Tag: strategy

On Shame As A Tactic, Or, Betsie Gallardo: She Won…And So Can You!

click We have been following the story of Betsie Gallardo lately, she being the woman that, due to a medical decision, was being starved to death in a Florida prison.

http://maientertainmentlaw.com/?search=canadian-healthcare-cialis She has inoperable cancer, her death is imminent, and her mother was working hard to make it possible for Betsie to die at home with some dignity.

http://cinziamazzamakeup.com/?x=vardenafil-senza-ricetta-Abruzzo As we reported just a couple days ago, half the battle was already won, as the Florida Department of Corrections had agreed to place her in a hospital so that she could again go back on nutritional support.

see url On January 5th, the Florida Parole Commission voted to allow her to end her life at home-and that means you spoke out, made a difference, and achieved a complete victory for the effort.

levitra brand But even as we celebrate that victory, I think we should take a moment to realize that there is a bigger lesson here: the lesson that the fights over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), benefits for 9/11 first responders (the Zadroga Bill), and Betsie Gallardo’s imminent release are all actually pointing us to a political strategy that works, over and over, if we are willing to understand the wisdom that’s been laid before us.

A Life’s Work Speaks Louder than a Million Words

go to site As we often lament, every minority or marginalized group can be easily stigmatized,  slandered, or reduced by what is not factually correct.  How one personally deals with it is a matter of individual preference; I would not dictate terms to anyone if I could.  Tactics may differ, but the response does not.  Sometimes, despite our best attempts, as the context changes, we wait our turn to be vociferous opponents as well as allies.  We live in an age that has good reason to be cynical, but we often go too far, applying it heavily to everything, particularly that which we take offense.  Passion is not at fault here, but the volatility of debate is.    

It’s Time to Give Up on Climate Change

accutane lawsuit columbus As the mood of the Cancun Conference tells us there is no realistic hope that anything meaningful can happen to stop the effects of climate-change. The United States has, from the beginning of the process, dragged its feet on taking responsibility for doing anything, however minor, to stop the process of climate-change. There’s a lot of noise and rhetoric that has come out of the government and corporations in order to mount PR campaigns but it is without substance. Even clear win-win situations like providing funding for green-energy as a way to revive struggling American funding is underfunded and cruelly mishandled. I refer here to an article written by Monica Potts in the American Prospect that shows that government money to train workers for green jobs does not and will not translate into real jobs because there’s little support for the alternative-energy industry and the dominant fossil fuels industry who thrive on public subsidies for their cheaper energy don’t want competition. The government, as near as I can tell, has no intention of even attempting to support anything like the Kerry-Lieberman bill which would  have been a start in moving us towards strengthening the industry and slowly weaning us from the domination of fossil fuels. Of course the administration knows any environmental bill is DOA in today’s political atmosphere of gridlock.

Cross posted on Orange.

Breathe deeply… clear the mind of distractions… and focus

So what would count as doing something effective about abrupt climate change?  This diary, then, is a thought experiment: what if we actually made abrupt climate change itself a priority rather than mere window-dressing for another legislative report?

(crossposted at Orange)  

In Search of a Strong Progressive Response to Tea Parties

During the dark days of the Bush Administration, the collective mood on the Left could not have been more pessimistic and discouraged.  Believing ourselves to be utterly ignored and summarily discounted, our anger was palpable and copious.  I wonder why we on the Left didn’t form a series of spontaneous demonstrations, venting our frustration at a government we saw as illegitimate and destructive.  While it is true that protests were plentiful then, no self-proclaimed movement sprung up, one then dutifully covered exhaustively by the media.  That we did not resort to Teabagging tactics was itself a very good thing, but I think also that many of us placed complete faith in the mechanization of the system itself.  When things began to turn around at long last in 2006 and then, two years later when a compelling candidate articulated our desire for change, we believed that working tirelessly to secure his election was wholly sufficient.

Obama DoJ indicts NSA whistleblower…are you mad yet?

If you were mad at all about Bush’s violations of civil liberties when he was president, this will get you fuming:

In a rare legal action against a government employee accused of leaking secrets, a grand jury has indicted a former senior National Security Agency official on charges of providing classified information to a newspaper reporter in hundreds of e-mail messages in 2006 and 2007.

The official, Thomas A. Drake, 52, was also accused of obstructing justice by shredding documents, deleting computer records and lying to investigators who were looking into the reporter’s sources.

“Our national security demands that the sort of conduct alleged here – violating the government’s trust by illegally retaining and disclosing classified information – be prosecuted and prosecuted vigorously,” Lanny A. Breuer, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in a statement.

This is not just a single instance of outrage.  It is a microcosm of the Obama presidency, the political success of corporate America, and the failure of its opposition.

Economic Populism: A Winner in 2010?

