, and not a gutter street fight.  They liked the system where Governors weren't sent to jail over nothing like Don Siegelman was, just for partisan advantage.  And if you believe in a more civilized system, and your opponent is interested in a more slimy, vicious, ruthless, violent one, I think public shame may be one of the only ways to stop them.  Exposing their corruption and gutter-behavior is a step in that direction, but one of the only ways to beat someone who is intent on dragging you into the gutter is to muster up your dignity, declaim him loudly and well, and rely on the sneers and contempt of the crowd to force the dumbass back within civilized norms.  When you're committed to taking the high road and your opponent is not, shame and winning the judgment of witnesses is one of the only tools you've got.  Because, no, we're probably not going to take the low road.  We're not going to send people like Sarah Palin and Arlen Specter to jail.  We are fighting for a world that is fair and good, and we can't ever out-gutter people who are only fighting for selfishness.  Our core motivation is that we like the high road, and so we have to find a way to win from there, and shame is one of the only tools we've got.

And the amazing thing of course is that they really do deserve the contempt.  Because they did all this just for money.  They are willing to throw away anything and everything, all civilized norms, any restriction on behavior, just for money.  Because for them, all "winning" means is controlling the Treasury and unloading it into their pockets as fast as possible.  If they really believed in the social conservatism hoohah, which is the only possible motive they could have beyond money, then they wouldn't act as they do.  They'd be Danforth and Ashcroft, each with a line somewhere that their deeply held values prohibit them from crossing.  The utter absence of such lines lately means they really are just in it for money, which is unbelievably sad and pathetic.  What weak souls.

[ Parent ]
A Good Point, But Don't Take It Too Far (0.00 / 0)
Because, no, we're probably not going to take the low road.  We're not going to send people like Sarah Palin and Arlen Specter to jail.  We are fighting for a world that is fair and good, and we can't ever out-gutter people who are only fighting for selfishness.

You can fight very hard without fighting dirty.  It's a characteristic of weaklings and bullies that they never seem to realize this.

We don't need to send Arlen Specter to jail.  George W. Bush will do just fine.

"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 ]
Political martial arts (0.00 / 0)
Yes.  Fighting "dirty" is just one way to fight to win and I don't think its the most effective.  Among other things, there's a significant and growing risk of blowback.  And though the Repubs have learned to handle this well when dealing with DC Dems, who often play the "weakling" to their "bully," the 06 election struck me as a case of blowback due to reality finally beginning to overtake the lies and the legislative and media bullying. 

Fighting to win does take focus, fortitude, skill and intelligence (among other things), but it doesn't have to be dirty. Think of a skilled martial artist.  If a bully doesn't have enough sense not to mess with them, they'll do what's necessary to protect themselves and others. If necessary, that means some serious damage to the bully.

Of course, when we observe today's DC politics, its easy to get confused about all this. There's not much of a model there for what we want to create, but that doesn't mean it can't be created. What it does suggest, is that we'd best not get our focus too stuck on the current DC dynamic.  We need to understand it enough to change it, but we don't want to allow its sorry state to weigh down our thinking and emotions, and our determination to create something else.  Its important that the contagion spread from us into DC, not the other way around. 

My practice is that, if I find myself complaining too often about what's wrong, its time to stop focusing on that "problem," and start thinking about what could be made better--or even just find anything positive to focus on for awhile.  And, as I discuss in a post later in this thread, its good to think in terms of "systems," not just today's issues and today's battle.  I think that adds some resilience and creativity to our fighting skills--and also helps us understand the nature and importance of alliances. 

And if these alliances are based on a mutual sense of respect and dignity, they'll grow stronger, even when strained by circumstances.  I believe that, for a lot of the right-wing infrastructure, the lack of these qualities is a fundamental weakness, one that has already begun to erode the corrupt bonds of their political infrastructure.

[ Parent ]
Great Dems played dirty pool (0.00 / 0)
Is it a coincidence that the Dem prezes in the modern era with the biggest progressive legislation sprees (FDR and LBJ) were both masters of the sleazy trick and abuse of power as means justified by ends?

