Should Progressives Adopt an Indirect Strategy?
In Eat Your Hart Out of August 22, 2006, Sean Gonsalves, who writes for the Cape Cod Times, criticizes all those who still cling to the stay-the-course rhetoric on Iraq as empty and counterproductive sloganeering. He does so by quoting from what he calls "THE classic book on military strategy" by the British military historian Basil Henry Liddell Hart, who many refer to as the Clausewitz of the 20th century. Unfortunately, he omits to tell us which of his numerous books he refers to, but it seems safe to assume that it is his major work, Strategy: The Indirect Approach, first published in 1941. He also fails to mention John Mearsheimer's Liddell Hart and the Weight of History from 1989, in which he argues that much of his work is faulty and of little originality, which casts doubts on Gonsalves' claim that Liddell Hart really was such an outstanding strategist. Without being able to evaluate these contradictory claims at this time, Liddell Hart's basic approach to strategy seems highly relevant to progressive strategy. Needless to say, we should always be aware of the risks and limits associated with applying military strategy to political strategy. Liddell Hart's lifelong study of military history and strategy led him to formulate his key insight as the indirect approach to strategy, which consists of two fundamental principles:1. If the enemy is in a strong position, direct attacks almost never work, because they exhaust the attacker and reinforce the enemy's resistance, and therefore should be avoided.2. Since the enemy can't be defeated through a direct attack, you first have to weaken his position by upsetting him through unexpected attacks before the main attack can succeed.
In Liddell Hart's own words,
During this survey one impression became increasingly strong - that, throughout the ages, effective results in war have rarely been attained unless the approach has had ... indirectness. In strategy, the longest way round is often the shortest way home.This indirect strategy seems quite applicable to progressive strategy today. Despite the conservatives' mounting problems, their position is still very strong in all three dimensions of power: institutional, infrastructural, and ideological. Given that progressive resources will remain limited for the foreseeable future, a direct attack on the "conservative machine" would be counterproductive, since it would waste precious resources without achieving any significant success. Indeed,
Self-exhaustion in war has killed more States [sic] than any foreign assailant.Progressives should remember that they risk exhausting themselves if they continue to spread themselves too thinly. If you want to upset your adversary, you can't afford to squander your resources, and instead have to concentrate them where they are most likely to achieve your objectives. One of the key challenges for progressive strategy therefore is to find out how best to upset the conservatives' equilibrium in order to loosen their grip on power. In the civil rights movement, the use of strategic nonviolence succeeded in drawing public attention to unjust practices, and this tactic is still advocated by some today, such as Bill Domhoff. But given that there is no movement today that is remotely comparable to the civil rights movement, one can doubt whether it still can be effective, since there is no larger movement that it can connect to. The indirect strategy is also reminiscent of Marshall Ganz' emphasis on the critical role of creative and innovative thinking by the leaders of organizations in enhancing their strategic capacity, precisely in circumstances where their resources are structurally constrained. Ganz developed his understanding of strategic capacity and how to improve it in Why David Sometimes Wins: Strategic Capacity in Social Movements (2005), and discussed it at the Third Progressive Strategy Seminar in 2006.
Should Democrats Use Fear-Mongering in 2006?