As I suspected would be the case, Democrats intend to take on the conservative wing of the Supreme Court and in so doing make it into an election year issue.  In a year where successful narratives for the party in power are few and where the prevailing conventional wisdom seems to be one of limiting inevitable GOP gains, I am pleased to see this degree of push back, though I note by no means will it alone be sufficient to secure majority status for both the House and Senate.  It is a good start, but it cannot be the end all, be all.  When people are hurting for jobs, income, and peace of mind, the existence of an activist Supreme Court is less important and less pressing.  

The only problem I see with this strategy is that it doesn’t necessarily channel voter frustration the way that, for example, anger at former President Bush did back in 2008.  A desire to take on the Supreme Court for its abuses of power is, at least now, a minor priority, and the people who do feel sufficiently outraged are self-identified Progressives or Democrats.  If the intent is purely to unify the base and revitalize party loyalists, then I can understand the logic.  But as it stands now, many independents and self-identified conservatives of any leaning unfortunately often find nothing especially objectionable about recent SCOTUS decisions.  They don’t consider it a particularly pertinent bread and butter issue that relates directly to their own lives.  Everyone votes based, to some degree or another, on their own self-interest, but this degree of apathy is due, in part, to the fact that the topic has never really been adequately framed in terms that resonate well with the electorate.  

As President Barack Obama mulls possible replacements for retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, the administration and congressional aides are gravitating toward a strategy that goes beyond the goals of a run-of-the-mill confirmation fight – to define a corporations-vs.-the-common-man battle between Democrats and the high court.  

Taking a populist stance on this matter does make sense, but thus far economic populism has been underused by Democrats.  The position stated above has been weakly rendered up until now and there has been no unified voice to advance it.  If Democrats wish to come out strongly against unpopular decisions like Citizens United v. FEC then it certainly would be interesting to see the effort played with the American people and with the mainstream media.  The Obama Administration has, much to the frustration of many, always taken care to hedge its bets regarding passionate denunciations of offending parties, particularly regarding financial matters–one day forceful populism, the next day conciliatory language.  Throwing down the gauntlet means that the gauntlet comes down and stays down.  Half-measures are perceived by most as as weak, not politically shrewd.

Some thoughts on “lesser of two evils” voting

Of all of the voting strategies commonly circulating in public discourse, the “lesser of two evils” voting strategy is best adapted to the two-party, majoritarian democracy which prevails in almost all electoral contests in the United States.  This is a very brief look at the rationality of the “lesser of two evils” voting rationale.

(crossposted at Orange and at Firedoglake)

A Winning Election Strategy for 2010

After the 2008 election cycle advanced a long litany of proposed reforms and massive structural changes which came attached to Presidential candidate Barack Obama, 2010’s agenda is much more modest.  A disillusioned, frustrated electorate looks to lash out against those in power by casting their votes accordingly, hence the reason why so many long-time legislators within the party have retired in the past several months.  As we know, scaled down versions of existing measures are the order of the day, and skittish Democrats are wary of making additional promises that they know they can’t likely keep, aiming to avoid increased voter ire at all cost.  Still, it would be foolish to cast aside all talk of additional reform, particularly since some slightly more modest proposals would likely go over well, even in this dubious climate.    

Even with the severe limitations of the 2010 cycle, there are a few issues Democrats could hammer home that would resonate well with voters.  Polls reveal that the recent Federal Election Commission v. Citizens United Supreme Court decision regarding campaign finance reform is a highly unpopular one, and some Democrats on the state and local level have proposed measures to push back and guard themselves from the potential sweep of corporate interference.

Maryland lawmakers are mobilizing to prepare a series of campaign finance reforms in response to a recent Supreme Court decision that will open federal elections to more corporate and labor spending.

About a dozen Democratic senators and delegates this week outlined a package of bills meant to restrict the ability of those businesses to spend in state elections.

The initiatives come after the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which overturned a prohibition on corporations and unions using general treasury funds for political ads.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, said the legislators are working to “try and contain the damage.”

It should be noted that none of these measures do a tremendous amount to reverse the decision itself and its now-established precedent, but they do provide additional safeguards in case corporations decide to take new liberties.  The nightmare scenario envisioned by many is an influx of corporate-based cash into races and regions in ways that had never before existed.  Thus, this proposed legislation is designed primarily to prevent business from overreaching into political races.  Even so, sensible strategies like these would go over well with constituents in every state, and would give increasingly vulnerable Democrats a powerfully populist talking point.  Subsequent pro-big business decisions from whatever source are likely to be viewed negatively by the American people, and if the national Democratic Party wishes to rebrand itself to keep its control of Congress, it might do well to consider strategies like these.    