And the Congress during the period of Dem hegemony in the middle third of the 20th century was hardly run by the Marquess of Queensbury's rules.

I'd say that the current Dem conservatism in Congress was a result of the three decades of coasting (and not rocking the boat) which preceded the GOP takeover in 1995, followed by the decade of waiting patiently for their turn. 

[ Parent ]
Is It A Coincidence That You're Lying Out Your Ass??? (4.00 / 1)
Presidents are, by definition, politicians.  But the notion that FDR and LBJ "were both masters of the sleazy trick and abuse of power" is simply rightwing propaganda.

Ditto the notion that the Democratically-controlled Congress prior to the GOP takeover was anywhere close to level of corruption and abuse of power that the GOP instantly put in place.

"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 / 1)
But one thing that both FDR and LBJ were was....


They'd cut their enemies off at the knees when they had the advantage. Without a second thought.

The Democrats in Congress don't have such advantage, effective majorities...the bully pulpit of the Presidency, as of yet but neither are they working to use what power they do have to confront the Republicans. Confronting the Republicans is one strategy which can work if done properly.

Unfortunately, Democratic 'leadership' doesn't understand this. The recent clips I posted here:


....show how woefully inept they really are. 'Rabbit' Rahm does not seem to be able to even articulate his 'strategy' and Miss Nancy seems to think it an affront that a great majority of the voters disagree with her on vital issues.

I'd hoped Webb would add some decisiveness and real leadership but he seems unwilling to rock the 'Democrat' Party boat.

Funny, since the damn boat is sinking as we watch.

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

[ Parent ]
Oh dear... (0.00 / 0)
You really want to go this way?

What about - just from memory - the systematic use of WPA money to buy votes and get the support of machines; the abuse of the tax enforcement system in the Second Louisiana Purchase and the way that Tom Pendergast was, and Frank Hague was not, prosecuted for tax fraud.

And 'Landslide Lyndon'? His remarkable career in broadcasting with KTBC doesn't strike you as sleazy or an abuse of power? Or his handling of the Tonkin Gulf Incidents?

And Congress was less corrupt when brown envelopes changed hands and MCs could carry on as partners in (and rainmakers for) their old law firms?

[ Parent ]
It's All A Question of Compared To What (0.00 / 0)
Texas was famous for election-stealing.  That's one of the reasons why LBJ wasn't hurt by what he did.  Stealing elections from election thieves is quite a bit different from stealing it from Holocaust survivors and the children of sharecroppers.

As for urban Democratic machine politics, well, I've commented elsewhere that reform Democrats have been fighting them since at least the 1820s, if not earlier.  But they existed in part as a response to the more sophisticated Federalist approach of simply stealing the government directly.

"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 ]
Strongly Agree and Strongly Disagree (0.00 / 0)
LBJ took election stealing in Texas far beyond what had previously been done. See Caro's brilliant LBJ biographies for the definitive treatment of this, along with thorough analyses of additional massive LBJ corruption (radio stations, George/Herman Brown, Wirtz, the Leland Olds nomination, and a million others). It's not an anti-Dem smear to observe that LBJ was likely one of the most corrupt presidents of recent times.

However, I agree that LBJ was distinguished primarily NOT by his corruption but by the effectiveness of his tactics (corrupt and otherwise) and by the often compassionate ends towards which he directed those tactics. Most presidents are corrupt - especially, over the past half-century, the Republican ones.

For 15 years LBJ convinced Russell, Thurmond, and the other backwards southern racists that he hated civil rights as much as they did. Then, in the 1960's, he ended friendships and stabbed them in the back. That is the kind of president LBJ was - that was LBJ at his best and worst, but mostly his best. 


[ Parent ]
Heady (0.00 / 0)
In general I agree. The currently lacking element is any sort of coherent vision that can drive change within this environment. That's a hard thing. We don't really have a strong "city on the hill" type concept to continually drive our values. The movement-to date is almost entirely reactionary.

Absent a proactive rationale to drive our own "push for values," the temptation to more or less drop out and just make your own life/locale as good as you can within the (deteriorating) national/global system is strong. Guilt over the misfortune of the underclasses and/or your own failure to future generations (dude... our grandkids are going to be pissed) isn't enough to consistently motivate people, because it creates an ethic of obligation which is unsustainable.

