Monday, February 15, 2016

The Debate Over Theory of Change

In my last piece I looked at the case of Laura Clawson who was a Bernie supporter but cooled on him when she begun to notice his inabilty to really level with us about his proposals, how they will work and they get done, etc.

Welcome home, Ms. Clawson! But beyond this, she introduced a very interesting counterpoint on the debate over Bernie's theory of change-his candidacy is a political revolution. Here at the Huffington Post-where else?-is a piece that enunciates the Bernie theory of change.

"In fact, these pundits couldn't be more wrong about where change comes from. And neither could Hillary Clinton. Here's how she put it a few months ago, backstage at a tense and fascinating little confrontation with Black Lives Matter activists:

"I don't believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate."

"That sounds sensible, grown-up, wise. It's what Washington pundits always say -- they said it over and over again when we launched, say, the fight to stop the Keystone pipeline. But in fact it's completely backwards."

"Change comes precisely when you do change hearts -- and once that change has come, then the laws and the "allocation of resources," and the "way systems operate" follow pretty easily."

"Look, for instance, at gay marriage, which I'm pretty sure that President Obama will be holding up as one of the accomplishments that happened on his watch. And it did, but not much thanks to him. It came from a big, impassioned movement that cleverly changed the zeitgeist: that introduced Americans to their gay neighbors, that won a few court cases and then used that progress to show that the world wouldn't fall apart with gay marriage, that argued in a series of referendum votes for the new right. By the time that Obama (and Clinton) came on board (a decade or two after Sanders), the battle was mostly won. There was mopping up to do, but the change had come, and it had come from changing hearts."

"Or look further back in American history. LBJ's the favorite example for this "effectiveness" argument, and indeed he was the legislator that twisted the final arms to get landmark civil rights legislation in place. But it was only because people had spent a generation building a movement that he had an opening. The hard, desperate part was changing the zeitgeist, which involved changing enough hearts. The Voting Rights Act didn't propel the civil rights movement; it was the other way round."

But Clawson has a good response to this:

"But about the politics of Sanders’ policy proposals. I believe in social movements as outside forces exerting force on political parties. The parties want to win, the movements have to create that self-interest, make the policies the path to victory. And I’ve long been frustrated by people who want the Democratic Party to be their social movement, or who think that strategy equals ideology. The Sanders campaign has become the latest embodiment of those frustrations. How will Sanders win not just the presidency but the ability to get a big agenda through Congress? The people will rise up. Except Bernie Sanders is not organizing the people to rise up. He’s running a fairly conventional presidential campaign. Sanders is a long-time member of Congress who has yet to create the kind of movement he’s now suggesting will simply rise up despite the absence of the kind of organizing effort that would take. This will be difficult, and he’s not fully owning that or explaining how we’ll get through the challenges, especially given below-2008 Democratic turnout in Iowa and New Hampshire. It’s a set of promises resting on a fundamental misdiagnosis of how movements and organizing work, and I don’t know whether Sanders believes his line or is selling a line, let alone which would be more damning."

There's no question that the civil rights movement preceded LBJ, but the CRM was not a party and was outside of Congress. She touches on a very important point. As she says, the Bernie folks are form a long line of idealists who recoil at the idea of strategy-that all you need is ideology.
A party wants-and needs-to win. Social movements are something else. As she said, strategy and ideology are distinct. In general you have to get that these things are all distinct.

1. Campaigning

2. Governing

3. Activists

4. Politicians

In Bernie his supporters believe that for once 1 and 2 are totally mutually inclusive-that he would be that rare politician who governs just as he campaigned. But this is a fallacy. The reason for the distinction of 1 and 2 is not because most politicians necessarily lie. It's just that there are sorts of contingencies and issues of coalitions which are unforeseeable.

For more on strategy vs. ideology, I'd recommend her post on it back in 2006.

Interestingly, even David Brock is praised! Someone who is hated precisely because he's not an ideologue.

No comments:

Post a Comment