If she weighs the same as a duck … she’s made of wood … and therefore

by John Holbo on September 24, 2014

… an Alinskyite!

Unless I’m missing something, Kurtz’ actual argument that Hillary has consistently remained an Alinskyite radical is that, for decades, she has consistently done absolutely nothing whatsoever to suggest this is true – as one would expect! She is, to all appearances, moderate, incrementalist and pragmatic. Just like Barack Obama, who is such a model Alinskyite radical that he is on track to govern for eight years and retire to private life without once doing anything to suggest he’s got a radical bone in his body.

How much more sinister would The Manchurian Candidate have been if the trigger word were never spoken. The sleeper never wakes! (A lone hero tries to warn the world but, because there is literally nothing to warn people about, he is ignored.)

Back to Kurtz.

With Obamacare and much else besides, the legal and bureaucratic groundwork has already been laid for a leftist transformation of America. It is naïve to believe that Hillary would roll any of this back.

OK, now that would be a twist ending. Suppose Hillary is elected and we find out how just how deep the rabbit hole goes. She was, and has remained, a Goldwater Girl. After 1964 she knew that sort of commonsense conservatism could not win openly. It was too easy for opponents to tar you as a radical. The whole Alinsky phase was then a ruse, to establish a veneer of political acceptability. This was deep cover, to get close to Bill Clinton and, through him, the levers of power. Flash forward. It’s been a long road but finally, in 2016, all the ‘naive’ people who expect from Hillary a radical rollback of Obamacare, and much else he and other Democrats have done for decades in a seemingly moderate, incrementalist, pragmatic spirit – after all, she says she’s a moderate! – are proved right! President Hillary confesses to the American people that she has only seemingly been supporting a consistently seemingly moderate politics all these years, because secretly she advocated a consistently moderate politics. But she knew the American people, who don’t like radicalism, would only go for moderation if it was cloaked as radicalism cloaked in moderation. She joins the Tea Party and goes down in history as a truly moderate Democrat.

Psych!

“That’s a new one, blue skies on Mars.”

{ 97 comments }

1

Jerry Vinokurov 09.24.14 at 1:09 am

Not only that, but we’ll find out she was a replicant all along!

2

John Holbo 09.24.14 at 1:13 am

I think it’s more likely that we will find that, as in Philip K. Dick’s original version, she saved the earth from alien invasion at the age of 9. But then they wiped her memory. And everything since has been, sort of, an attempt to recover that memory. Some little bit of it is still there, nagging at her.

3

The Temporary Name 09.24.14 at 1:35 am

Her strategic preference for polarization and targeting enemies is well documented from her time in the White House, even, or especially, by sympathetic writers such as Bernstein.

OMG what sort of monster from the depths likes polarization and targets enemies?

4

Palindrome 09.24.14 at 1:50 am

Do Alynskyite’s Dream of Electoral Politics?

5

John Holbo 09.24.14 at 1:59 am

“OMG what sort of monster from the depths likes polarization”.

The irony is that it doesn’t even seem to be true that she has a strategic preference for polarization, although that is a normal enough stategy. So the complaint reduces to: she targets her enemies.

6

MPAVictoria 09.24.14 at 2:38 am

It is a well known fact that whatever democrat is nominated for president immediately becomes the libbiest liberal who ever libbed. No point in fighting it.

7

roger gathman 09.24.14 at 2:42 am

I thought she had already gone down the rabbit hole. Isn’t she the great neo-con hope for the next election? http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/06/opinion/sunday/are-neocons-getting-ready-to-ally-with-hillary-clinton.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Aw%2C%7B%221%22%3A%22RI%3A8%22%7D
Of course, in the old days, a moderate was someone who’d say things like, I don’t know about that there bombing Russia, instead of saying things like, Putin is just like Hitler. Nowadays,the new moderates – more moderate than ever! stand shoulder to shoulder with John Mccain. I liked the old moderates better.
It would be a nice surprise if she joined the tea party – we’d get a more liberal foreign policy!

8

Palindrome 09.24.14 at 3:19 am

Okay, a few more:

Flow My Tears, The National Review Man Said
A Scanner Dumbly
Our Friends From Frolix 8*

*Oddly, no alterations necessary on that last one.

9

Sandwichman 09.24.14 at 4:23 am

I dunno. If a picture of a plutocrat in a top hat and frock coat smoking a cigar isn’t Marxist class struggle, I don’t know what is.

10

Ben 09.24.14 at 6:51 am

Surely a political radical like Le Guin would be better to riff on:

The Word for World is Alinsky

Those Who Walk Away From a Steady Wingnut Welfare Check

11

Ben Alpers 09.24.14 at 8:07 am

What was true in the ’90s remains true today: the best thing the Clintons have going for them is their enemies.

12

Steve Sailer 09.24.14 at 8:49 am

Hillary’s college thesis on Alinsky is surprisingly witty.

13

Brett Bellmore 09.24.14 at 9:49 am

“So the complaint reduces to: she targets her enemies.”

Actually, I think it reduces to: She illegally targets her enemies. Not that Democrats are expected to admit the charge is true, of course, but, Filegate, for instance.

14

John Holbo 09.24.14 at 10:20 am

“Filegate, for instance.”

Are you saying that Democrats should admit that the Filegate charges are true? Why? (Do you think they are true?)

15

Brett Bellmore 09.24.14 at 11:12 am

No, I’m not expecting Democrats to admit what happened in Filegate. After the last few decades, I wouldn’t expect Democrats to admit the Sun rises in the east, if it were in some way politically inconvenient.

I’m just saying, her allies don’t get to decide what her enemies accuse her of, and the accusation isn’t that she targets her enemies, it’s that she does it illegally.

16

Brett Bellmore 09.24.14 at 11:18 am

As for why I think the Filegate charges are true, that’s simple enough. When a subordinate whose previous job experience consisted of carrying out dirty tricks turns out to be in possession of a bunch of FBI records of members of the opposing party, it is somewhat Polyannish to assume it was by accident.

17

John Holbo 09.24.14 at 11:21 am

“it is somewhat Polyannish to assume it was by accident.”

Who says we have to assume?

18

John Holbo 09.24.14 at 11:26 am

“and the accusation isn’t that she targets her enemies”

Well, you are free to accuse her of anything you like. But, in the linked piece, Kurtz was singling out as remarkable not the fact that she targets her enemies illegally but that she targets them at all.

19

Brett Bellmore 09.24.14 at 11:26 am

Who says we have to be credulous about our political enemies’ excuses? When our ally ends up with a knife in our enemy’s back, we naturally claim to believe they just tripped, but it is somewhat tendentious to demand that our enemies embrace that explanation, too.

I suppose you also believe that it was just by accident that the Whitewater files weren’t found until the statute of limitations had expired? Well, you’re free to believe remarkably silly things, and I’m free to dismiss them.

20

John Holbo 09.24.14 at 11:30 am

“it is somewhat tendentious to demand that our enemies embrace that explanation, too.”

Who’s demanding?

21

rea 09.24.14 at 11:53 am

I suppose you also believe that it was just by accident that the Whitewater files weren’t found until the statute of limitations had expired?