The answer, if there is one, is the development of a truly progressive ideology or set of values that meshes with a range of lifestyle choices that represent positive feedback loops. They aren't about sacrifice or obligation, but rather empowerment, fraternity and joy, living the best life possible and having an honestly good time of it.

Not easy.

Me | My Work | Future Majority

Hum. (4.00 / 1)
I think anti-consumerism might be a jumping off point.  Declaring "hey look, we value a life well lived.  time with family, time with friends, time spent reading, time spent travelling, time spent cooking, time spent in discovery.  lives spent in pursuit of science and art and creativity.  lives spent nurturing others, or finding one's own way.  lives well lived."  That has extremely broad appeal, including to the Christians and family values types who are also worried about family and community breakdown.  In economic terms it means a decline in production and consumption (which is also needed in environmental terms).  Apparently the problem with letting your national GDP go down, because everyone has turned-on-tuned-in-dropped-out and started living a real life, is mostly control over national economic resources?  Because globalized finance means that if you don't drive your middle class to hyper-produce (and hyper-consume), you won't earn enough money to maintain financial control of your national assets.  So it would probably be necessary to rewrite the rules of global finance, to start.  And secondly, it's probably the case that we need to have a massive economic output if we hope to get people to accept our dollars in exchange for oil; if we were to permit a slowdown in the rate of economic "growth", no one would want to take our dollars cause there'd be nothing with high returns to buy with them.  So an energy solution is needed too (again, for environmental reasons as well). 

But expressly valuing the kinds of things we believe have value in life, as well as expressly valuing the principles of equal opportunity and justice that we also believe in (ie, the ability of all people to participate in that life), could conceivably be the proactive political vision that you're talking about.  I dunno, can you get away with the pursuit of happiness, and of inner wealth, as your platform? 

[ Parent ]
This Is Another Way Of Saying We're In A Hegemonic Culture War (0.00 / 0)
Antonio Gramsci laid out the theory of hegemonic struggle--a struggle between ideological forces across multiple institutions in society--in the early 20th Century.

From Wikipedia:

Hegemony was a concept previously used by Marxists such as Lenin to indicate the political leadership of the working-class in a democratic revolution, but developed by Gramsci into an acute analysis to explain why the 'inevitable' socialist revolution predicted by orthodox Marxism had not occurred by the early 20th century. Capitalism, it seemed, was even more entrenched than ever. Capitalism, Gramsci suggested, maintained control not just through violence and political and economic coercion, but also ideologically, through a hegemonic culture in which the values of the bourgeoisie became the 'common sense' values of all. Thus a consensus culture developed in which people in the working-class identified their own good with the good of the bourgeoisie, and helped to maintain the status quo rather than revolting.

I like to put it like this: "Hegemony is ideology in drag as 'common sense.'"

To continue:

The working class needed to develop a culture of its own, which would overthrow the notion that bourgeois values represented 'natural' or 'normal' values for society, and would attract the oppressed and intellectual classes to the cause of the proletariat. Lenin held that culture was 'ancillary' to political objectives but for Gramsci it was fundamental to the attainment of power that cultural hegemony was first achieved. In Gramsci's view, any class that wishes to dominate in modern conditions has to move beyond its own narrow 'economic-corporate' interests, to exert intellectual and moral leadership, and to make alliances and compromises with a variety of forces. Gramsci calls this union of social forces a 'historic bloc', taking a term from Georges Sorel. This bloc forms the basis of consent to a certain social order, which produces and re-produces the hegemony of the dominant class through a nexus of institutions, social relations and ideas.

Gramsci used the model of war, and talked of hegemonic struggle in terms of two complementary concepts: war of position, which was all about establishing or taking over institutions as power-bases, and war of movement, which was all about using those institutions to win specific battles.

I think that you're absolutely right to see non-linear dynamics as another powerful model for understanding the same phenomena.  And the more models we have, the better, since they serve to highlight different things.