Given that the candidates' positioning (or should we rather say: posturing?) on Iraq and counterterrorism will be one of the key variables determining success or failure in the 2006 midterm elections, what message should Democrats adopt vis-à-vis Republicans?According to Kevin Drum, who writes the Washington Monthly’s blog, Political Animal, the Republican message is straightforward:
‘If you vote for Democrats, terrorists will kill you.’ After all, this formula of the politics of fear has proven successful in 2002 and 2004, so why should it not work in 2006? As is well-known, this is precisely the Rovian approach. In Scare Them Back (Slate, August 18, 2006), John Dickerson, Slate’s chief political correspondent, strongly recommends that Democrats should fight fear-mongering with fear-mongering, which essentially would come down to a slogan like:
‘If you vote for Republicans, even more terrorists will kill you!’Dickerson argues, like a growing number of observers, that Bush’s war on terror is actually counterproductive, since it produces more terrorists than it eliminates. Drum, in Fear Mongering (Political Animal, August 18, 2006), agrees with this point, adding:
As with George Bush's domestic policy, it creates the illusion of present-day action at the expense of long-term disaster.But he doubts whether Dickerson’s approach can be effective, and cautions:
People who are scared want action right now, which means that a strategy of fear-mongering is simply not compatible with the long-term policy of tactical restraint, counterinsurgency, and economic engagement that Democrats need to be selling. As far as progressive strategy is concerned, it is important to note that potentially effective short-term tactics can undermine long-term strategy. Will the 2006 campaign be yet another illustration of tactics trumping strategy or has the US electorate become receptive to a more effective strategy against terrorism? Drum’s use of ‘strategy’ interchangeably with ‘tactics’ and ‘policy’ unfortunately is all too common in contributions to progressive strategy. After all, ‘fear-mongering’ is not a strategy but a tactic, and more precisely a technique of how to frame certain messages. Likewise, ‘killing terrorists’ is neither a strategy nor a tactic. It can be either an objective or an operation. This critique is not only about semantics. Confused strategic thinking leads to confused strategies. Whether implemented in campaigns or in policies, they always risk being counterproductive.
Dickerson is right that fear-mongering helped John F. Kennedy win election in 1960, but it also contributed to the hysterical atmosphere that helped bring us the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, and finally the Vietnam backlash. In the long run, did that help either the country or the Democratic Party?
That's an extremely arguable point. But I'd like to hear those arguments before I buy into fear-mongering as a 2006 campaign strategy.
The Divergence between Progressives and Centrists and its Strategic Implications
This is a brief analysis and commentary on the single most important schism among Democrats – that between progressives and centrists - its recent aggravation, how this plays out in terms of policy and party politics, and its implications for progressive strategy. The crucial question is whether there is enough potential for convergence or whether the divergent orientations will be further exacerbated. In large part, this will be determined by two variables: Whose infrastructure is stronger and whose message resonates better with the US public. As before, we again find the interdependence of objectives, analysis, and tactics.Underlying this divergence is the crucial question of whether progressives can continue to keep their central promise of significantly expanding opportunities for the poor and middle class in the age of globalization, which I analyzed in a previous post. To the extent that the American Dream has ever really worked – and there is considerable controversy on this point – is it still credible that it will work even better in the future? If not, what are viable alternatives for progressive strategy?In the last month, we have seen the gulf between progressives and centrists widening. Three key events were the controversy over the DNC’s 50-state strategy, the publication of the 2006 report on the DLC’s American Dream Initiative, chaired by Hillary Clinton, on July 24, and Ned Lamont’s victory over Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary on August 8, and the revealing responses to those developments. These events accentuate the familiar divergence between the centrist New Democrats, clustered around the DLC and related centrist think tanks, closer to Clinton, and what is referred to as the progressive grassroots ‘movement’, reinforced most recently by the netroots, and closer to Howard Dean and the DNC’s 50-state strategy. This conflict manifests itself in a struggle over primacy in the Democratic Party and over policy. The battle over dominance in the Democratic Party is primarily between Clinton and Dean, and their respective networks. The controversy over policy concerns both domestic and foreign policy. While Clinton appears to have proven that she can unite centrists on socioeconomic issues, she is far from doing so on foreign policy and the crucial question of Iraq. Here, she seems stuck between a hawkish DLC and progressives who are highly critical of a unilateral and militaristic foreign policy. And while some proposals in the American Dream Initiative point in the right direction, for many progressives they don't go far enough. On July 24, 2006, the DLC published the 2006 report on the American Dream Initiative, and Hillary Clinton gave a major speech on the topic. In 2005, DLC Chair Gov. Tom Vilsack asked Clinton to chair the project to ‘address the central economic challenge of our time – saving the American Dream.’ The DLC prides itself on the fact that ‘a broad and unprecedented coalition of progressive think tanks took part in developing this agenda: the Democratic Leadership Council, the Progressive Policy Institute, the Center for American Progress, NDN, and Third Way.’ Indeed, this cluster of the top five centrist think tanks and advocacy organizations represents what could be called the institutional core of the self-described New Democrat Movement. In The Dream and the Nightmare (Huffington Post, July 25, 2006), Bob Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future and president of the board of Progressive Majority, points out that Clinton tries to ‘navigate the currents’ between the centrist DLC and the rising tide of progressives representing a ‘growing majority of Americans,’ by emphasizing areas of agreement and by avoiding positioning herself on areas of disagreement, most importantly the Iraq war. It is not entirely clear to me whether the 'nightmare' only refers to Iraq or whether it also means that the centrist version of the American Dream represents a progressive nightmare
... Be that as it may:
It omits mention of the Iraq War or foreign policy. It tiptoes around America's failed global economic strategy. It focuses on areas where Democrats agree - making college affordable, expanding access to health care, home ownership, retirement security. It drops the old DLC swagger - embracing an increase in the minimum wage that the DLC once disdained. Its proposals on college affordability have the scope to make a difference. Its "Baby Bonds" - a $500 savings bond at birth and at age ten for low-income families - could be politically attractive.Written before Lamont’s victory over Lieberman, Borosage concludes that the success of Lamont’s campaign suggests that this positioning is too cautiously centrist:
But otherwise it is characteristically cautious. Its health care proposals would do nothing for most uninsured Americans and little to control prices. It says nothing about empowering workers to organize and little about holding CEOs accountable. It skimps on any investment agenda, while promising to don a permanent budgetary straight jacket. It fails to call for either fundamental tax reform or rolling back any of Bush's top end tax cuts, while offering up a bushel of new tax credits and write offs.
And while Hillary omits mention of the war in her American Dream agenda, the DLC continues to champion the Iraq nightmare -- most recently calling for putting the economy on a war footing, raising the military budget and rallying the Americans for an extended commitment to nation-building in Iraq and transforming the Middle East.
Some of the proposals in Hillary's American Dream Initiative will contribute to that, but she'll have to swim a lot faster and reach a lot farther if she hopes to catch the coming wave of progressive change.
Andrea Batista Schlesinger, executive director of the Drum Major Institute, in her article Middle Class Isn’t Middle Ground (TomPaine, July 26, 2006), reminds Senator Clinton and the rest of us of the importance for progressives to favor policies that truly benefit the middle class. She rejects the frequently expressed 'logic' according to which you are ‘populist’ when talking about poverty, but ‘centrist’ when talking about the increasing difficulties of the middle class:
That is the kind of shallow analysis that has divided our politics for far too long between the poor and the middle class. The truth of the matter is that, in a nation in which the very wealthy control almost all of our wealth and in which their agenda is the driving force behind most of the governing party's agenda of tax cuts and power consolidation, we are all in this together.Given that Clinton was one of the few who received an A on DMI’s annual Congressional Scorecard in 2005 (Obama only got a C, which will surely come as a surprise to many), she reminds her that she should not only remember all this but also say so. In contrast, she dismisses Robert Rubin’s Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, run by the highly respected economist Peter Orszag, as a ‘centrist’s dream,’ and criticizes it for trying to build ‘credibility’ with conservatives rather than with the middle class. Closely related to this divergence over policy is the struggle over primacy in the Democratic Party between Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean (and their respective networks), that Thomas B. Edsall, Washington Post staff writer and special correspondent for The New Republic reports on in The Grudge (The New Republic, July 27, 2006).Edsall, a longtime observer of US politics, provides very interesting background information on the struggle between the Clintons and Dean, going back to Dean’s 2004 campaign and book, and his campaign for the DNC chairmanship in 2005, which Clinton had tried to sabotage:
For a long time, people would give DMI a hard time for using the language "middle class." To us, the equation is simple. If there is no American middle class, there is nothing for the poor to work their way into. If there is no American middle class, our democracy suffers. […]
But middle class doesn't equal middle ground. Advocating for the middle class isn't inherently some kind of political compromise or centrist bargain, ala the Democratic Leadership Council. [sic] […]
Advocating for the strengthening and expansion of our middle class shouldn't just be political code for "I'm inoffensive." It should mean that you're willing to do whatever it takes to create the economic policy that will directly benefit the overwhelming majority of Americans.