This kind of speculation might be more persuasive if there were anything actually incriminating in the files.

22

rea 09.24.14 at 12:09 pm

And Filegate–oh, lord are we listening to a “greatest hits of the 90’s” radio station?

“The matter was investigated by the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the Whitewater Independent Counsel. In 1998, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr exonerated President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton of any involvement in the matter. In 2000 Independent Counsel Robert Ray issued his final report on Filegate, stating that there was no credible evidence of any criminal activity by any individual in the matter and no credible evidence that senior White House figures or the First Lady had requested the files or had acted improperly or testified improperly regarding Livingstone’s hiring. A separate lawsuit on the matter brought by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, has lingered on for years and was dismissed by a federal judge in 2010.”–Wikipedia

But now that no one remembers what actually happened, Bellmore and his ilk can recycle the same old nonsense. Tell us the one about Mena, Arkansas, Brett!

23

MPAVictoria 09.24.14 at 12:15 pm

“But now that no one remembers what actually happened, Bellmore and his ilk can recycle the same old nonsense. Tell us the one about Mena, Arkansas, Brett!”

And don’t forget how she is really a lesbian who murdered Vince Foster!

24

mds 09.24.14 at 1:10 pm

She’s really a lesbian who murdered her lover Vince Foster, MPAVictoria. It’s those little details that really sold the narrative.

25

MPAVictoria 09.24.14 at 1:15 pm

“She’s really a lesbian who murdered her lover Vince Foster, MPAVictoria. It’s those little details that really sold the narrative.”

Exactly. The Democratic party could nominate Zombie Reagan himself and it wouldn’t matter to the right wing nutters (and I am very much including BB in that category). The Democratic nominee for president is by DEFINITION the libbyiest liberal who ever libbed. That is just the way their minds work.

26

William Timberman 09.24.14 at 1:25 pm

Mistah Kurtz he dead. A penny for the old guy. Such is the absurdity of American politics today — pace Mistahs Kurtz and Bellmore — that had McCain selected Hillary instead of Sarah as his running mate in 2008, he’d be President today, and we’d scarcely have noticed any change in our fortunes, or in Hillary’s ambition.

The alternate universe here is the one we’re living in.

27

rea 09.24.14 at 1:55 pm

had McCain selected Hillary

(1) she would not have accepted.
(2) the convention would have rejected her
(3) he would not have remained the Republican nominee

And there are real differences between McCain and Obama, or McCain and Hillary, which are obvious except to those who look down on US politics from a very great height indeed.

28

MPAVictoria 09.24.14 at 1:56 pm

“that had McCain selected Hillary instead of Sarah as his running mate in 2008, he’d be President today, and we’d scarcely have noticed any change in our fortunes, or in Hillary’s ambition.”

I firmly believe that if McCain had been elected in 2008 things would be so bad that the current world would seem like a veritable Eden in comparison. So Obama at least has that going for him.

29

Doctor Memory 09.24.14 at 3:35 pm

And here, in a nutshell, is why my current plan viz the 2016 presidential elections is to try as hard as humanly possible to ignore them. We really are going to re-litigate every last fever dream that the American Spectator et al foisted onto the public circa 1992-99, and no power on earth can stop this train. At least when we were forced to do the this-time-as-farce dance in 2004 over John Kerry’s war records, that was actually about something important.

Time is a flat circle, indeed. Flow my tears, the policeman said…

30

The Temporary Name 09.24.14 at 4:18 pm

I suppose you also believe that it was just by accident that the Whitewater files weren’t found until the statute of limitations had expired?

I say the government should have forced her to do something she didn’t want to do.

31

Plume 09.24.14 at 4:34 pm

The frustrating thing for, dare I say, anyone on the left, when it comes to electoral American politics is this:

We know the Republicans win even when they lose. The Dems will always choose someone along the spectrum of centrist to true conservative, and Republicans will then have to move even further to the right to protect their fat flanks.

On the right, the powers that be know the score. They know they win either way, too. But they have to put up a good show, so they can whip up anger in people like Brett, who sees a conservative like Obama or Hillary as “far left” and an Alinskyite — whatever that means. This fear of the little old peacenik neighborhood organizer, who never joined a political party and never hurt a flea is beyond bizarre.

As the OP says, Obama (and Clinton before him) will have managed to get through eight years without demonstrating a single “radical” move, ever. But the rabid right will still scream that he’s Marx/Mao and Jack the Ripper incarnated.

It would be funny if not for the deeply toxic and tragic part.

32

mpowell 09.24.14 at 7:14 pm

Brett is usually a little bit better than this. I think two decades of time and tribal affiliation lead to poor memory. Its understandable.

33

Sebastian H 09.24.14 at 7:43 pm

A large knock against Hillary is that she’s symptomatic of something really wrong in a country as large as the U.S. to have the Presidency pass between the Bushs and the Clintons for a total of four times in five presidencies.

And yes. I though it was crappy in the original Bush II iteration.

34

Rich Puchalsky 09.24.14 at 8:04 pm

I’m just going to pretend that the post didn’t start out by arguing against something braindead and was instead open to some other reply than “dur hur stupid Repubs” or the counter reply “Was true arglebargle!”

What does it mean that Alinsky inspired these people in their youth (e.g. Clinton, Obama), had them work all the up to the top of the political ladder, and then had them completely disavow both his ideas and his practices? What does it mean that the Tea Party — well here I’ll just quote wiki for convenience:

“Adam Brandon, a spokesman for the conservative non-profit organization FreedomWorks, one of several groups involved in organizing Tea Party protests, says the group gives Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals to its top leadership members. A shortened guide called Rules for Patriots is distributed to its entire network. In a January 2012 story that appeared in The Wall Street Journal, citing the organization’s tactic of sending activists to town-hall meetings, Brandon explained, “his [Alinsky’s] tactics when it comes to grass-roots organizing are incredibly effective.” Former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey also gives copies of Alinsky’s book Rules for Radicals to Tea Party leaders.”

Calling John Emerson here, but this is all about the failure of left populism. I’ve worked for various organizations inspired by / continuing Alinsky’s tactics. And I think that basically they don’t work. I sort of suspected this ever since I read _Rules For Radicals_ as a teenager: there’s no institutional structure ready to carry forward community organizing into something that can make and hold widespread political gains. Look at the Tea Party itself. It can have a negative effect in that it can stop things that are widely disliked by an active base. But it can’t seem to turn itself into an institutionally self-propagating entity.

So really, Obama and Clinton are model Alinskyites. They were down with community organizing until they realized that it wouldn’t support their continued political careers. That is not a bad thing, in a politician — someone has to go for the top. But it meant that when they had to reject the structure that wouldn’t support them, the ideals animating that structure went too.

35

Rich Puchalsky 09.24.14 at 8:34 pm

The above-mentioned John Emerson has something that I think is relevant here.

36

mattski 09.24.14 at 10:23 pm

But it meant that when they had to reject the structure that wouldn’t support them, the ideals animating that structure went too.

Don’t you mean ‘tactics’ rather than ‘structure?’ Seems to me the structure is our system of campaign finance which forces politicians to spend most of their time raising money. Do you disagree with that assessment? And if so, how is that a “failure of left populism.” If you ask me, it’s a failure of campaign finance law, or from another angle, a triumph of plutocratic interests.