Running against the SCOTUS as a whole might also prove to be a winning strategy, since the latest unpopular heavily split decision reveals the undemocratic nature of a small, deliberative body who is appointed for life and cannot be collectively, individually, or otherwise voted in or voted out by the general public.  We can forever debate the merits of why the Federal judicial system was set up in such a fashion, but we simply can’t deny the reality of it.  Voters now are concerned much more about results, not reasons.  Moreover, the direct impact upon the 5-4 decision itself showed plainly in the person of the two Justices that Former President George W. Bush nominated.  Democrats could once again point back to the destructive Bush Presidency as a still-evident and still-existing part of the problem.  The Roberts court has not yet set itself up as directly antagonistic to President Obama and his agenda, but it very well might as time goes on, which would give the incumbent Chief Executive a weapon when the time arrives for him to run for re-election in 2012.  Setting the scene early as well as the framing would make that message far more pertinent and pervasive.      

Though the party in power is always under the gun when a bad economy, high unemployment, and Congressional gridlock spawn massive ill-will in the voting public, a slight modification in focus could limit losses and stem the bleeding.  As it is right now, Democrats are rushing about in a million different directions with no coherent, nor cohesive sense of message discipline.  As many have done before, I have criticized those in positions of authority who have either abused the peoples’ trust or have frittered away a golden opportunity by their own inability to form consensus or make resounding, firm decisions.  The sea change in Washington politics ushered in by an astounding 2008 cycle and an equally astounding rapid decay of many of those gains in the course of one short year has redefined previously existing parameters and expected results.  Acting sooner rather than later works against the math and logic of a previous age, I recognize, but what we have all discovered recently is that significant developments of the Twenty-first Century proceed at an incredibly rapid clip, and those who jump out in front of an issue first usually fare the best.  The clock is running down, but there is still plenty of time left.          

Strategy 102: Thinking Differently

Cross-posted At DailyKos

This is the second in a small series of diaries on strategy. In the first one I attempted to explain why strategy is so important. That diary was inspired by a diary from thereisnospoon, entitled: “No One Is Going To Save You Fools”. I am looking at a different piece of the equation than thereisnospoon, but the underlying idea is similar. If you want to advance a progressive/populist agenda, it should be apparent that no one is going to do it for you. You must do the heavy lifting yourself and thereisnospoon brings one tool to the table. I bring a different one – strategy.

I then gave an example of what I consider to be an ineffective strategy – one that should resonate with many on this site. I’ll call the strategy the “throw the bums out” strategy. The public frequently uses it when the politicians fail to deliver on their promises. It is non-partisan; both sides use it. The assumption is that we have “bad” politicians in office who listen to special interests over their constituents and if we just replace them with “good” politicians, everything will be OK. This assumption arises from a common cognitive bias called the fundamental attribution error. This bias shows a pervasive tendency on the part of observers to overestimate personality or dispositional causes of behavior and to underestimate the influence of situational constraints on the behavior of others. Systems studies have shown time and time again that if you have a system that constantly results in undesirable behavior on the part of participants in the system, the most common reaction is to replace the participants. And this action rarely if ever is effective if there are strong incentives and disincentives built into the system which reward the undesirable behavior and discourage the desirable behavior. You must instead find leverage points to alter the structure of the system. So a “throw the bums out” strategy by itself is ineffective.

If you choose an ineffective strategy, you can find yourself expending considerable effort and making little progress. Hit the appropriate leverage points and minimal effort can produce surprising results. This is why strategy is so important. That was my objective with the first diary.

In this diary, I’m going to elaborate on the different types of thinking skills that are useful in strategy. The reductionist, analytical thinking skills emphasized in academia will only go so far in strategy. You will need to add new ways of thinking to your arsenal. I’ve already mentioned systems thinking. I’m going to concentrate here on dialectical thinking, since it is very pertinent to political strategy in particular. I should also point out that there is little consensus on what a dialectic is or what dialectical thinking entails. That may frustrate readers who decide to investigate this further. I tend to favor the work of Michael Basseches, if that is any help. A good article that introduces his work was published in Integral Review:

http://integral-review.org/documents/Development%20of%20Dialectical%20Thinking%201,%202005.pdf

I’m going to jump right into an example, because if I start discussing esoteric concepts first you will likely find it boring or fail to see how it connects to politics. Ed Kilgore in the New Republic was discussing ideological differences:

http://www.tnr.com/blog/the-plank/taking-ideological-differences-seriously

and remarked:

To put it more bluntly, on a widening range of issues, Obama's critics to the right say he's engineering a government takeover of the private sector, while his critics to the left accuse him of promoting a corporate takeover of the public sector. They can't both be right, of course, and these critics would take the country in completely different directions if given a chance. But the tactical convergence is there if they choose to pursue it.

 

Glenn Greenwald elaborated on Kilgore’s remarks in a column on health care in Salon:

http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2009/12/18/corporatism/index.html

Whether you call it “a government takeover of the private sector” or a “private sector takeover of government,” it's the same thing: a merger of government power and corporate interests which benefits both of the merged entities (the party in power and the corporations) at everyone else's expense. Growing anger over that is rooted far more in an insider/outsider dichotomy over who controls Washington than it is in the standard conservative/liberal ideological splits from the 1990s.