The deep irony, of course, is that there's a two-sided contradiction involved here: conservatives ideologically believe in stable systems while liberals believe in non-linear change, but strategically their roles are reversed.

And it just so happens that I'm working on a 4-part diary series for this weekend on precisely this very 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

Ideological Hooks (0.00 / 0)
It is amazing how right-wing cultural values have ideological hooks deep into the middle and working class.

To take one idea: I'm thinking of how the rugged-individualist theme runs from big-business managers to small-town business, home-contractors, yeoman farmers to pick-up driving hunters. It's a very masculine, Ayn Rand-ian frame. Me against the world. Lonely white guy beset by the "others" who are all stupid and inept people who want to take away my "freedom".

Look how many elements of Conservative politics use and reuse this theme. Estate tax, anti-tax in general, anti public health-insurance, school vouchers, gun ownership. And then consider how many of these issues are based in real anxieties about economic security, health, school opportunities, etc.

Gramsci and Lakoff both are pointing out that you have to disrupt or reimagine a very complex, inter-connected structure.

[ Parent ]
Well, For One Thing, It's Not So Black-And-White (0.00 / 0)
You say, "Ayn Rand-ian frame."  But, really, its foundation isn't ideological at all, which is where a good deal of its power derives.  After all, self-sufficiency is a biological foundation of life. (It goes back to the earliest single-celled creatures and the pre-cellular life before them. There has to be something for all those carnivores to eat, right?  Not to mention the parasites.  Gosh, speaking of the GOP, did I just say, "parasites"?) But, guess what?  We humans are social animals, which means that for us--and it's inextricable bound up in our very nature--social reciprocity is a fundamental fact of our very being.

In short, the problem is not so much the principle that they espouse, it's the fact that they espouse it in isolation--even alienation--from a wider range of truths.

Lakoff, for example, points out that Strict Father and Nurturant Parent models both involve the same elements, but they are structured differently.  Most centrally, both value strength and both value nurturance.  But the Strict Father model values nurturance to develop strength (and, therefore, not very much of it!) while the Nurturant Parent values strength as a necessity for providing nurturance.

Now, how many people who embrace self-reliance as an ideal do it for its own sake--which is what's really at the core of the conservative model--as opposed to embracing it for the sake of their family, their children, or some other higher purpose that counts as nurturative?

The answer to that is, I would think, a really large number of those who would appear to be in the rightwing camp by your initial analysis.

Now, I'm not saying that analysis is wrong.  To the extent that those values can be appealed to without regard to context, they do funciton as potentially potent conservative weapons.  But the disruption you speak of at the end of your comment is a lot more easily pulled off when we realize that it consists in large part of simply speaking to a deeper complexity, a context of values that are already present in those we would reach out and speak to.

"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 submit that there is a lot more... (0.00 / 0)
to the Ann Rand frame than you allude to. Self-reliance is also more a marketing gimmick of the Right than something they really are comfortable with.

I'm sure you are familiar with The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer. His model goes a long way towards explaining why 27% still support Mr. Decider in face of the incontrovertible fact that he has truly screwed up everything he could reach including issues near and dear to the 'conservatives' such as immigration.

Simply put these people have to have someone to follow. In their natural state without preventative treatment they are born followers. This is very hard for progressives to understand since it's an entirely different way of 'thinking'.

The solution is, speculating a bunch here, education. Early identification of these personalities and treatment while they are young would seem to be indicated. The progressives of the 1890s and early 1900s faced something very similar from the 'religious' and the 'working class' and they were not shy about prescribing education. This is where public schools came from and the introduction of 'civics' was no accident.

Neither are the ideas of 'Charter Schools' and 'No Child Left Behind'. Neither is home schooling. The Right understands that education in the hands of the state, a progressive state, means the death of their movement.

Whew! Rambling on here big time! Anyway....good post by Matt and the concept of non-linear effects is why we need to always fight back against the Right as you cannot easily predict what a win will do in a non-linear system.

If only Miss Nance and 'Gutless' Reid understood this we could make real progress in this Congress.

Guess we'll jes hafta learn 'em.