37

a different chris 09.25.14 at 12:01 am

>she has consistently done absolutely nothing whatsoever to suggest this is true – as one would expect!

You have the wrong Monty Python, don’t you?

Brian: I’m not the Messiah! Will you please listen? I am not the Messiah, do you understand? Honestly!
Girl: Only the true Messiah denies His divinity.
Brian: What? Well, what sort of chance does that give me? All right! I am the Messiah!
Followers: He is! He is the Messiah!

38

Rich Puchalsky 09.25.14 at 1:02 am

mattski, I think that your entire comment is phrased in a way characteristic of what Emerson in the link above calls interest-group liberalism, in which “structures” are structures of law, and intended to ensure that all parties have a level playing field. I don’t think such structures have worked or can work even in theory — certainly not during “the triumph of plutocratic interests” — and I’m fundamentally not interested in them.

Here’s a quote from an article by Mike Miller:

When I was a young organizer in the late 1960s and 1970s, effective “people power” groups were few and far between. Where they existed, Alinsky-tradition community organizations defeated urban renewal; won jobs for minorities; stopped planned freeways that would destroy working-class neighborhoods; halted redlining; preserved neighborhood shopping strips; defeated slum landlords; achieved education reform; negotiated policy changes in health care, transportation, recreation, and other public services; and even won national anti-redlining public policy victories. But they failed to build permanent institutions that could connect for city, state, and national action, go deeper into local power structures, and do more than win concessions from the powers-that-be. Alinsky himself observed that the life span of one of his organizations was five years; after that it was either absorbed into administering programs (rather than building people power) or died.

The article then goes on to suggest more of the same, bigger, better, avoiding past mistakes. I think that the whole approach may have been a mistake. Urban “machines” and Alinsky groups fundamentally didn’t get along, and I think the machines ended up being more valuable to left politics than community organizing did. Not because machine politics was better — but because it was a structure that actually could supply money and votes. And not because some campaign finance law passed by elites created a level playing field.

39

Palindrome 09.25.14 at 1:26 am

@37: “He’s NOT the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!”

40

Thornton Hall 09.25.14 at 1:45 am

@34 There’s a bizarre symmetry behind the idea on the left that because Alinsky organizing can never be carried forward, the successful Democratic politician, by definition, has rejected Alinsky and therefore subjected to a never ending stream of @31 type whinging about the lack of true Alinsky inspired liberals (which are the only kind, duh!) and the idea on the right that a Republican politician who is *unsuccessful* was, by definition, not conservative enough, such that conservatism, like Alinsky/liberalism, by definition, can never be achieved and is always an occasion for whinging.

Except when Ronnie wins. Then it’s morning in America!

41

Plume 09.25.14 at 2:21 am

@40,

It’s not “whinging.” It’s just a calm assessment of the facts. The Dems are center-right. The Republicans far right. I think objective observers of American politics can see this. It’s not a matter of the lack of “Alinsky inspired liberals,” again, whatever that’s supposed to mean, given that he was a little old man who never hurt a flea, beloved in his neighborhood, someone who did his best to help the poor and the outcast, but had little real impact beyond the local. The Dems aren’t even liberal anymore, and haven’t really been since the 1960s, so I don’t expect them to suddenly kick it up a notch to be a more intense kind of liberal. They’d have to get to liberal first to do that.

My complaint is that our two-party system has devolved into an all too obvious front for the conservative power structure, and they both work for the financial elite, which has always been conservative. They don’t matter as much as the Deep State anyway, and come and go talking of Michelangelo without doing much except confuse and distract. Their real purpose is to get us all to bicker with each other and miss the fact that their overlords are picking our pockets and destroying the planet behind our backs.

Hillary or Romney? In the long run, who cares? It would only matter on the margins. And even if we suddenly did luck into a true leftist populist hero, the real deal, one with the courage to truly institute change, he or she would “accidentally” get themselves shot. Whether it’s called the Power Elite (C. Wright Mills) or Mike Lofgren’s Deep State, you can bet future presidents will serve that and their bosses, or find themselves disappeared.

The only real way out of this mess is to get rid of the whole works, the Deep State, their bosses and the system that enables their control.

42

Thornton Hall 09.25.14 at 2:50 am

@41 Of course you’re correct that Obama is center-right in the sense that the ACA isn’t single payer, and there’s no broad Democratic support for large efforts to better secure FDR’s Four Freedoms.

But “Hillary vs. Romney? In the long run, who cares?” is the statement of someone who has no idea of what’s going on. The Deep State? How about the plain old government of Ferguson, MO? The guy with money coming out of his pockets is on the other team from me on that question, and if that’s all the difference there were, it’d be more than enough difference to get me to the polls, not to mention hosting as many Ready for Hillary parties as there are days until the election.

43

Thornton Hall 09.25.14 at 2:56 am

@41

you can bet future presidents will serve that and their bosses, or find themselves disappeared.

In other words, I’m right. That’s because in your view, it is impossible for the real liberals to win, because they will be disappeared. So the kind of liberal victory you want, is, in your own view of the world, impossible. You have created a world where what you want cannot come to pass, by definition. So, by definition, you will always have something to complain about. Which is what I said.

44

SC 09.25.14 at 4:07 am

I did find this part of Hillary letter to Alinsky amusing: “There were rumors of your going to SE Asia to recruit organizers. Is the lack of imagination among my peers really so rampant as that suggests or did you get yourself a CIA-sponsored junket to exotica?”

I thought it was a joke at first but . . . I can almost see some late sixties Ford Foundation-funded group, probably with a name like “Organizing for Democracy”, hiring Alinsky to, I dunno, consult with Catholic priests involved in organizing a South Vietnam Meatpackers Union for Democracy and Friendship with America.

45

Plume 09.25.14 at 4:55 am

@43,

No. You’re wrong. I don’t want a liberal victory. I want a victory much further to the left than that. Liberals are weak tea, IMO. Incrementalists, all too timid, all too invested in the status quo. And liberals want to keep the main cause of our problems in place. They support the current economic system, which is the root cause, and all too many liberals also support an aggressive military on top of that.

So. No. I don’t want liberals, real or not, to be victorious. Though, between that and conservatives holding power, I’ll take the real liberals. But I’d rather have neither. When it comes to class issues, the economy and the environment, especially, there’s not much difference between them. They support a despicable economic system. Both of them. And, again, that goes for so-called “real liberals” too.

46

Brett Bellmore 09.25.14 at 10:41 am

My view on the Alinsky thing is this:

If at one point in your life you’re a fan of somebody whose political advice is, “Lie about your views in order to get the power to implement them.”, and later you deny sharing his views in order to get power, don’t be surprised if people think you’re following his advice.

Maybe you’re not, but it’s your own fault people don’t believe you.

47

Ronan(rf) 09.25.14 at 10:43 am

“Brett is usually a little bit better than this.”

Really ? Never noticed that, myself.

48

rea 09.25.14 at 11:20 am

Hillary or Romney? In the long run, who cares? It would only matter on the margins.