The result? Dean and Clinton--the Democratic Party's two power centers--find themselves locked in a struggle for intraparty supremacy. Each camp considers the other's political strategy fundamentally flawed. Dean loyalists dislike Clinton's stance on Iraq and her cautious approach to leadership, and they also fear she is too polarizing a figure to win a general election. Meanwhile, Clinton partisans doubt Dean's competence in managing the DNC and believe him to be just the sort of antiwar, elitist, left-wing Democrat who will scare off white middle- and working-class voters. Edsall points out an interesting reversal of roles: While Dean was the insurgent back in 2003, today the Clintons are the insurgents, but representing the establishment. But I doubt whether this is really the case. It seems to me that Dean is still the insurgent, in spite of being chair of the DNC, while the Clintons still represent the establishment of the Democratic Party, due to their close connection with the DLC and the centrist infrastructure:
Early in 2003, Dean discovered that it was viable to run on a platform critical of Clinton’s centrism. His 2004 book, You Have the Power, articulated that criticism, and claimed that Democrats made a major mistake by attributing Clinton’s success to his strategy rather than to his personality:
What makes the Dean-Clinton struggle so interesting is that it represents an inversion of the party's previous power structure. When Dean began his rise to national prominence in 2003, he portrayed himself as an insurgent who would challenge both the Democratic Party's Washington establishment and the ideological legacy of Clintonism, which he argued had pushed the party too far to the center. That tactic once looked likely to propel Dean to the Democratic nomination. But, today, Dean heads the DNC, and it is Clinton who wants her party's nomination. To win, she will have to make inroads among Dean's followers and loosen his grip on the party's apparatus. This time, it is the Clintons who are the insurgents, but insurgents who represent the Democratic establishment.
The schism between the two camps has its roots in Dean's early 2003 discovery that running against Clintonism held a lot of appeal for Democratic primary voters. Many liberals were hungry for a politician who would tell them what they wanted to hear on Iraq, gay rights, and the role of religion in American life--and, just as importantly, one who would denounce Democratic triangulators, equivocators, and compromisers. On all those counts, Dean delivered. During his presidential campaign and later in his 2004 book, You Have the Power, Dean offered a forceful critique of Bill Clinton's centrism. "After nearly a decade of widening income inequalities, campaign-finance scandals, noxious inside-the-Beltway compromises, and political catfights ... the American people felt equally disenfranchised by Democrats and Republicans," Dean wrote. He added, "The Democrats have made a fundamental mistake in watching Bill Clinton and thinking it was his strategy--and not his extraordinary personality--that enabled him to do all the things he did." According to Dean, Democrats lose elections because they are too conservative. In order to win elections, they have to become more progressive. The way to get there is by rebuilding the party from the grassroots up, and not from the consultants down:
He continued to press this theme while running for DNC chair, but, instead of citing either Clinton by name, he simply lashed out at the Democratic establishment. "Here in Washington," he said, "it seems that every time we lose an election, there's a consensus reached among decision-makers in the Democratic Party that the way to win is to be more like Republicans." Dean's alternative was simple: "The way to rebuild the Democratic Party is not from the consultants down, it is from the ground up." Such rhetoric continued even after Dean won the chairmanship. This spring, Dean told a group of reporters, "We don't really have any consultants. ... We try to do everything in-house. We don't have a stable of Washington consultants telling us what to do." But, as Edsall points out, this is not really the case. In fact, Dean not only spent more on consulting fees than his predecessor, Terry McAuliffe, but also concentrated it much more on a single company, Blue State Digital, which grew out of his 2004 campaign, and is said to dominate his consulting network. In sum, Dean succeeded not only in distancing the DNC from the so-called Clintonistas, but also continued to enjoy the support of the emerging netroots, who viciously attacked Clinton.