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

[ Parent ]
Yes (4.00 / 2)
Great, thoughtful post. My two cents:

The Right can best capitalize on crises, including ones they create (like war), because their goal is to get people scared and crazed so they will support dictatorial solutions. Our goal is different: to create a democratic system in which people think for themselves and at least somewhat rationally. So usually we cannot take advantage of crises in the same way.

We also do not have nearly the power over our "representatives" as the Right does. Their reps seek money and  power which the power elite can give them (or take away). We want our reps to do what is right, but we don't have the power to force most of them to act right -- we mostly just have the ability to guilt-trip them with moral arguments and occasionally defeat them in a primary. So we can't steer our reps in the same way.

Our advantage is people power -- large numbers of people who will stand in solidarity against dictators and demand a humane system based on cooperation, justice, equity, and the rule of law. And lots of low-level media people, government employees, etc. who can force change from the grassroots up. We can create some crises using nonviolent action. But our power is limited unless we can muster tens of thousands of key people or millions of non-key people. And it is difficult to hold together large coalitions of diverse folks.

Ultimately, it seems to me, we need to develop a deeper and broader understanding of progressive values so that NARAL activists will understand and support progressive labor and environmental stances and foreign pollicy. We need to have more core progressives who immediately understand a new situation and will act well rather than a lot of people who we have to slowly educate over weeks or months on each issue.

Also, as you say, it is critical that we do our best to grab media moments and put forth substantive demands that will alter the tilt of the playing field. We need real legislation, not toothless resolutions. We need gains that will leverage future gains -- non-reformist reforms. This is what happened during the crises of the Depression and WWII and the carefully developed crises of the Civil Rights era.

Thanks for presenting this analysis. Let's all put on our thinking caps and figure out how to do this.

System thinking, core values/issues and new media (0.00 / 0)
Good post Matt, and good comments.  As Mimikatz notes, the Repubs are more ruthless and have a clearer vision than most DC Dems. That shared vision (warped as it may be) seems to align the various egos, whereas DC Dems, lacking it, seem more inclined to splinter based on individual ego drivers.

And, of course, the Repubs have been developing a systemic infrastructure and MO for several decades, and its worked pretty effectively for them, and become pretty well integrated into the MSM infrastructure and messaging system.

I think more focus on leveraging "media moments" can be very helpful, especially when linked to a system-based strategic view of what's happening and where we want to go. 

Reading Matt's post underscored for me that we need systemic change. That's hard to achieve in any case, but probably impossible without thinking and acting with an understanding that we're dealing with complex and dynamic systems, not isolated issues, candidates, political battles, dustups, etc. 

When we can really internalize this kind of perspective, it can automatically link our macro- and micro-level thinking, our values and actions, and our strategies and tactics.  It can also help us recover from seeming defeats, since the real goal is not any particular victory (though we need to fight for them), but changing a system that has many moving, interconnected and leveragable elements.  Every seeming victory and defeat changes the system's equations somewhat but, regardless of whether we win or lose a particular battle, we're always left with a "next set of steps" to focus on.  And if we don't get ourselves too emotionally attached to any particular near-term outcome, we can recover a healthy system perspective more quickly following an apparent defeat.  And sometimes a seeming defeat opens new doors to opportunity we hadn't foreseen.

An important companion to system thinking is to have our eyes, hearts and minds focused on key and interconnected system-changing policy goals.  In my mind, these include political/electoral reform; democracy-enhancing media & Internet policy; renewable, distributed and "commons-respecting" energy, environmental and economic policy; universal healthcare, and perhaps some other high-leverage issues. 

Our core values are another key ingredient, since they drive our thinking and actions and our preferred policy solutions.  Lately I've been jazzed about the "dignity for all" view expressed by Robert Fuller and echoed by others, including OLer Paul Rosenberg.  The opposite of this, as Fuller explains, is "rankism" or "abuse of rank."

While its important to understand and deal with what we don't like and want to change, I think the thing that keeps us on track (regardless of whether we seem to be winning or losing) is a strong vision and felt sense of what we want to create.  I think "dignity for all" gets pretty close to the value-heart of progressive political change.  And, in my view, it is a fundamental underpinning of all the issues I listed above.