The millions of us living on the margins?

49

Barry 09.25.14 at 11:40 am

mpowell
“Brett is usually a little bit better than this. I think two decades of time and tribal affiliation lead to poor memory. Its understandable.”

He’s been like that for many years.

50

Ze Kraggash 09.25.14 at 11:41 am

“The millions of us living on the margins”

The millions of you need to do something about that. But voting for Hillary isn’t it.

51

J Thomas 09.25.14 at 11:46 am

If at one point in your life you’re a fan of somebody whose political advice is, “Lie about your views in order to get the power to implement them.”, and later you deny sharing his views in order to get power, don’t be surprised if people think you’re following his advice.

Maybe you’re not, but it’s your own fault people don’t believe you.

So how is it that we have a GOP majority in the House? Everybody knows that most GOP legislators lie about their views to get elected, and they get elected anyway.

The Democrats must be awfully bad to lose to that.

We need a way to get more parties out there, so people won’t be stuck between two awful choices.

52

Barry 09.25.14 at 11:47 am

46
Brett Bellmore 09.25.14 at 10:41 am
“My view on the Alinsky thing is this:

If at one point in your life you’re a fan of somebody whose political advice is, “Lie about your views in order to get the power to implement them.”, and later you deny sharing his views in order to get power, don’t be surprised if people think you’re following his advice.

Maybe you’re not, but it’s your own fault people don’t believe you.”

Interesting projection, since the basic attitude of right has been to ignore 2001-2008…..

53

Rich Puchalsky 09.25.14 at 1:26 pm

“to a never ending stream of @31 type whinging about the lack of true Alinsky inspired liberals (which are the only kind, duh!)”

Most liberals have no real connection to Alinsky, and certainly don’t think that Alinsky inspired liberals are the only true kind. I’m trying to bring this back from the abyss that starting with Kurtz gives you. If you start with “liberals are commies!” then “dur hur stupid Repubs” sounds clever and witty by comparison. But it makes everyone stupider.

There’s something more interesting to be said about why Clinton and Obama, both influenced by Alinsky in their youth, turned out to be such cautious moderates. It’s not that they are secret Manchurian candidates. I think that it has to do with Alinsky-style people power organizing as a specifically organizational failure. (“Alinsky himself observed that the life span of one of his organizations was five years; after that it was either absorbed into administering programs (rather than building people power) or died”, etc.)

54

Plume 09.25.14 at 4:02 pm

Brett,

Where does Alinsky say people should lie to get their agenda passed?

Again, the right — and it may have started with Beck and his blackboard — have built this monster up out of thin air. The right’s version of Alinsky never existed in reality. Which is the same for their version of Francis Piven, whose life they’ve endangered because of their demonization. And it’s the same for Obama, and soon enough Hillary too.

Again, both are real conservatives (Hillary and Obama. Alinsky was a leftist). They’re not even left of center moderates, except on some social issues. But the right has distorted and invented and demonized them to the point of surreal caricature. And perhaps now they have so much sunk cost in that lie they can never go back to reality.

From 2009 on, rather than doing everything you (as in, the political right) could to sabotage Obama, you should have been supporting him. Because he’s one of you. He’s a conservative at heart and in deed. Again, except on some social issues.

55

Plume 09.25.14 at 4:06 pm

rea,

All the people “living on the margins” would do far better with actual leftists in power. Liberals and conservative won’t help them. They’re both on Team Capital. But the anticapitalist left, the egalitarian, ecosocialist left, the radical democratic left — they would help those on the margins . . . and everyone else except for oligarchs, plutocrats and their wannabe shills.

56

Plume 09.25.14 at 4:16 pm

Rich @53,

The organizational aspects are partially a factor. But the real factor is that those liberals who may have given a listen to people like Alinsky in their youth moved further to the right as they aged. Alinsky was to their left all along, if they were ever “liberal” (true or not). Not waaay to their left, but he was never really one of them, even before they shifted rightward.

And the main place of separation is class. Class is the real dividing line between leftists and liberals. If liberals cross over that line, they’re no longer liberals. If class division and class struggle ever become their focus, they’re no longer liberals. They’ve seen the light. And if their goal is to end those class divisions and replace our current economic system, they’re no longer liberal and they have seen the light.

Frankly, the entire emphasis by the right on Alinsky (or Piven, for that matter) is absurd. It’s probably very effective for the conservative base. But it’s still absurd.

57

Brett Bellmore 09.25.14 at 4:17 pm

“All the people “living on the margins” would do far better with actual leftists in power. “

Well, except for the ones who die in the labor camps, or get shot trying to escape.

58

MPAVictoria 09.25.14 at 4:32 pm

“Well, except for the ones who die in the labor camps, or get shot trying to escape.”

Obvious Troll is Obvious.

59

Plume 09.25.14 at 4:34 pm

Brett,

You’re talking about righties, like the Nazis and Fascists. The hard right.

I’m talking about the left, not the right. The left — the real deal — is anti-authoritarian, generally anti-state and has never held power, anywhere. They were the dissidents in Russia, Cuba, China, North Korea, not the people in power there. And they are the dissidents in America and Europe today. Your side of the aisle holds power, and has held it pretty much from Day One. And it has had more than its share of labor camps and shooting people trying to escape, along with starting and escalating more wars (in its American incarnation) than any other nation.

That’s your team. Team Capital. Team “spread capitalism by any means necessary.”

60

phosphorious 09.25.14 at 4:39 pm

“Well, except for the ones who die in the labor camps, or get shot trying to escape.”

Why. . . that would be HORRIBLE!

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/police-shootings-michael-brown-ferguson-black-men

http://www.prisonpolicy.org/graphs/raceinc.html

The gulag is here, if you don’t avert your gaze.

61

Rich Puchalsky 09.25.14 at 4:46 pm

Plume: “From 2009 on, rather than doing everything you (as in, the political right) could to sabotage Obama, you should have been supporting him. Because he’s one of you. He’s a conservative at heart and in deed. Again, except on some social issues.”

Of course they can’t support him as a conservative, because the GOP ever since the Southern Strategy has been based on racism. What you minimize as “some social issues” amounts to saying that he’s black.

Nor do I believe “he was never really one of them, even before they shifted rightward.” Let’s look at individual cases. Obama worked for three years as the director of a classic Alinskyite Catholic-church-based community organizing group. If anyone can be said to have been one of them, he was. Hillary Clinton, as far as I can tell, never shifted rightwards vis-a-vis Alinsky since her college thesis. Quoting wiki again:

The thesis offered a critique of Alinsky’s methods as largely ineffective, all the while describing Alinsky’s personality as appealing. The thesis sought to fit Alinsky into a line of American social activists, including Eugene V. Debs, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Walt Whitman. Written in formal academic language, the thesis concluded that “[Alinsky’s] power/conflict model is rendered inapplicable by existing social conflicts” and that Alinsky’s model had not expanded nationally due to “the anachronistic nature of small autonomous conflict.”[1]

So the critique that I’ve phrased somewhat differently here she had from the start.

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Plume 09.25.14 at 4:55 pm

Rich,

I said Alinsky was never really one of them, even before those young, idealistic liberals shifted rightward.