I assert that most people will think along the lines of Kilgore and believe that a “government takeover of the private sector” or a “private sector takeover of government” are two different things – polar opposites and you can’t have both. I assert that Greenwald understands you can have both and he is absolutely correct. The synthesis is a merger of government power and corporate interests which benefits both of the merged entities. This is an example of dialectical thinking. You may have heard of Hegel and the three-valued model ascribed to him called the Hegelian dialectic or Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis. This is a perfect example, which I will elaborate on shortly. The figure below is from the Gestalt School psychologists who investigated perception using visual illusions. It is called the Rubin Illusion. This illusion shows a white vase against a black background. The contours of the vase create silhouettes of faces.

 

Rubin Illusion 

We have a post on our blog that discusses this illusion:

http://strategypraxis.blogspot.com/2010/01/concept-of-dialectic.html

The Rubin Illusion also demonstrates a dialectic – in the sense of a juxtaposition of opposing elements where the two sustain and transform one another. The two are mutually constitutive in a continual process of interaction. Without the vase one would not be able to see the two faces and without the two faces one would not be able to see the vase. For purposes of this discussion, we will use this very narrow definition of a dialectic.

 

Michael Basseches in his writing on dialectical thinking defines a dialectic as a developmental transformation, which occurs via constitutive and interactive relationships. He doesn’t use the Rubin Illusion, but I think that figure is a great way to drive home the concept. If you use this narrow definition of a dialectic, you will find examples of this everywhere. So, how can this be used in strategy? From our blog post:

 

The phenomenon of a dialectic can be used strategically. A particularly devious stratagem is where you wish to advance an extremely unpopular agenda. The majority of people would oppose the agenda. The stratagem involves creating a false dichotomy instead. Let’s call the desired agenda C, which the majority would reject. The people are presented with the choice between A or B, which appear to the misinformed as opposites, but which are in fact dialectically related. People alternate between choosing A and B, which actually advances the agenda C that most people would prefer to avoid in the first place.

 

This is the most successful strategy you can employ when you wish to advance an agenda that will be almost uniformly opposed. No amount of sophisticated messaging will work. If you attempt to push the agenda directly, out will come the torches and pitchforks. You must advance the agenda via stealth and in such an indirect way that most people will not realize what you are up to.

If you have an agenda that is opposed by some, but not an overwhelming majority, an incremental strategy will often suffice. I recall a few diaries on this site regarding the Overton Window. The Overton window is a concept in political theory, named after its originator, Joe Overton, former vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. You can use this concept to create an incremental strategy. This results in a fairly straight-line trajectory, however, and if your opponents are sophisticated strategists they will instantly figure out what you are up to and place roadblocks in your path. For those advocating same-sex marriage, for example, an incremental approach beginning with domestic partnerships and moving to civil unions and then full marriage rights could have had merit – unless your opponents catch on and pass constitutional amendments banning not only same-sex marriage but also civil unions. That in fact, is exactly what happened.

Back to the original example. Greenwald notes the incestuous relationship between big government and big business:

In the intelligence and surveillance realms, for instance, the line between government agencies and private corporations barely exists. Military policy is carried out almost as much by private contractors as by our state's armed forces. Corporate executives and lobbyists can shuffle between the public and private sectors so seamlessly because the divisions have been so eroded. Our laws are written not by elected representatives but, literally, by the largest and richest corporations. At the level of the most concentrated power, large corporate interests and government actions are basically inseparable.

 

I assert that big government really needs big business and big business profits from big government. It is like the Rubin Illusion. Without the vase one would not be able to see the two faces and without the two faces one would not be able to see the vase. The book NEOLIBERALISM: A Critical Reader has a chapter entitled “Neoliberal Globalisation: Imperialism without Empires?” by Hugo Radice. The author states:

 

Straight away, there is an apparent contradiction. Neoliberalism is supposedly all about regulating economic life by means of free markets, with a minimal role for the state; imperialism is traditionally about the exercise of power by one state over other states, through political and military means. So how can the two be reconciled?

 

They can be reconciled because they are dialectically related. Adopt this perspective and suddenly many things that initially don’t make sense now make perfect sense. Greenwald notes the almost universal opposition to corporatism on both the left and the right. As someone who has both progressive and conservative friends, I see first hand overwhelming opposition to corporatism.

 

As I've noted before, this growing opposition to corporatism — to the virtually absolute domination of our political process by large corporations — is one of the many issues that transcend the trite left/right drama endlessly used as a distraction. The anger among both the left and right towards the bank bailout, and towards lobbyist influence in general, illustrates that.

