A Report on Progressive Strategy: The State of Strategy on the Left

November 26, 2006

Friends, I am pleased to point out a report on progressive political strategy recently released by The Commonwealth Institute, a think tank in Cambridge, MA. If you have any interest in real, substantive change in U.S. politics toward more fair, just, and responsive government, take a look at the report. I believe thinking about actual strategy (rather than just, “Our strategy is to win.”) is so important. The report is meant to outline what strategic thinking is going on out there in the progressive world – sort of a snapshot of what is currently being done.

According to The Commonwealth Institute, “The main goal of this report is to hold a mirror up for American progressives and provide a reflection of the state of progressive strategic thought. At a minimum, it gives an overview of the field, provides some clarifications and hopefully a better orientation and basis for strategic development.”

The authors define what they mean by strategy and distinguish it from operations and tactic and they explain the six components necessary for a fully articulated strategy. They note that, “Whenever possible we have chosen to let strategists speak for themselves, either carefully abstracting from their work or directly quoting. We avoid making judgments as to the viability or even the coherency of strategies. We do not compare and contrast, but rather aim to present the strategic components systematically so that comparisons by the reader are facilitated.”

Looking forward to hear what folks think.

(Full disclosure: Ahem… My partner is the main author of the report, but this is no way diminishes the fact that it is a really important thing to be thinking about or that it is a really well written, clearly articulated, coherent assessment of strategic thinking on the left. I would still point it out even if I didn’t live with the author and hadn’t discussed the ideas contained in report over dinner every night of the past year.)

Progressive Strategy: Mitigating Harm or Changing the System?

August 17, 2006

George Lakoff became sort of a progressive/liberal rock star with his idea of framing which I found helpful. But his new book Whose Freedom? raises conundrums like this one pointed out by Robert Jensen in The Limits of Lakoff’s Politics: Outside the Frame:

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.

Geesh, I wish solutions/approaches to some sort of solution were easier. Do we try to dismantle the whole system of oppression that is just HUGE and rich and mean and ruthless, or do we make do and try to reduce the amount of harm done by such a system? I always shake my head at revolutionary types that (it seems naively) think we can sort of undo capitalism-as-we-know-it. Yet, it also feels sort of like selling out if we resign ourselves to just try to mitigate the harm done by the system, which is really all that can be done if the capitalism-U.S.-military-corporation-materialism-WTO-IMF complex remains intact. And I know that we could try to do both, but there are limited resources for what we do and so if we split them between making-do and dismantling-the-system, we may make little progress on either. What would “revolution” even look like, I wonder? I will try to look into that and see. In the meantime, over at the progressive strategy blog, they are thinking about this is much more sophisticated ways. Read a more in-depth discussion of things over there.

Progressive Strategy, or Thinking About How to Make World that Will Not Go Up in Flames Soon

June 16, 2006

While all UUs are certainly not politically progressive, I think it is fair to say that a bunch of us are. Thus, I imagine there are some of you out there interested in the sort of work my partner does with the Progressive Strategy Studies Project http://progressive-strategy.blogspot.com/. W. keeps me updated on what is going on out there as progressives fantasize, er, I mean think about the possibility of progressive politics being a viable movement (that does positive good, rather than simply mitigate harm) before the earth and all its people go up in flames, either literally or figuratively. The PSSP seeks to contribute to the construction of an effective grand strategy for building progressive power in the United States. I think it is key that here progressive means “left” and not center-left or center or almost-Republican-only-not-quite. W. recently pointed out a lovely and wonderful quote by Robert Reich to me that really touches upon this:

If you want to be a malleable politician, you campaign from the center. But if you want to be a leader, you define the center. You don’t rely on polls to tell you where to go. At best, polls tell you where people are, and it’s pointless to lead people to where they already are. The essence of political leadership is focusing the public’s attention on the hard issues that most would rather avoid or dismiss. We know the problems that need fixing. Centrism is bogus. There’s no well-defined consistent political center in America. (from Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America)

It seems like the future of progressive politics in general lies in the possibility of actual leaders who are willing to speak truth to power and not get all political-strategied out by people saying “Oooo, don’t be too radical. Don’t say anything that will scare X demographic or turn off Y group.” And then you get people like Kerry and Gore coming off as wishy-washy stiff nothings and we have G.W. Bush as our president. As the German saying goes, “Now you have your salad.”

That said, leadership toward more progressive (or at least less disastrous?) policy in the U.S. is not going to happen overnight. Leadership involves more than being good from the podium. We need to work at the grassroots level, talking to people about the reality of their lives. People are poor. Struggling. Have no health insurance. No safety net. There must be some way to work with this reality and help folks understand that it does not HAVE to be like this. I was always impressed with the way that Campus Crusade for Christ and like organizations managed to recruit LOTS of people to Jesus through kind, thoughtful, cheerful, outreach. There must be a way to do that sort of outreach, only not to (as Crusaders would say) to win over hearts for Jesus, but rather to win over people’s hearts to voting and leaning political toward leaders, parties, and policies that are in their own self-interest (health care, safety net, etc.), rather than guided by hot-button issues like abortion, GLBT issues, terrorism, etc.

So, the PSSP is in the progress of collecting and maping contemporary strategic thinking of the American left, in hopes of revealing strategic gaps or contradictions that can be pointed out and addressed. The project focuses on actual strategy. It cracks me up to read some “strategy” pieces that W. shows me where the strategy is something like “Win elections” or “get universal health care approved” or “convince people Republicans are bad.” These, my friends, are not strategies. For more on progressive strategy, visit the blog for the PSSP at http://progressive-strategy.blogspot.com/.
written by one of the most brilliant, savvy, smart, and cute political scientist out there (who also, ahem, happens to be my partner).

Peace out my fellow journeyers.