Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Is Triangulation Back?

Norman Solomon, board member of Progressive Democrats of America, already detects The Return of Triangulation:
The mosaic of Barack Obama's cabinet picks and top White House staff gives us an overview of what the new president sees as political symmetry for his administration. While it's too early to gauge specific policies of the Obama presidency, it's not too soon to understand that "triangulation" is back.
In Solomon's view, Obama is a 'centrist' and 'pragmatic' politician who will seek and occupy the center of political gravity. He quotes his biographer David Mendell, who describes Obama as
an exceptionally gifted politician who, throughout his life, has been able to make people of wildly divergent vantage points see in him exactly what they want to see.
Criticizing progressives for projecting their worldviews on Obama, he is concerned that the progressive base will again be frustrated and demobilized under Obama's triangulation, just as it had been under Clinton's in the 1990s.

Therefore, progressive grassroots need to move the center to the left, by reframing crucial policy choices, such as health care, Afghanistan, etc. This approach is very similar to what progressives like John Nichols recommend, and suffers from the same deficiencies.

Reframing of course is reminiscent of Lakoff's approach to framing and his Rockridge Institute, which had to close last year due to a lack of funds. The whole notion that the Left can change policies by changing public opinion through reframing issues has not been very successful, and needs to be fundamentally reconsidered.

Politics in large part is about the concentration and centralization of resources and decision-making power in organizations. Political power is largely organized power, and organizations are structures of power.

Therefore, progressives need to build and strengthen their own organizations and infrastructure more generally, in order to gain greater influence over and ultimately break into centrist and conservative power structures.

In other words, progressives can frame and reframe issues and policies all they want; as long as they don't have the organized power to make credible demands on those in power, all this activity is unlikely to lead to positions of strength, from which more power could be built.

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