Now Clinton's camp is seeking to change this landscape. Its strategy appears to be twofold. First, it is laying the groundwork to circumvent the DNC in the event that Clinton wins the nomination. Her advisers see Dean as a maverick, and they want to depend on him as little as possible during the general election. "The DNC is going to be peripheral," says one Clinton strategist. "We are going to have our own field staff, starting way before the primaries begin, right through November 7." He points out that she is prepared to reject public financing during the primaries and the general election. (Clinton does not lack for money: She has raised $32.2 million for her Senate reelection and has $22 million in the bank--all transferable to her presidential campaign, according to PoliticalMoneyLine.) This would allow her to keep the field staff she develops during the primaries on her payroll during the general election--instead of shifting it to the DNC, as previous candidates have done. Plus, in a move widely and correctly interpreted as a rebuke to Dean, Clinton strategist Harold Ickes recently established a private voter database to compete with a similar database being built by the DNC. Ickes's move--as well as Clinton's formidable array of experienced advisers, including Terry McAuliffe, Howard Wolfson, James Carville, Mark Penn, and others--will give Clinton added independence from the DNC. Clinton’s second line of attack is to divide and conquer the progressive blogosphere, first by announcing that she would endorse the winner of the Democratic primary in Connecticut, and secondly by hiring Salon blogger Peter Daou, and Jesse Berney, who managed blog operations for the DNC in 2004, as consultants for her Senate campaign, and generally striking a more conciliatory tone towards the netroots. Edsall believes that Clinton is in a better position than Dean to win the struggle over primacy in the Democratic Party, both in the short and in the long term, essentially because the netroots will be increasingly tempted by strong incentives to fracture, making it all the less likely to coalesce behind one single candidate.
So who will win the showdown between Howard and Hillary? In both the long term and the short term, the odds favor Clinton and her allies in the party's more moderate wing. Take the long term first. Many of the troops brought into politics by the Dean campaign are desperate to turn their avocation into a paying profession. Many left-wing bloggers are struggling to survive financially and would love to begin earning salaries as political operatives. For instance, Bowers and two friends, Hale Stewart (aka "bonddad") and David Atkins (aka "thereisnospoon"), recently announced the creation of NetRoots Research, Strategy & Analysis. As bloggers like these enter the competition for consulting contracts and campaign jobs, the pressures of the political marketplace will likely work to moderate idealism--and to make compromise and accommodation more acceptable within the netroots.
In the short term, Clinton's strategy of dividing and conquering the blogosphere will be abetted by the near impossibility of Web-based Dean loyalists uniting around a single candidate in 2007. Zack Exley--formerly organizing director for MoveOn.org, an Internet specialist on the Dean campaign, and director of online organizing and communications for Kerry-Edwards 2004--puts it this way: "I think Hillary is going to surprise everyone with the netroots. Every candidate who is flirting with the idea of running is trying to do it like Dean did it. You could have ten candidates trying to be the insurgent dark horse. All those candidates are going to split the netroots, leaving Hillary to be the standout." The netroots have simply become too large to be the exclusive agent of any one candidate. With her front-runner status, Clinton doesn't need to actually win the blogosphere outright; she just needs to make sure no one else does. And odds are there will be no repeat of 2003, when the liberal blogosphere rallied overwhelmingly to one contender.
That, in the end, may be Clinton's biggest advantage in her battle with Dean. Of course, there is always the possibility that Clinton will falter. But, if she does not, then Dean, with his supporters unable to coalesce behind a single candidate, will likely find himself without a proxy to run against her. Then again, he may not even want one. After all, there is probably only one candidate Dean could ever truly back, and he is sitting out this race. His name, of course, is Howard Dean.