As part of our system thinking, we need to keep working toward creating a more integrated (though not top-down-controlled) communication infrastructure that leverages our distributed talent and resources, and the continued development of enabling technologies. Part of this evolution is the intrusion into and/or displacement of MSM media systems. OL and other web sites and communities are already heading down this path, and the evolution, integration and amplification needs to continue and accelerate. 

So here's my suggested recipe (general as it may be):
--Think in terms of complex interactive systems
--Understand and focus on elements in the system and moments in time that offer the highest amount of leverage for pushing changes deeper and more fully into the system
--Develop and integrate a set of core issues that can have broad appeal and practical, high-leverage impacts, and be sure to approach them with system-level thinking
--Individually and collectively understand and communicate a set of core values that tie into our core issues and, in concert with system-thinking, guide our actions.
--Keep pushing forward to evolve and integrate communication systems that can support and reflect all of the above.

The good news, as I see it, is that there seems to be a growing appreciation of all this in the progressive blogosphere and its allies.  Though my intuition is sometimes off by years or even decades, I've been feeling lately that we're heading into a new level of clarity, integration and mobilization, where we'll soon feel the clicking into place of new linkages, insights and clarity about next steps in taking our strategy, toolkit and institution-building to the next level.

Limbaugh puzzle (0.00 / 0)
The point about Clark's demand for Rush to be kicked off AFR is absolutely right: unlike the geyser of lefty indignation (spectacular, soon runs into the ground), the demand was for something specific, easily described, and plausibly proportionate; not only that, it was something that the political system as it is was capable of delivering.

Best of all, it coincided with Senate floor action on the FY08 defense apps bill.

Yet, so far as I can see, no senator submitted an amendment to the bill to that effect. Probably too late by the time Clark suggested the idea - but, then, it wasn't a terribly novel or abstruse idea. (Lefties have been bellyaching about Rush's spot on AFR for years!) Dem senators should have come up with the idea without prompting from Clark.

The DC Dems really are terrible at mounting stunts like the Clark amendment could have been.

Whether they think it beneath their dignity, or lack confidence that they could choreograph it successfully, or fear not being able to handle the GOP response, I don't know.

But, merely for the morale boost given to supporters, it would surely have been worth a try.

My takeaway is that DC GOP folks relish the sleazy, icky, gaudy awfulness of politics, while the DC Dems think it's an unpleasant necessity, to be approached with the enthusiasm of a visit to the dentist - something to be done as infrequently, and got over as quicky, as possible!

(The rest of the piece - is ruminating.)

All three (0.00 / 0)
Whether they think it beneath their dignity, or lack confidence that they could choreograph it successfully, or fear not being able to handle the GOP response, I don't know.

All three, and they think it beneath the dignity of the institution.  They think the Senate does not exist to engage in silly tit-for-tats, especially not with a radio personality.  As I argued upthread, Dems actually respect the Senate as an institution, a lot.  As a consequence they are not willing to leverage the hell out of it, use it without restraint for maximum political effect.  The GOP doesn't respect the Senate as an institution, so they don't care how they use it, they'll just drain as much advantage out of it as they can in pursuit of what they really respect... their own power and wealth.

[ Parent ]
Chaos theory (0.00 / 0)
What you said could be more simply described as chaos theory.  That being said I think this is a matter a lack of agreement rather than any missing of strategies.

When people try to exclude transgendered people from the ENDA it isn't because they think the bill will be stronger without it.  It is because they disagree with offering transgendered people the same protection as gay people.

Regardless of whether that will hurt or help the ENDA.  People by and large don't support things based on popularity.  They just say that to be nicer about their disagreements.

Chaos Theory Is A PART of Non-Linear Dynamics (4.00 / 1)
Back in the 1960s and 70s, "Catastrophe Theory" was all the rage.  But it, too, was just part of the larger ocean of non-linear dynamics.  Both "Chaos Theory" and "Catastrophe Theory" revolve around the abrupt transition points that non-linear systems produce, but that's only one aspect of those systems as a whole--albeit a very important one.

