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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Progressive Strategy Brain

Last summer I highlighted a report on the state of progressive strategy called Finding Strategy: A Survey of Contemporary Contributions to Progressive Strategy (PDF).  At the time I didn't do much more beyond summarize the report and promise follow-up at a later point, which, I grudgingly admit, I didn't really do.

However, the  Progressive Strategy Studies Project (PSSP) has recently released a new companion tool for the report, so I thought I'd revisit this discussion.  The tool is called the Progressive Strategy Brain, and it's explained in an introductory blog post at the Progressive Strategy Blog.  The brain is a visualization tool which allows users to navigate a library of about 4,100 articles or entries related to progressive strategy.  The screen is split in two vertically, with the top half depicting an interconnected web of concepts centered on a single, active concept, and the bottom half providing text and description of that concept.  You can click on any concept in the top half to make it active.  While some entries have very sparse text and merely exist to depict a relationship between other concepts, others include a full report's worth of HTML.  The tool is still evolving, and PSSP hopes to update it every week.  The software which runs the whole show is called The Brain.  (Full disclosure: Wolfgang Brauner, one of the authors of the original report, and of the Progressive Strategy Brain, is a personal friend.)

Clicking around inside the Progressive Strategy Brain is quite fun, as you can navigate between all sorts of interesting topics, individuals, organizations, and even abstract ideas.  There are a few interesting jumping off points, though, such as Finding Strategy (2006) strategists (a list of strategists listed in the original report), Progressive Challenges (challenges which face the prorgressive movement), Progressive Strategy Types, and Progressive Strategy Literature.

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A real strategy for change

Barack Obama has promised "change we can believe in" and to "turn the page" in American politics.  His critics accuse him of tempting voters with inspirational rhetoric and the vagaries of hope without a strategy for turning words into real and meaningful change.  Naturally, all campaigns can be criticized for this failure - the best that can be said of political campaigns is that they set the stage for change by shifting the balance and dynamics of politics.  Few candidates actually deliver all of the change they promise because, in the end, few campaigns change the dynamics of politics. Most don't deliver change at all.

Yet, what distinguishes the Obama campaign is that it actually is changing political dynamics and that it actually has a strategy for change.  It is the Clinton campaign that actually lacks a genuine strategy for change any deeper than the candidate's pledges to "fight harder".  Obama's special gift is that he is able to reframe issues in ways that make intuitive sense to the best parts of most Americans.  The result has been that he's consistently found ways to use the values that unite the country - fairness, decency, justice, freedom, creativity, compassion, high aspirations, and (yes) hope - as frames for policies to which he's committed and for building new and more inclusive political unity.  As a result his campaign has activated and mobilized vast numbers of people across age, gender, race, class, and, to some extent, ideological lines.  They attend rallies, volunteer, contribute, caucus and vote.  Instead of PACs and lobbyists establishing their dominance within the campaign, more than a million individual contributors, most quite modest, have financed its operations.  

This values-based mass mobilization is a fundamental paradigm shift in Democratic politics, and it is what is changing the political dynamics of this election. It is a strategy for change.  If the mobilization can be sustained beyond the election, it will change the political dynamics that determine the country's future.  It is a new and powerful catalyst that will fundamentally shift the balance of power and the conventional dynamics of politics.  

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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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Hillary's "smart" Campaign (or if she wins, this country is in deep trouble)

If she runs our country the way she runs her campaign, we are in deep trouble.

From The Atlantic on her campaign managers loyalty
http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200802u/p atti-solis-doyle/2
Here, too, Solis Doyle was disastrous; her lack of skill in areas other than playing the loyal heavy began to show. The first public sign of this came just after Clinton's reelection to the Senate. Even though Clinton had faced no serious opponent, it turned out that Solis Doyle, as campaign manager, had burned through more than $30 million. As this New York Times story makes clear, the donor base was incensed. Toward the end of the Senate campaign, Solis Doyle did her best to bolster the impression of the inevitability of Hillary's nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate, spreading word that Clinton's Senate reelection fund-raising had gone so exceptionally well that $40 million to $50 million would be left after Election Day to transfer to the incipient presidential campaign. But this turned out to be a wild exaggeration--and Solis Doyle must have known it was. Disclosure filings revealed a paltry $10 million in cash on hand; far from conveying Hillary's inevitability, this had precisely the opposite effect, encouraging, rather than frightening off, potential challengers.

Rather than punish Solis Doyle or raise questions about her fitness to lead, Clinton chose her to manage the presidential campaign for reasons that should now be obvious: above all, Clinton prizes loyalty and discipline, and Solis Doyle demonstrated both traits, if little else. This suggests to me that for all the emphasis Clinton has placed on executive leadership in this campaign, her own approach is a lot closer to the current president's than her supporters might like to admit.

Then of course is their highliy disorganized campaign which cannot seem to put all of the ground troops in place.

From the NYT:
But it's the Clinton strategists, not the Obama voters, who drank the Kool-Aid. The Obama campaign is not a vaporous cult; it's a lean and mean political machine that gets the job done. The Clinton camp has been the slacker in this race, more words than action, and its candidate's message, for all its purported high-mindedness, was and is self-immolating.

The gap in hard work between the two campaigns was clear well before Feb. 5. Mrs. Clinton threw as much as $25 million at the Iowa caucuses without ever matching Mr. Obama's organizational strength. In South Carolina, where last fall she was up 20 percentage points in the polls, she relied on top-down endorsements and the patina of inevitability, while the Obama campaign built a landslide-winning organization from scratch at the grass roots. In Kansas, three paid Obama organizers had the field to themselves for three months; ultimately Obama staff members outnumbered Clinton staff members there 18 to 3.

In the last battleground, Wisconsin, the Clinton campaign was six days behind Mr. Obama in putting up ads and had only four campaign offices to his 11. Even as Mrs. Clinton clings to her latest firewall -- the March 4 contests -- she is still being outhustled. Last week she told reporters that she "had no idea" that the Texas primary system was "so bizarre" (it's a primary-caucus hybrid), adding that she had "people trying to understand it as we speak." Perhaps her people can borrow the road map from Obama's people. In Vermont, another March 4 contest, The Burlington Free Press reported that there were four Obama offices and no Clinton offices as of five days ago. For what will no doubt be the next firewall after March 4, Pennsylvania on April 22, the Clinton campaign is sufficiently disorganized that it couldn't file a complete slate of delegates by even an extended ballot deadline.
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/24/opinio n/24rich.html

Oooh yeah she's a smart one. She will really whip this country into shape wont she?

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