 

I know many on the left that believe that government with strong regulations will provide a check on corporate power. The assumption is that the regulations will be applied fairly across the board. If there are loopholes in the regulations that can be exploited exclusively by big business or if the costs to comply with the regulations can be borne easier by big business due to economy of scale, then big business can profit from heavy regulations through elimination and consolidation of smaller players. There are numerous examples of key corporate figures moving from corporate positions to positions within the very regulatory agencies that monitor the corporations they worked at. Big business can then become even bigger and have even greater influence on government, advancing the corporatist agenda.

So on the surface, it may appear that strong government regulation of business vs. deregulation and free-market policies are polar opposites. I assert that both can reinforce corporatism if done right. And the establishment is very good at doing it right. This is a perfect example of this amazing strategy in action. The electorate on both the left and the right almost uniformly oppose corporatism. If the establishment directly pushes this agenda, out will come the torches and pitchforks. However, if the agenda is carefully split between two paths that appear polar opposites, but are in fact dialectically related, then it is irrelevant which path is followed. The agenda advances. The public picks path A – they lose. The agenda advances. The public picks path B – they lose. The agenda advances. They always lose and big government/big business always win. Since most people do not understand the concept of dialectic nor do they think dialectically, they fully expect that if you flip back and forth between path A and path B you will get a middle of the road result. But you don’t – and that is why the strategy works so well.

Keeping It Simple Is Not Stupid

Recently I have been giving much thought to why Progressives and Democrats can’t seem to accomplish more than the bare minimum regarding desperately needed reform measures, even when they have the luxury of substantial majorities in both public favor and legislative representation.  The answer may lie in the prevalence of pointless, unwieldy levels of stratification.  With these comes an isolating sense of separation—individual elements of the base often have a problem pulling together with one voice, and, for that matter, do all who would deign to fit underneath the big tent.  

To many liberals, life must be overly complicated:  specialized committees, committees within committees, identity groups, splinter identity groups from larger ones, rules for the sake of rules, rules set in place when one unforeseen problem creates friction with anyone for whatever reason, exacting policies based on good intentions that soon become headaches for all, and many other examples.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  Overlap is sometimes a good thing.  

As such, the true failing lies in the absolutely ridiculous complexity of how structure ourselves and how we have in many ways forgotten how to communicate with each other.  For too long, information and strategies that could be used for the benefit of all have been isolated within specific single-issue oriented groups, each with its own nomenclature and particular phraseology.  For too long, so-called experts carrying a briefcase, a PowerPoint slide, and a hefty speaking fee have been employed to enlighten other people of an unknown universe, when with major modification, we could easily understand the intersections and common ground which links us together, not the great unknown that keeps us at arm’s length from each other.  

This sort of set up directly reflects the nature of academia, since the merits, weaknesses, and structure of pertinent concepts are hatched there and exhaustively vetted.  Just as I have recently discovered that the health care system available to low-income and disabled residents of Washington, DC, was written to be understood and effectively managed by policy wonks and the highly educated, not the poor and under-educated, so do I realize that so many of our grand goals are thwarted when they are neither designed, nor framed so that all might easily comprehend them.  

To cite a related example, when I am speaking within Feminist circles, I know that there are certain terms, overarching concepts, and abstract notions that one needs a thorough education, keen mind, and a willingness to research on one’s own time to grasp sufficiently.  Much emphasis is given to an everlasting critique of Patriarchy and cultural practices which place women in a subordinate role, and from these comes a thousand deep conversations and leitmotifs.  I can speak this language competently, with much practice, I might add, but I often can’t help but wonder if any of these worthwhile ideas and highly involved strategies ever get out to the working class battered housewife or to the sex worker standing on the corner of a bus terminal, prepared for another night of a dangerous way to make a living.

In my own life, part of the reason I have been able to keep my health from being as debilitating as it could be is that I had access through education and relative affluence to know how and where I could do my own research about the condition.  Now, years later, I can hold my own with any psychiatrist because I know and understand terms like selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, titration, GABA, dopamine agonist, and efficacy.  However, these terms mean absolutely nothing to the average person, who must trust fully in a psychiatrist who then must translate their needs, their symptoms, and their expectations for treatment into a regimen of medications that is inexact even in the best of circumstances.  

The likely outcome with anyone diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder is a tremendous amount of constant modifications, some slight, some major, and frequently a need to try an altogether new combination of medications, all of this in the hopes that one will stumble across the proper drugs in the proper proportion, eventually.          

We humans are a peculiar breed.  In the animal kingdom, one could argue that the average mammal attends to its own more readily and with less reservations than we do.  Without romanticizing the primitive, it would seem that no other species on Earth usually has such profound reservations about reaching out to assist others.  Though certainly other animals fight within themselves for food, mates, and resources, I often wonder if we are perhaps the most self-absorbed creatures the world has ever known.  