"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 completely disagree. (0.00 / 0)
When people try to exclude transgendered people from the ENDA it isn't because they think the bill will be stronger without it.  It is because they disagree with offering transgendered people the same protection as gay people.

Regardless of whether that will hurt or help the ENDA.  People by and large don't support things based on popularity.  They just say that to be nicer about their disagreements.

First of all, people do support things based on their "popularity," where popularity means ability to pass a 216 vote chamber.  People endorse things they don't much care for all the time, in the context of getting a majority to pass a bill that may or may not be just as the advocate would like.

Furthermore, based on the past record of the actors involved, I think ascribing bad faith to them is unwarranted.

Incidentally, my position is that no ENDA should ever be signed into law without the T included, cause it would be a generation and a half before we could go back and add the T alone (state legislatures bear this out... see Wisconsin vs Minnesota).

That said, if a veto is guaranteed in this case, which it is, then the way forward becomes strictly a matter of legislative strategy and public optics.  On those grounds I don't know what option is best, but here's one argument I can imagine for dropping the T in this Congress:

We want to pass an ENDA of some kind this year, because we want to force the president to veto it, because that is good presidential election politics.  If we author a GLB ENDA, send it through both houses of Congress, with a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, and then the president vetoes it, then it becomes an election issue.  It will be asked about in debates.  And a GLB ENDA is an issue that wedges our way.  It is popular with independents and moderates, and it makes the Dem candidate look good when she/he pledges to sign it in the debate.  The Republican, presumably, will pledge not to sign it in the debate, which will satisfy their base but alienate many swing voters.  Unless it's Giuliani, in which case he is in the miserable position of either endorsing it, and destroying his relationship with his own base, or rejecting it, and appearing to be a massively inconsistent hypocrite.  All of this, incidentally, will help move an ENDA forward in the next session of Congress, where the T can either be quietly added in, or the bill will be held until such time as we can do so.  Oh, and passing a GLB ENDA is good politics for Dems because it shows them delivering something for one of their base constituencies, which in the face of their spectacular silence on gay marriage, they need badly.

Now, I don't know that that on balance is a good idea, but it is an argument for passing a GLB ENDA in this Congress, that is still utterly committed to the final, real ENDA being trans-inclusive (which, if I haven't said it already, I absolutely am.  I'll wait five years if it saves transfolk from waiting 35.)

Incidentally, I actually think that's not a half-bad argument, and it may very well have been Frank's intended result, I dunno.  But it's not an illegitimate way to run a Congress.

[ Parent ]
Damn, Stoller (0.00 / 0)

what a fucking great analysis!

Just bought 'The Origin of Wealth' (0.00 / 0)
looks extremely interesting so far. Have been meaning to read about what's been happening with 'computational economics' and this looks like just the ticket. Opening chapter is boffo!

Haven't read anything with this sort of bibliography in while so that will be a good thing.

Thanks for the lead.

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

Coming opportunity (0.00 / 0)
There is a massive leverage opportunity coming with the eventual collapse of the dollar bubble. Make the argument that money functions as a public utility, similar to the road system and we should start treating it as such, with the banking system as government function, similar to the court system. You want lower taxes, treat the monetary system as a public function, with the wealth it produces going into public coffers. Trickle down where it's productive, not just supporting outsized egos.
  The fact is that it already functions that way anyway, since inflation is a form of taxation, taxpayers are responsible for insuring bank deposits, government borrowing is a major form of investment and supports the value of the currency and ultimately growth is bottom up, not top down, so the economy works best when wealth and power is most diversified. Look at North and South Korea.

Here is an essay in the subject;


tomorrow is another day and let a smile ... (0.00 / 0)
Great piece.  Great comments.

I have a suggestion.  Let's never again hear that taking over the Democratic process is a long process and there will be many setbacks along the way.  Yes, it's a true statement.  There are many true statements.  But it is also an anaesthetic.  Whenever we get the shaft, we should work harder to apply the above fighting methodology.  Even if things change gradually, a gradualist methodology is a death sentence.

Full Court Press!  http://www.openleft.com/showDi...


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