Good point, however, on Hillary. Her critique does show her distance, even in college, from Alinsky . . . and I actually think she’s correct in putting him in that line of social activists. Though he had less impact than the others, especially MLK. I don’t know if he could write poetry, though . . .

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Rich Puchalsky 09.25.14 at 5:25 pm

If we can diverge even further into actuality rather than into BB’s “yur commies” and the various barreled fish fillets shot in response, there might be more to say on whether Alinsky as leftist or his detractors moving rightward really are the right descriptions. Alinsky was a populist, and Obama and Clinton are decidedly not. That is why the Tea Party — that part of it which actually exists, as opposed to that part created from whole cloth by the Koches — is closer to using Alinsky’s tactics now than any major part of the left is.

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mattski 09.25.14 at 6:02 pm

Rich,

I don’t think such structures [of law] have worked or can work even in theory — certainly not during “the triumph of plutocratic interests” — and I’m fundamentally not interested in them.

What do you think can work, in theory or practice?

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Rich Puchalsky 09.25.14 at 6:24 pm

“What do you think can work, in theory or practice?”

I don’t know. The last try was with the Occupy movement, and I have a series of blog posts about the strengths and failures of that approach. My best guess at electoral politics in the U.S. is that the Democrats will more or less win due to demographic factors, but that the left will win very little in terms of actual policies. I’m not saying that Obama == Romney, just that the lesser evil is not good enough to actually be good. If Ferguson, Missouri is the bad example of the moment, look at what Obama has done for Ferguson — nearly nothing, except that he didn’t make it worse. Or on global warming, if you prefer a larger scale — he’s done various regulatory things that are better than nothing and certainly better than the negative progress that the GOP promises, but none of them are sufficient to the scale of the problem or show any kind of leadership.

I’m an anarchist, mostly because the people defending the liberal state are really no closer to defending justice than those on the other side, even though their policy outcomes happen to come out somewhat better. Bush’s apologists defend torture while Obama’s defend assassinations. Anarchism is a way to say that the current system has failed, not a way to say that I have some positive program that I think will work.

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Plume 09.25.14 at 6:26 pm

@63,

Good point on tactics. Tea party “populism,” etc.

There is a right and left populism. But, I would argue — and, yeah, I’m biased in favor of the left — that the right’s version is a hall of mirrors and the left’s is the only legitimate form. Reason for that is in the nature of ideologies for both. The right’s longstanding support for the ruling elites; its being the cheerleader for Big Church and Big State ever since the terms right and left came into existence; its insistence that human nature “naturally” breeds inequality, rank, hierarchy . . . . all lead to top down, the few rule the many, the strong rule the weak, etc. And, its false dichotomy of “collectivism versus individualism” pretty much renders group action by the masses (real populism) out of bounds. Hypocrisy shoots into view, of course, because the folks they do support, capitalists, business owners, engage in group action all the time to suppress and control the masses. It’s okay with the right that the business class (and Capital more generally) basically is unionized, for all intents and purposes. But it’s verboten for workers to do the same.

To make a long story short, the left is against all the above. In theory, at least, it’s really the only place along the spectrum where real populism can have a home. That takes egalitarian beliefs and structures. That takes real democracy. That takes putting people first, not profits. And the right is vehemently opposed to that, the tea party folks, especially.

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Plume 09.25.14 at 6:30 pm

@65,

I agree with pretty much all of that. The lesser of two evils. The Dems are that. Though when the Green Left is on the ballot, I typically vote that way. Voted for Jill Stein in 2012, for instance. And it felt good. A futile gesture of opposition. But it still felt good.

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geo 09.25.14 at 8:15 pm

Plume @40: The Deep State.

I hadn’t heard of Mike Lofgren’s version, but Peter Dale Scott has been using the term for many years. It’s an essential notion, and there’s nothing conspiratorial about it. It simply calls attention to the fact that there’s a consensus and a commonality of interests among very powerful institutions that sets effective limits on reform and what gets media exposure.

I voted for Jill Stein too — an amazing woman.

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Rich Puchalsky 09.25.14 at 8:50 pm

“But, I would argue — and, yeah, I’m biased in favor of the left — that the right’s version is a hall of mirrors and the left’s is the only legitimate form.”

“The only legitimate form” pretty much went out with the failure of Marxism. Now there is no remaining pseudoscientific rationale for why some interests are really legitimate class interests and some are just false consciousness.

And for a lot of the white working class, what they really want is racism, and other forms of authority and hierarchy more generally. They’ve long since accepted that they’re going to be losers, no matter what happens, and the most immediate form of reassurance that they can have is the reassurance that they’re always going to be one step above the bottom, no matter how poor they are. “The psychological wages of whiteness” a la Du Bois will never fail them, no matter how low their monetary wages go. That’s an unjust and evil form of populism, but it is no more or less legitimate than any other. I don’t think that large groups of people are fooled by propaganda into going against their interests for their whole lives: at some point you have to just accept that these are their real interests, insofar as any interests are real.

And structurally, right populism is no more able to take power over managerial neoliberalism than any other populism is in America right now. In fact it’s one of the prime defenses of neoliberalism against the left that this alternate form of populism is always waiting in the wings, always there to make neoliberalism itself the lesser evil.

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mattski 09.25.14 at 9:06 pm

Plume wrote: Hillary or Romney? In the long run, who cares? It would only matter on the margins.

Rich wrote: Anarchism is a way to say that the current system has failed, not a way to say that I have some positive program that I think will work.

geo wrote: It’s an essential notion, and there’s nothing conspiratorial about it.

I want to echo rea here. It is a huge mistake, IMO, to discount the difference between the two major parties even though the difference between them is often frustratingly slight. Because it actually makes a difference who gets elected. And violent revolution is not what it’s cracked up to be.

It is much too easy to observe from a distance and conclude that the situation is hopeless. Except the utility of cynicism is approximately zero. It leads nowhere. We need to remind ourselves that the New Deal actually happened. There were huge advances in civil rights legislation in the 60’s that changed our country for the better.

And as regards geo’s comment, the Deep State is a useful abstraction as long as we don’t take it too seriously. Even further, I don’t think we should be afraid to call “conspiracy” when the evidence warrants it. There is abundant evidence that JFK’s murder was the work of plutocratic interests expressed through the intelligence apparatus.

But it seems to me the best path forward is debate, education, civil disobedience when called for, artistic expression AND the electoral process. It may be painfully slow but it beats the pants off violence.

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Rich Puchalsky 09.25.14 at 9:15 pm

“It may be painfully slow but it beats the pants off violence.”

Not sure where this came from, since the number of people advocating violence here seems to be zero. Nor does “the utility of cynicism is approximately zero. It leads nowhere” seem to me to be apt. People who thought more or less like I do helped to spark Occupy, the only left economic social movement in the U.S. in recent years. As opposed to that, the electoral left can take credit for the first black President, Obamacare, drone assassinations, continued warfare at will by the executive, and the routinization of the security and surveillance state. I can certainly see someone saying that the electoral left’s time was better spent all told, but that’s an argument, not a rejection of cynicism.