We are given the gift, by God or by whichever belief or unbelief you espouse, to have the gift of a very complex, and very advanced organ at our disposal known as the brain.  Yet, it seems to me sometimes that this supposed great gift can dispense evil and great suffering as easily as it gives rise to good and with it great gain for all.  

As a person of faith, I sometimes wonder if this basic concept is a credible interpretation of the beginning of time as expressed in the Book of Genesis.  So long as man and woman weren’t aware of the greater complexity of all things, they lived nakedly, blissfully in paradise.  But once temptation arrived in serpent form, suddenly they recognized that reality was not nearly so simplistic and easy to swallow.  Christianity and other religions teach that humanity was created in God’s image, and if that is the case, perhaps we are caught in some still unresolved eternal polar tension between our ability to sense and structure things in advanced shades of grey versus our relatively straightforward mammalian biological imperatives and compulsions.  Some have even implied that the human condition is imperfect particularly because we have divine elements seeking to function within imperfect organs, namely our brain.  

While on the subject, I am reminded St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church.  It seems that the church had fallen prey to smooth talk, false teachings, and a distortion of the faith itself.  Much of the passage I am about to cite, as you will see, is written quite sarcastically, its target primarily those who deceive others, not those who had been unwittingly deceived.

However, I am afraid that just as the serpent deceived Eve by its tricks, so your minds may somehow be lured away from sincere and pure devotion to the Messiah.  When someone comes to you telling about another Jesus whom we didn’t tell you about, you’re willing to put up with it.  When you receive a spirit that is different from the Spirit you received earlier, you’re also willing to put up with that. When someone tells you good news that is different from the Good News you already accepted, you’re willing to put up with that too.  

I do not think I’m inferior in any way to those “super-apostles.”  Even though I may be untrained as an orator, I am not so in the field of knowledge. We have made this clear to all of you in every possible way.  Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge?  (Italics mine) I took money from other churches as payment for my work, so that I might be your servant [at no cost to you].  And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about.  You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise!

Even those who do not believe in a higher power or in Christian terminology can understand the general message here.  To get down to the heart of the matter, our own selfish goals, ego, and pride are largely responsible for the complications that separate us from others.  When we throw up barriers for whatever reason, we cause others who might use our knowledge and insight as a helpful resource to stumble or to fail outright. The intent initially may not be to isolate information inside very specific spheres of influence or schools of thought, but very soon this is its inevitable end result.  

If we were speaking of a purely Christian point of view, we would concede that no believer should be discouraged from taking an active role in the faith, nor turned away from membership in the body as a whole based on any perceived deficiency or lacking of any kind.  Sometimes putting walls up is an unconscious decision made out of a desire for protection, sometimes it is a response to feeling unappreciated and discounted by society as a whole, and often it is a reactive measure that replicates itself a thousand times once established.  Like some untreated cancerous cell, walls and barriers become duplicated a thousand times over, leading to factionalism within factionalism, specificity within specificity, and minutia within minutia.  

The Left has adopted this formula time and time again under the pretense of being sensitive and accommodating to every possible group with a semi-unifying basic agenda.  But what this ends up doing is placing the individual concern first, and ignoring the basic humanity that draws us together.  The current generation in power embraced post-modernism with open arms, not recognizing that simply denoting a specific circle of influence means also that one ought to get to take the time to understand its core philosophy as part of the bargain.  

We can advance LGBT rights, for example, but if we don’t really make an attempt to listen, really listen to LGBT citizens and to their reflections and concerns, we are wasting our time.  Recently, a controversy has sprung up within Feminist spaces that criticizes men who make very ill-informed, very glib pronouncements of what the greater movement (and women themselves) needs to do.  These forceful pronouncements are almost always set out in condescending fashion, without, of course, truly understanding where women are coming from and without much specific understanding their particular grievances.  Some have denoted this as “mansplaining”.  

I do know the resolution of this issue ought be a two-way street, since any exchange of information needs both a talker and a hearer.  Though some may disagree with me, I also assert that Feminist circles would be wise to modify, but not water-down, nor soften their message to reach maximum exposure with the world outside of it.  This might be accomplished by consciously seeking to move away from the complications of heady terminology and abstract discussions.  This doesn’t mean voices should be silenced for any reason or that women ought not speak first and speak often in so doing.  Nor does this mean that the dialogue must be dumbed down.  What it does mean, however, is that that communication requires an equal sense of that which must be said and that which must be comprehended.  

I sincerely believe that women’s rights have a relevance and a pertinence which needs to be added to the daily discourse, but I do also know that doing so requires that it keep the extensive cerebration within itself and the cut-and-dry to those outside.  But lest one feel like I am picking on Feminists (which I am honestly not), this goes for every single-issue, shared identity, or niche group with liberal sensibilities.  Just because we seem to enjoy making things complicated for perverse reasons as yet unknown, doesn’t mean that we should.                  