On the Limits of Liberal Framing a la Lakoff
This is a brief review of George Lakoff’s latest book, Whose Freedom? The Battle Over America’s Most Important Idea (2006), based on contrasting rather positive reviews with more critical ones, and focusing on the latter, since they are more substantive and have more to say about the limits of liberal framing a la Lakoff for promoting progressive strategy.Whose Freedom? essentially argues that the liberal, not the conservative framing of 'freedom' is the dominant political tradition in the US, and makes suggestions on how to reframe issues and concepts around the core idea of freedom to counter the conservative frames.In Reclaiming ‘Freedom’ (TomPaine, July 11, 2006), Bernie Horn, policy director at the Center for Policy Alternatives, basically agrees with Lakoff’s thesis, insisting that that progressives need to reclaim the public discourse from conservatives by reframing freedom and other core values along progressive lines, but criticizes him for not being specific enough about how to do that, and therefore not offering guidance to progressive messengers. In George Lakoff’s Freedom Frame, Glenn Smith, who runs DriveDemocracy.org, emphasizes and illustrates the importance of Lakoff’s insight that the antagonists in the struggle over how to understand and realize freedom come from radically different worldviews. Kevin Drum, who writes the Political Animal blog at the Washington Monthly, in his review entitled At a Loss of Words: The Latest Dispatches from the Framing Wars (Mother Jones, July/August 2006), provides interesting background on Lakoff’s rise, and criticizes him for overstating his core concept of ‘deep framing':
… the UC Berkeley linguistics professor who began a meteoric rise in progressive circles after a sympathetic activist offered him a grant in 2002 to advise liberal groups on their use of language. Within a few months, he was a rock star. He was invited to address Democratic senators at their annual retreat. Tom Daschle and Hillary Clinton sought out his advice. His think tank, the Rockridge Institute, began churning out white papers. During the 2004 campaign, Howard Dean predicted that Lakoff - then at the height of his bubble - would be "one of the most influential political thinkers of the progressive movement when the history of this century is written."Drum also criticizes that Lakoff’s focus on rhetoric leads him to ignore the underlying economic reality. He contends that most Americans are simply still too comfortable for Lakoff’s (or for that reason anyone’s) economic populism to resonate successfully. He adds that conservatives won many battles, including over healthcare, not so much because of the way they framed the issues, but because they fought harder and with greater perseverance; and he calls on liberals to essentially fight more passionately:
It was heady stuff, and Lakoff's notoriety came from his creation of a model of conservative ascendance that went beyond just words. Where the right has really succeeded, he said, is with "deep framing," the process of assigning a constellation of emotions to individual words so they instantly evoke an entire worldview. This idea is fundamental to Lakoff's core theory that people view politics the same way they view families: Conservatives value discipline, hierarchy, and competition, while liberals subscribe to a nurturing worldview that values empathy, fairness, and the common good.
Although this is a genuinely useful concept, Lakoff has always pushed it too far: Instead of using his model to explain some of the differences between liberals and conservatives-an effort that has the potential to be enlightening - he insists that it explains everything. […]
The result is richly ironic: A man who's made his reputation advising liberals on how to use language more effectively has written a turgid and nearly unreadable book that rests on hundreds of short, disjointed sections and dozens of long bullet lists that demonstrate how, if you strain hard enough, commonplace concepts can all be rewritten in a way that includes the words "free" or "freedom."
Unfortunately, this ‘advice’ hardly seems more valuable than Lakoff’s which, justifiably, he criticizes so harshly. To clarify radically different strategic orientations, Robert Jensen’s review of Whose Freedom? is the most useful. Jensen is professor of journalism and media ethics at the University of Texas at Austin. He begins his critique in The Limits of Lakoff’s Politics: Outside the Frame (CounterPunch, August 14, 2006), by emphasizing the central irony that Lakoff’s worldview, which informs his frames, seems to prevent him from engaging in the very self-criticism that he urges liberals to pursue:
The jargon of the New Deal and the Great Society might not work anymore, but there are still plenty of issues we can win on if we have the guts to stand up and say what we really believe, instead of watering down our values and running them through a gauntlet of focus groups before poking our heads above ground to greet the TV cameras. The right words can help, but only if they're backed up by genuine passion and principle.