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Bruce Wilder 09.25.14 at 9:17 pm

I, too, voted for Jill Stein.

Pretty much every Jill Stein voter, apparently, reads and comments on CT!

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Bruce Wilder 09.25.14 at 9:26 pm

Oh, wait! Maybe, I voted for Roseanne Barr. It’s all such a blur.

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J Thomas 09.25.14 at 9:40 pm

But it seems to me the best path forward is debate, education, civil disobedience when called for, artistic expression AND the electoral process. It may be painfully slow but it beats the pants off violence.

The system is set up to mostly prevent change. You want change. But a revolution — tear up everything and start over — would wind up killing a whole lot of people by accident and a lot of stuff would get torn up.

Is there a third way, that’s happened in history?

There was a time when Athens had something vaguely similar, and rather than fight they agreed to let Solon make up new rules for him. The new rules were good enough for them to limp along a good long time rather than do violence over it.

There was a time when Roman plebes were fed up and rather than fight they agreed to some changes. they got tribunes who could not initiate legislation but who could veto it. I heard it didn’t work out too well but they were sort of able to limp along with it.

Maybe things will reach enough of a crisis that everybody will agree to change the rules. If that happened, what rules would you want?

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Thornton Hall 09.25.14 at 10:27 pm

@69 Occupy Wall Street is great, as far as it goes. But Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown are much, much better.

Also, there’s a strange mix of apples and oranges in your parade of Neoliberal Horribles.

Obamacare: 7 million Americans who were suffering direct and tangible harm are now insured.
Drone assassinations (which I do NOT support): several hundred dead people, including 3 or 4 Americans.
The routinization of the security state: not exactly a thing, really, and hardly caused by voting for Obama.

The thing that is so annoying about the Neoliberal Parade of Horribles is that it always seems to imagine a world that would have been, but for those damn Neoliberals.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this “but for” world of your imagination sounds nice. Really. But it’s actually the kind of thing that has to be created. It’s not the kind of thing that “just happens” but for all those bad Neoliberals. And it’s the kind of thing that takes a lot of people, working together, and a fair amount of money.

How do you bring a lot of people together? Well, there’s politics. In fact, there’s nothing but politics. But you’ll never hear the Neoliberal Parade of Horribles from someone who has gotten off their ass and run for office. Never. Why? Because it’s hard work. It’s dirty work. It’s work that requires you to confront the world as it exists, filled with flawed, awful, bigoted, stupid people. Worse, those people have to vote for you somehow!

Much easier to bitch and moan.

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Bruce Wilder 09.25.14 at 10:41 pm

what rules would you want?

Ultimately, politics is something you do. Doing politics with rules and a standard of fairness is usually symptomatic of a better, more effective politics, but the meta-level determines nothing. What matters is actually playing the game.

The problem of American politics is that we still have the form of a healthier politics, that was driven by a sense of fairness and rationality to adapt to reality, but we no longer have the doing. It is not the rules we need. To some large extent, we have the needed rules. It is the doing we lack.

We lack effective mass participation.

We don’t need the revolution, per se — mattski is generally right about the poor cost-benefit ratios associated with violent revolutions, but he overlooks the frequency with which it is reactionaries, who make revolutions, and make revolutions violent.

The U.S. needs a high top marginal income tax rate, a 50% corporate income tax rate that actually has to be paid occasionally, and financial repression (usury laws, an end to universal banking, an end to TBTF). The country can not survive an elite that can extract millions from a short sojurn in a c-suite job, because people who can, will, and at the expense of every other value, even risk destroying the institutions they nominally lead. That a predatory financial sector dominates the economy and the government ought to frighten Americans and the world.

Every highly-organized society has an elite, so a revolutionary prescription to abolish hierarchy is pretty useless, as are proposals, say, to do away with money. So, calls to simply overthrow or abolish it all are not helpful or sensible. But, we need reform desperately.

To get that deep reform, though, requires the effective political mobilization and participation of the masses. Politics as a branded consumer good won’t be sufficient. If a politician can win office and power, by representing mass interests, because he can depend on the support of mass-membership organizations, which will advocate for, and vote for, their interests, some of them will. And, they will play mass-membership interest groups off against one another as well as against businesses and the mega-rich, and that’s how politicians become independent and powerful.

Right now, U.S. politics suffers from a power vacuum, created by the reduction of power players to a fairly homogenous group of business groups with a lot of money to spend, all on one side of every issue and one narrow, short-sighted view of their own interests. Politicians are trapped. They cannot play one lobbyist against another, to get support, while maintaining their own independence. We can say they are corrupted by this state of affairs, which is certainly true as far as it goes. But, it doesn’t really matter if you. as say a Congressman, are, or are not, the dirtiest empty shirt in the laundry, the deep problem is that you are an empty shirt, a powerless politician even in office. Congressmen, today, are spokesmodel-politicians, in it for celebrity instead of power, and they make even the minority, who vote for them as powerless as they are, themselves.

Sandwichman opines that the powers-that-be will try to avoid provoking revolution. And, maybe, they will. Barack Obama was fantastically effective in preventing and subverting reform. But, their greed continues to escalate, and the institutional integrity of the political structures continues to decline, along with incomes and personal security.

The Left, in its various guises has been exceedingly weak. The collapse of a left in the 1970s is the other side of the story of the rise of the Right, Reagan, etc. The left turned away from mass-membership organizing and populist politics. The left, in its anti-authoritarianism, doesn’t want to lead. The left is repulsed by the penchant of the common man for nationalism and racism; it doesn’t want to understand the resentments and the naivete of the hard-working follower. The left never gains power without winning the allegiance of the mass of political followers.

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Rich Puchalsky 09.25.14 at 11:07 pm

“The left turned away from mass-membership organizing and populist politics.”

Yes. That is why I was interested in commenting further on Alinsky in the first place.

Thornton Hall’s comment sounds familiar: “But you’ll never hear the Neoliberal Parade of Horribles from someone who has gotten off their ass and run for office. Never. Why? Because it’s hard work.” They’re job creators! While the non-electoral people are just moochers and takers, and never do any real work.

As for the drone assassinations, no, you don’t get to pick and choose. I was willing to give the electoral people credit for everything Obama, against the reality that most of them did nearly nothing and that almost all of the real credit goes to his well-paid small group of professional staff. If they want that credit, they don’t get to say that the good things belong to them and the bad things don’t. We started with the worst health insurance system out of the major industrial nations; we end with the worst health insurance system among the major industrial nations, and against that progress a few hundred dead people are listed as not mattering in comparison.

Lastly, about the routinization of the security and surveillance states: it was within Obama’s power to go into office and declare that these were aberrations of the Bush government and that now America was going to reject them. They are matters almost purely within the Executive: there’s no law that requires him to do most of that stuff, and plenty of laws against. And he routinized it by making it clear that it didn’t matter which party was in office, it was going to go on. That’s on you.