The true failing in all of these cases lies in the absolutely ridiculous complexity of how we structure ourselves.  To reiterate once  more, for too long, information and strategies that could be to the benefit of all has been isolated within specific issue-oriented groups, each with its own nomenclature and particular phraseology.  This directly reflects the nature of academia, since these concepts are hatched there and exhaustively vetted.  In that profession, segregated subject areas and ultra-specific foci are considered necessities within a field of study to encourage subsequent analysis.  However, this particular structure is anathema to greater progress beyond the world of professors, scholars, and students.

Our Role in Keeping the Home Fires Burning

I know now that it is foolishness personified to believe that the Democratic Party, nor any of the existing spheres of influence currently established will provide the strong leadership we need.  Back in 2006, I was, of course, certainly elated that we had won back control of the House and the Senate, but my reservations then were that the core of the majority body were the same bumblers and bloodless supposed “leaders” whose inaction led to a loss of control in the first place, back in 1994.  Unfortunately, these fears seem to have been confirmed.  Some have proposed term limits to counter-balance this tendency and while I have my own reservations regarding that solution, I know that surely there must be a better way than what we have now.  Long ago, my home state, Alabama, knew that its concerns were likely subordinate to that of wealthier, more well-connected states, so it consistently has elected the same weasels to office, knowing that with seniority comes power and with power comes the ability to set legislative priority.

Even dating back a hundred years ago or more, the state continued to elect the same decrepit, graying elder statesmen for this very reason.  The most notable example of this was when, out of fear that these men would die in office, a special election was held, whereby voters could select not only these long-standing candidates for perhaps the last time, but also those who would immediately take power the instant they passed away.  “They will be our pallbearers”, one of the ancients was reported to have said at the time.  This unique balloting situation was partially due to the fact that Alabama was a poor state and couldn’t afford the additional expense of printing out a second round of ballots if one of its aging representatives died, but it was also due to the fact that the state wasn’t willing to give up its share of influence in the Congress until it absolutely had to, either.  If Robert Byrd runs again, one wonders if the voters of West Virginia would be similarly inclined to pursue this strategy.  One also wonders if this unique course of action had been employed in Massachusetts had Ted Kennedy’s illness come to light back in 2006 how different the situation facing us today would have been.  

I think part of what we are struggling with is an ability to adjust to uncertainty.  I have recently noticed that workers in their forties and fifties, those who have paid into the system for years, are now beginning to get laid off in scores.  First came the low-wage earners, then came the young, now a group previously insulated from layoffs.  This makes for an angry, confused electorate, one which might finds itself unable to construct much in the way of a unified front from within, but still votes to throw the bums out when it comes time to cast a ballot.  What I do know, based on observing larger trends over time, is that the economy will come back eventually.  This is, of course, not exactly comfort food to those drawing unemployment and subsisting on a fraction of their previous income.  And, we must admit, nor is it a good sign for the party in power.  

We can tout a stimulus as a job saver, but the true measure of its impact might potentially not be measured for years.  The same goes for health care reform.  What leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many about the program is that it begins collecting the necessary tax revenue to properly fund it almost the instant it is enacted, yet is not fully implemented until 2014.  Not only that, some parts of it will not be in full force until a few years after that.  While this implementation stage might be the only way the system can go into effect without toxic shock, that very fact has and will prove to be a powerful talking point for Republicans and disaffected Independents already skeptical of increased taxation, for whatever means.    

In situations like these, the natural inclination is to look for a historical antecedent, and some point back to the 1982 Mid-Congressional elections as well as the 1966 cycle.  Neither of these fit the profile neatly.  The Democratic majorities in the House, for example, were far greater than they are now.  In 1966, the Democratic party shed 47 seats but still had a majority cushion of more then 50 seats.  In 1982, Republicans picked up 26 seats, but the majority Democrats still had over 100 more than the GOP.  No one knows the number of seats that will be lost this coming November, but I still am unconvinced that control will change hands in either chamber.  What is more likely is severely reduced numbers which will likely require more conciliatory and concessionary measures with minority Republicans.  And, to be blunt, perhaps that isn’t all bad since resounding majorities in both the House and Senate have not prevented legislation from proceeding forward at anything more than a snail’s pace.  The Republicans may have put all of their winnings on obstructionism, but inter-party fighting has proved itself a far more effective opponent than anything the GOP has flung at it.  

What concerns me more is the completely justified anger at Wall Street and big business, who have methodically bought up every seat at the bargaining table if not other seats in other contexts.  This sort of conduct is indefensible from whichever context it is examined, and President Obama and the Democrats in power could launch attacks against this base inequality that would prove to be very popular with voters.  Though a few Republican voices might sound the alarm, it is a position that rarely goes sour and can always tap into an endless source of anger, frustration, and bile.  Populist anger at the wealthy is an ancient tactic and one that even the most fervent second-guesser can do little more than scream about, since few actually will listen, or have much in the way of general sympathy.    

