Ideological and economic theories of change

Yesterday, Mike Lux touched off a fascinating discussion on Open Left on Theories of Change.  The basic question was, what will it take to enact really monumental changes - like stopping global warming, enacting universal health care, or dismantling the military-industrial complex?  Lux listed seven theories, none of them mutually exclusive and some of them actually quite similar to one another.

I want to expand on that discussion a bit, by pointing out a couple of theories which Mike didn't list in the original post. Follow me across the flip for more...

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Outlining a progressive grand strategy, part 1 - goals and assessment

Yesterday's blog post about the Progressive Strategy Brain got me thinking about a problem which the authors of Finding Strategy (PDF) have discussed in the past: what would a grand strategy for progressive power look like?

In addition to giving blog posts like this one a really cool-sounding title, grand strategy is a coherent composition of several different strategies which together address all of the different forms of power relationships in society.  It's quite a tall order, which would explain why no one has really developed a grand strategy for progressive power.  (Full disclosure: As I mentioned yesterday, one of the authors of Finding Strategy is a personal friend.)

I don't pretend to have the answer to this question, but I'd like to piece together some thoughts on what such a strategy might look like. As Finding Strategy argues, strategy consists of six components: goals, assessment, tactics, resources, dynamics, and evaluation.  Today, I'd like to focus on the first two components; I'll delve into the other four in follow-up posts.  Follow me across the jump for more.

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The cultural dimension of transformational politics

On Thursday Digby wrote a fascinating post at Campaign for America's Future on the difference between transactional and transformational politics.  The post pointed out the difference between "transactional" politics (what can I get in the political marketplace?) and "transformational" politics (how can I change the marketplace?).  Digby argues that elected officials should be doing two jobs at once - getting the best reforms they can in the current environment, while working to change that environment so that it is more favorable to progressives.

I think it's important that we recognize the difference between these two forms of politics, and also that we push our elected officials to strive for political transformations even as they try to get the best "deal" on each political "transaction" they make.  Indeed, that is perhaps the central purpose of the progressive blogosphere.

However, I think we should also think more broadly about political transformation and the other forces, besides the machinations of Democratic politicians, which might create political transformation.  In particular, we need to be aware of the cultural institutions which frequently shape our political environment, and we need to push those institutions to create political transformation as well.  Follow me across the flip for more details on how, in my opinion, cultural institutions shape our political environment, and what (in somewhat high-level terms) needs to be done about those institutions to create the kind of progressive political transformation we seek.

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Identity, Ideology, and Cultural Institutions

On Monday, Chris Bowers at OpenLeft wrote about the importance of a long-term trend of growing racial, ethnic and religious diversity in the demise of the conservative movement.  Chris's main thesis are that identity and ideology are one and the same, in the sense that the cultural institutions which produce one's identity are the same as those which produce one's ideology, and that Democrats should stop thinking about political positioning in terms of classic left/center/right ideological terms.  The upshot: Democrats must eschew Republican tactics, messaging and policies in favor of embracing pluralism and diversity.

There's a lot to agree with in his post, although I do think he misses a few key points.  First and foremost, I believe he's only partially correct in claiming that the ideological self-identification is essentially meaningless.  While it is true that a clever ad campaign can move ideological self-identification numbers tremendously, it's also true that self-identification numbers have been remarkably stable in exit polls for many years: about 20% of voters self-identify as liberals, while about 33% of voters self-identify as conservatives.  It would appear that about half of the country self-identifies ideologically in a very stable way, meaning that ideology is not quite dead - it's just dead for about half of the electorate, and probably a pretty good share of the non-voting adult population.

Second and perhaps more importantly, while it's true that "all of the major institutions that produce someone's cultural identity ... are the same
institutions that produce someone's ideology", each institution pulls the identity and ideology levers in different ways.  For example, while it's almost certainly true that educational institutions play a role in ideological formation, do they really do much for identity creation?  Contra-wise, the role of family life in ideological formation is murky at best, while family life plays a central role in identity creation.

At the end of the day, I think while Chris is largely right, there is a clearer line between ideology and identity than he supposes.  Probably, what this means is that there are many people who vote an identity, a pretty sizable group that votes both an identity and an ideology, and a small number who vote against an identity/ideology.  That obviously has implications for electoral strategy, but I think it also has implications for what I'd call (for lack of a better term) our cultural strategy - our strategy for engaging and shaping cultural institutions in order to keep our base growing and strong.  In particular, this means that our cultural strategy should not only include efforts to strengthen and create cultural institutions which form the progressive ideology/identity, it also means that the strategy should draw clear lines between cultural movements and progressivism.

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Making Progressivism Real

On Monday, Chris Bowers wrote about a fascinating Lear/Zogby study on entertainment choices and ideological orientation.  The study is interesting because in addition to asking respondents to self-identify as liberal, conservative, or moderate, the study asks respondents a flurry of questions and then assigns ideological markers ("Blue", "Red", and "Purple") to respondents post-hoc.

Bowers argues that the most significant way to produce political change is to support cultural institutions which produce progressive ideological change will make a much larger difference in electoral and legislative outcomes than anything that is done in the political world.  I think it's a very wise point.  Clever campaign ads and better voter targeting will only take a progressive candidate so far in a world where progressives are vastly outnumbered by conservatives.  Contra-wise, even a very poorly run campaign for a progressive candidate can succeed in a world awash with progressives.  That's why labor unions, progressive news and opinion media, and liberal religious organizations are so important: they are cultural institutions which make progressivism real for people who may not be tuned into politics actively, and thereby make people more progressive.  The first-order political impacts of these organizations, like church voter registration drives and campaign donations from unions, are just gravy.

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