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William Timberman 09.25.14 at 11:33 pm

I’m more than a little uncomfortable playing Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm to BW’s Lenin, but it seems to me that the national discourse in the U.S. is changing in some fairly unpredicted ways — unpredicted in the late 80s or early 90s anyway — and a change in the discourse has always been one of the first steps to more concrete changes. (First Paul Krugman, then CT, then the world, if you like, and I’m only being half facetious in saying so.) If we’re right about increasing immiseration in the developed world among the 90%, and if the Chinese colossus proves to be as fragile as some of us suspect, what comes next may be the gradual emergence out of the present consumerist ennui of just the kind of mass membership political organizations that all of us acknowledge will be necessary. In the meantime, though, forming political alliances with these guys ain’t gonna be easy (I hope this YouTube link works. If not, I’ll try something else):

http://youtu.be/TlF0RJICGAs

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Bruce Wilder 09.25.14 at 11:43 pm

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mattski 09.25.14 at 11:57 pm

Rich,

Not sure where this came from, since the number of people advocating violence here seems to be zero.

No, I wasn’t suggesting that anyone here was advocating violence! (mcmanus hasn’t made an appearance.)

I asked you what you thought was a good way forward. You didn’t have an answer. What I’m saying is that after we exhaust the prosaic options before us, nothing remains except violence. So, let’s not poop too hard on the unglamorous work before us. Especially since the internet is truly an innovation we’re just starting to understand and utilize.

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Rich Puchalsky 09.26.14 at 12:03 am

A little bit more about Bruce’s comment: “The Left, in its various guises has been exceedingly weak. The collapse of a left in the 1970s is the other side of the story of the rise of the Right, Reagan, etc. The left turned away from mass-membership organizing and populist politics. The left, in its anti-authoritarianism, doesn’t want to lead. The left is repulsed by the penchant of the common man for nationalism and racism; it doesn’t want to understand the resentments and the naivete of the hard-working follower. “

That skates over some good reasons why this wasn’t as much of a voluntary choice for the left as you might imply. Remember LBJ’s “We have lost the South for a generation.” As with everything in the U.S., it all comes back to race: there are good reasons why the left is / was “repulsed by the penchant of the common man for nationalism and racism”, and I don’t see any way in which the left could have remained the left and chosen differently with regard to civil rights.

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Thornton Hall 09.26.14 at 12:07 am

@78 You aren’t the only one who thinks things could end up going in the right direction from here (although you may not want my vote of confidence).

And I think you’re right about the start happening in places like Paul Krugman and CT. Bruce is right when he talks about the weakening left that coincided with the rise of the Reaganists. I think that weakness has roots in places like the Princeton Economics Department and all the various academics who lurk here at CT. Critical-this, Post-that Studies don’t build movements (no matter how much they overanalyze them).

A liberal economics that amounts to Lucas-Fama-Prescott plus Brad DeLong muttering “remember imperfect competition and public goods” does not organize ideas in a way that helps the least well off (especially while it’s actively “ending welfare as we know it”).

And a political science establishment that stands idly by while a horseshit left/right spectrum metaphor of American politics is forcibly shoved over a pragmatic American public by Pew and other public opinion researchers is aiding and abetting the nonsense idea that economic royalism is an “ideology” with an equal truth value as social democracy.

And I can’t see any of you, but I know you are all white. And I so know none of you knows what it was like for the older black woman in front of me on the mall at Obama’s inauguration who couldn’t stop saying, “Stevie Wonder is playing the inauguration. Stevie Wonder is playing the inauguration! Do you hear me? Stevie *Wonder* is playing the inauguration!”

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mattski 09.26.14 at 12:14 am

J. Thomas,

The system is set up to mostly prevent change.

I think this is a meaningless statement.

Maybe things will reach enough of a crisis that everybody will agree to change the rules. If that happened, what rules would you want?

My pet issues are these:

1) The flow of information shouldn’t be dominated by monied interests. Corporate owned media are BIG problem in this regard. So I think we should advocate for a much more robust public media to balance and compete with private media. The internet is already doing yeoman’s work here, but I think Public Television–for example–could become a much more vital part of our culture for a relative pittance in expenditure. You want a concrete proposal? How’s this: Let’s establish THREE public television networks. One for non-partisan broadcasting. One for right-leaning themes. And one for left-leaning programming. It’s simple, it’s cheap and it’s fair.

2) Secrecy is antithetical to a democratic society. So let’s lobby for transparency in the financial world, transparency in the US budget, and as much as possible transparency in military & intelligence spending. Let’s take it up as an issue, push it hard and don’t let go of it.

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William Timberman 09.26.14 at 12:17 am

Bruce Wilder @ 79

There was a time when the left would have jumped all over stuff like this, rural/urban cultural differences be damned. That time may come again, may in fact be on its way as we speak.

In our era, once the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War revealed the extent to which the Post-WWWII consensus was based on carefully-crafted cultural fictions as much as on economic necessities, we seem to have spent the next 30 years or so making sure we become strangers to one another. I’d anticipate that the first meetings on common ground will produce their share of casualties, but such hale and hearty leftists as still exist should surely press ahead anyway.

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geo 09.26.14 at 12:57 am

mattski @70: the best path forward is debate, education, civil disobedience when called for, artistic expression AND the electoral process

Amen.

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gocart mozart 09.26.14 at 1:11 am

I heard that her thesis paper on Alinsky was actually ghost written by Bill Ayers. It contains many of the same verbs and adjectives as Ayers’ book “Dreams From My Father.” Any thoughts?

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Rich Puchalsky 09.26.14 at 1:14 am

mattski: “I asked you what you thought was a good way forward. You didn’t have an answer. What I’m saying is that after we exhaust the prosaic options before us, nothing remains except violence. “

That’s not what I meant, nor do I think it’s a good conclusion from what I wrote. We should try to analyze reasons for past failures because we should try to avoid them in similar attempts in the future. That was really where I started with Alinsky — trying to figure out why his particular organizational attempt at left populism failed. That’s what I wrote about in e.g. this post, in which I claim that consensus decision-making was a critical weakness of Occupy and that future attempts should use majority voting. I don’t think I suggested that because there were reasons for failures of past attempts, there should be no new attempts.

I don’t know what would work. I don’t think that admitting ignorance is equivalent to advocating doing nothing. Especially since it’s questionable whether it can really be called ignorance when (in my judgement, and from the evidence of the strength of the current left) no one seems to know what would work.

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Nathanael 09.26.14 at 1:22 am

All this arguing without reference points. Does nobody study history?

This period looks very similar, electorally, for the lead-up to the Civil War. Republicans now == Whigs then. The Whigs purged all the anti-slavery Whigs. Then the Whig Party died. Shortly before that, the Whigs were winning lots of elections….

Economically, the period now looks like the Long Depression of 1873-1896 — also known as the Gilded Age. (The US was busily involved in colonial wars during this period, for another parallel.) This period led to the rise of the Populists, the Grange, the Farmer Party, the Labor Party, the Progressives, and numerous other third parties; it led to small civil wars in a couple of Midwestern states, between competing legislatures; it featured the Communist takeover of Seattle. The stage was set for revolution, but first Teddy Roosevelt and then Woodrow Wilson partially co-opted the platforms of the third parties and so things settled down. Had Wilson not co-opted the left-wing economic platform, we might have seen a very different outcome.