As for more contentious matters, Democrats must avoid letting their opponents frame the issue for them.  To some extent, I understand anyone’s fear of big government, if only from the context of reduced efficiency of work and decreased quality of service.  Since the Recession began, I have noticed that in many government agencies, budget shortfalls and layoffs have gummed up or slowed to a trickle what would seem to be rudimentary, straightforward processes.  In so doing, this has given government employees no incentive to do an efficient job.  If you will please pardon, I will again refer to a personal example from my own life.  When I filed for food stamps two and a half months ago, the framework existed to allow and encourage claimants to send out applications online.  But, as I found when it took twice as long as it ever should have to receive my benefits, budget deficits prevented the agency from being able to hire and train the necessary people to process these online claims.  Thus, my file sat on a desk for a month and if I had not contacted an advocacy agency, it would probably still be there.                

In Progressive circles we talk frequently about Good Government™ and its enormous potential to do a massive amount of laudable things.  I, of course, believe in it as well, though I recognize that up to now it is still a dream kicked further and further down the road.  President Obama was swept into power talking about the merits of smart government and, lamentably, up to this point, I’m afraid I don’t see it.  Yet, neither am I willing to sagely propose, as some do, that there is some purity in the private sector.  Different name, same trough.  I suppose it depends on that which you fear the least.  It is the formation and perpetuation of systems which have shortchanged all of us that leads people to make conclusions as to the ultimate success or failure of any new enterprise, government or otherwise.  Our pessimism might not be justified, but our skepticism is not.

Though I too have engaged in finger-pointing as to why we’ve reached this climacteric a mere year after it seemed like we were on top of the world, I recognize that it is ultimately a self-defeating activity.  In the end, it doesn’t matter whose fault it was, unless that entity or collective body is willing to reform itself.  Barack Obama was a rock star once, not a vacuous celebrity as some tried to paint him.  Having released a critical disappointment that didn’t sell nearly as well as advertised, he is now facing the first openly hostile reviews of his career.  Yet, have no fear, fans.  Americans love a comeback, particularly with an extensive tour attached to it.  Someone as talented and as capable easily has the dexterity and strength to exceed our wildest expectations again, but only if he has the help he needs and he presses an agenda with a reasonable chance of succeeding.      

No person is an island.  We have wept and prayed and fasted and purged and been delayed by the same impasse.  My own contribution to a growing canon of proposed solutions is that we take a more active stance within government itself.  Anyone can lock arms, hold hands, and sing stirring songs.  Anyone can find themselves beholden to Protest Culture™, whereby one assumes that rallies, marches, and symbolic posturing are sufficient in and of themselves.  Anyone can oppose and find with opposition a million followers, a million voices of affirmation, and a million friends and supporters validating each and every sentient point.  We can hold the feet of our elected Representatives to the fire, but I believe in the value of electing new feet that won’t need to be forced towards the fireplace on a maddeningly consistent basis.  This is within our power.  

I am reminded of how much talk yesterday revolved around a plea for us to not sanitize the legacy of Dr. King and to keep his memory alive as a revolutionary who made many in positions of power very uncomfortable.  Indeed, if all we remember him today was as a purveyor of sentimental, feel-good platitudes, then we forget that he was more than that.  Far more.  Had he been merely Santa Claus, he would not have been assassinated.  At times, traditional liberalism has been reduced all too often to a never-ending Pete Seeger concert, with the sting removed and without any obligation whatsoever to be self-reflective.  When I left a more conservative, more Christ-centered faith of my own accord and moved towards unashamedly activist liberal faith, I always found it curious how easily the John Lennon song “Imagine” was adopted as a kind of mission statement of sorts.  If one examines the lyrics literally, its lyrics advocate an atheistic, anti-consumerist, anti-capitalist Utopia—a fact that gets overlooked due to the attractiveness of the melody that obscures what even a cursory examination of the words implies.

It is time for Democrats to be bold and edgy again.  I see this all the time in the blogosphere, but I rarely see it among elected representatives.  And even when a Representative or Senator does stick his or her neck out, it is usually to make a splash by forcefully uttering some patently inflammatory or controversial statement, knowing full well it will be media catnip.  The immediate impact is usually positive, but few know how to push their agenda beyond immediate shock value and dramatic statements that sound compelling at first hearing, but often are a bit on the childish end of the spectrum by the end.  And, it hardly needs adding, even these sorts of attitudes are in short supply, all told.  No one ever confused the base as being anything less than fired up and ready to go.  If those elected to serve us are not willing to listen to us, we have an obligation to replace them with those who will, and in so doing, being willing to drafting candidates from within our ranks to fill the slots.  Those willing to complain are legion, but those willing to serve are often not.  Participatory Democracy does not depend on a particular Patrician class we deem the experts and the only sorts that can get the job done.  The skill set needed now and forever is only the willingness to run and the ability to learn the game.

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