One of George Lakoff's key observations in his work on contemporary political discourse is that "frames trump facts" -- when facts are inconsistent with the frames and metaphors that structure a person's worldview, the facts will likely be ignored.Jensen’s analysis and critique is highly relevant for thinking about progressive strategy in that it shows the interdependence of analysis, ultimate objectives, and tactics. If you believe that the many serious problems in US politics and US society are primarily due to the dominance of conservatives and their frames, you are likely to think that a stronger Democratic Party could successfully address these problems. The main challenge then becomes how Democrats can win elections, and what Democrats stand the best chance of being elected – more liberal or even ‘populist’ ones or more centrist and moderate candidates, which obviously entails different tactics. The debate over this has been intensifying for quite some time now. Nevertheless, the ultimate goal is the same: To change US society by winning elections. In short, it’s an electoral strategy. If, on the other hand, you are convinced that the many serious problems not only in the US, but in the world, are due to an excessive concentration of power and wealth in corporations and nation-states, who advance their interests at the expense of the majority of the people, and that the Democratic Party is an integral part of that unjust system, then you are likely to abandon the attempt to transform the Democratic Party to win elections, and will look for adequate instruments to achieve significant, structural, and long-term sociopolitical change. This assessment is of course reminiscent of that of Ralph Nader and others. One option would be to try to build up a third party, for example the Green Party; but the current US electoral system, which is highly unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, makes that a loosing proposition. If the ultimate goal of progressive strategy is to realize a just and sustainable society, which necessarily implies structural sociopolitical change, the only viable tactic seems to be to make progressive infrastructure so strong that it would be able to move the whole country further to the left. To do so, it needs to be stronger than today’s conservative infrastructure, which only shows how far progressives are from achieving their goals. In this progressive grand strategy, transforming the Democratic Party into a truly progressive organization, and winning elections with truly progressive candidates, will be but important components. As will be changing the ideological climate to make it more progressive. Ultimately, the success of this progressive grand strategy depends, as John Kenneth Galbraith reminds us in The Good Society: The Humane Agenda (1996), on the permanent perfection of inherently imperfectible democracy:
Ironically, Lakoff's new book -- Whose Freedom? The Battle over America's Most Important Idea -- demonstrates that problem all too well. His worldview seems to keep him from the very critical self-reflection that he counsels for liberal/progressive people.
Lakoff's "frame," simply stated is:
(1) Right-wing Republicans are the cause of our problems, and
(2) progressives working through the Democratic Party will deliver the solutions.
So, out the window must go any facts or analyses that suggest
(1) the problems of an unjust and unsustainable world may be rooted in fundamental systems, such as corporate capitalism and the imperialism of powerful nation-states, no matter who is in power, and
(2) the Democratic Party is not only not a meaningful vehicle for progressive politics but, as a subsidiary of that corporate system with its own history and contemporary practice of empire-building, is part of the problem.
To deal with those obvious and difficult challenges to his political proposals, Lakoff fudges certain facts and ignores others. Whether he does this unconsciously -- trapped by uncritical acceptance of his own frames and metaphors -- or is aware of it, we cannot know. But the result is a book that offers little to citizens who want to deepen their understanding of our political crisis and start to strategize about a new direction that can bring this country -- and human society more generally -- back from the brink of the collapse we face on many fronts. Whose Freedom? also has a sloppy, slapped-together feel which, together with its serious intellectual and political problems, raise serious doubts about Lakoff's fitness to play intellectual guru to any liberal/progressive movement, a role to which he has been elevated by many.
The decisive step toward a good society is to make democracy genuine. (p. 139)Because we do have a choice:
We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both. (Louis Brandeis)