The main difference from the Gilded Age is that the Republican Party is unreformable and will collapse like the Whigs. This means greater odds of a proper left-wing party becoming the Second Party (probably through a party split in the Democratic Party). Unfortunately, if the Democratic Party elite decide to double down on the “security state” fascism which Obama incomprehensibly embraces, we may instead get a government unreformable by election, and then we *will* get revolution.

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Nathanael 09.26.14 at 1:26 am

Rich Puchalsky: I’m all in favor of functional machine politics. It even seems to be reformable: the Chicago machine was infamously racist, but Harold Washington got elected, and then the machine cut the black community in, and they’re part of the machine now.

The problem is dysfunctional political machines: ones which don’t serve their function. Hypertrophied cancerous organizations like the CIA, the NSA, or the (post-Korea) US Military, which exist for the sake of perpetuating themselves, but don’t actually do anything useful for society, and indeed which *damage* our national interests.

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ZM 09.26.14 at 2:09 am

William Timberman,

“I’m more than a little uncomfortable playing Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm to BW’s Lenin, but it seems to me that the national discourse in the U.S. is changing in some fairly unpredicted ways …”

I don’t think Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm would say “the national discourse in the US is changing in some fairly unexpected ways” – I will give you some examples of her from the book for next time you try to emulate Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, since perhaps you yourself have not read the book except once or twice a very long time ago, and cannot recollect Rebecca to mind very well

In the episode “The Saving of the Colours”/”The Way Little Becky Randall Got the Flag Away From Slippery Simpson” , Rebecca plays The State of Maine and notes unexpected historical changes in Maine in the context of hair dressing decisions (much like Montaigne digresses about the beginnings of euro colonialism is like a river unexpectedly changing its course – not for a reason of flooding and inundation a which is easily understood – but for other harder to discern reasons – in his Of Canibals essay).

“Your hair is so long and thick and dark and straight,” [Alice] said, “that you’ll look like an Injun!”
“I am the State of Maine; it all belonged to the Indians once,” Rebecca remarked gloomily…

the episode “The Green Isle”* also features Simpson, but he has been turning over a new leaf since trying to steal the flag in the earlier episode. He lives near Pliny’s Pond, named after Pliny, the eldest son of Colonel Richardson. Mrs Simpson has fallen gravely ill, and Rebecca writes to Mr Simpson “Dear Mr Simpson , This is a secret letter. I heard that the Acreville people weren’t nice to Mrs Simpson because she didn’t have a wedding ring like all the others. I know you’ve always been poor , dear Mr Simpson, and troubled with a large family like ours at the farm: but you really ought to have given Mrs Simpson a ring when you were married to her, right at the very first; for then it would have been over and done with, as they are solid gold and last forever…. So I send you a nice new wedding ring to save your buying…. and I believe now perhaps you DID think the flag was a bundle of washing when you took it that day; so no more from your Trusted friend, Rebecca Rowena Randall.

Hopefully this will assist for next time in discussions of the rural-urban divide.

* Taken from Shelley “Many a green isle needs must be/ In the deep sea of misery / Or the mariner worn and wan / Never thus could voyage on / Day and night and night and day / Drifting on his weary way [you can read the day and night night and day bit in your best imitation of Fred Astaire or frank Sinatra to add more musical comedy to the poem]

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William Timberman 09.26.14 at 2:22 am

ZM @ 87

;-) Whaddya got on Pollyanna? Note to self: you comment on a blog frequented by experts on just about everything, you gotta be willing to take your lumps.

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mattski 09.26.14 at 2:54 am

Rich,

We should try to analyze reasons for past failures because we should try to avoid them in similar attempts in the future. That was really where I started with Alinsky — trying to figure out why his particular organizational attempt at left populism failed.

Would you agree that there is a danger of over-emphasizing “failure”?

How do we know such-and-such was a failure? Maybe it was an important step on the path to the place we want to go? I just wonder if there is something backward-looking about your approach.

Certainly, in some cases mistakes (big, consequential ones) are made which become apparent in hindsight. But not in all cases. Sometimes a battle is lost because a) our skills aren’t honed enough b) our conditioning [determination] isn’t strong enough c) our organization isn’t efficient enough d) the larger culture isn’t ready–the time isn’t ripe.

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Thornton Hall 09.26.14 at 3:16 am

@88 I’ve been saying the GOP is going the way of the Whigs for awhile now:
http://thorntonhalldesign.com/philosophy/2014/4/28/after-the-flood-bob-dole

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Rich Puchalsky 09.26.14 at 3:44 am

Nathanael: “The problem is dysfunctional political machines: ones which don’t serve their function. “

Yes, I was really intending to more narrowly refer to political machines in the sense used here.

What I remember about Alinsky organizations was that they continually shed leadership. They were very good about finding leaders in a neighborhood that was being organized and giving those people leadership training. But then, lo and behold, the trained leader wasn’t really part of the neighborhood any more. They were now suited for a better job than they could find there, and solidarity could only go so far if it meant voluntarily staying poor in a bad area. So mostly they’d leave, and the organization didn’t have anywhere upwards they could go. A machine is more corrupt, but it has upward paths for the ambitious.

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mattski 09.26.14 at 11:05 am

I’m all in favor of functional machine politics. It even seems to be reformable:

I think that’s an important point. If we follow the logic we might conclude that most, if not all institutions are reformable. I think this implies that excessive theorizing is a trap–self imposed–to be avoided. We can’t figure things out from a distance, we have to get in the game and play it.

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Rich Puchalsky 09.26.14 at 1:38 pm

mattski: “I think this implies that excessive theorizing is a trap–self imposed–to be avoided. We can’t figure things out from a distance, we have to get in the game and play it.”

I can’t count the number of times people have told me that we have to get in the game and play it as I try to write about what I’ve learned from participation in some movement or other. It makes no sense.

Previous mattski: “Sometimes a battle is lost because a) our skills aren’t honed enough b) our conditioning [determination] isn’t strong enough c) our organization isn’t efficient enough d) the larger culture isn’t ready–the time isn’t ripe.”

And those are causes of failure. If you were building a bridge and it collapsed because a girder broke, you wouldn’t say “Oh, the metal just wasn’t strong enough. That doesn’t mean the bridge was a failure.” To take just the last one, if the larger culture isn’t ready, then maybe you should do something it’s ready for, or contrariwise carry out actions intended to shock. Calculations of what the culture is or isn’t ready for are routine among people who attempt social movements. Certainly Alinsky had a lot to say about it.

If you want a leftism that hasn’t recently failed, try reading James Livingston. But note that in his scheme, there really isn’t a great role for radical activists who go out and do things. If you want people to “get in the game and play it” (ick, by the way, it’s not a sport) then you can’t simultaneously say it’s impossible to lose.

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mattski 09.27.14 at 11:02 pm

Rich,

No, I didn’t mean to imply that it’s impossible to lose. I’m trying to understand your position better. I’m kind of confused by your statement about structures of law @ 38. Wasn’t the New Deal built on structures of law?

I guess I’m also interested in what you mean by ‘leftism.’ To me it’s a relative term. I want our society to move left. But I’m not sure there is a ‘left canon’ that I subscribe to, other than a democracy that isn’t ruled by the wealthy.

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