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The casual poetry of a structural issue

Mandos's picture

It's become a political cliché in this election season that Obama and his campaign have been largely about process issues ("politics, not policy") and that there is a large segment of the Democratic Party that is surprisingly passionate about process issues and see in Obama a way to bring process issues to the fore. This attitude towards process issues stretches back to the Dean campaign. Whether this attitude is justified is another matter, but it's becoming clear that it's not an issue that is likely to win a general election, and that the Obama campaign's focus on meta issues has been at the expense of issues that matter to another important voting bloc, and this might even cost him a nomination that for a time seemed to be practically his.

For those of you who know me from elsewhere or even have observed my occasional effusions here, I kind of enjoy skirting the bounds of devil's advocatry, and, more seriously, I like to take time to entertain the perspective and feeling of the Other Side in almost anything. As I have said before, I currently (Correntely?) disprefer Hillary less than I disprefer Obama, and also think that Hillary would do better than Obama against McCain. So consider this an Olive Branch post in the manner of Kid Oakland. What would the effect of a Clinton win be on the wing of the party that *does* believe, rightly or wrongly, that procedural and symbolic issues are the ones that the Democratic Party needs to confront?

Indeed, that I believe that Obama would have a harder time winning the GE doesn't necessarily mean that I don't entertain the idea that the (D) party also stands to lose something from a Clinton victory in the primary. For one thing, it seems to me that Obama *has* tapped into something that's more than mere Clinton-bashing. The fact that he *was* and *is* able to raise money and get feet on the ground and command such devotion and enthusiasm also suggests something. The fact that not only the Big Bloggers ended up in his camp, for the most part, but that low-level dKos diarists ended up Obamafans and are able to stir up this level of passion/desperation over a candidate with a lot of other weaknesses also suggests something to me.

(And that passion is still focused on procedural issues like superdelegates...)

It suggests that there *is* a segment of the Democratic-voting population that *is* passionate about process issues, and that this segment is also the one that can command a lot of fundraising dollars and feet on the ground and/or the web. They're passionate about process issues, because they believe that structural factors about the party and about US politics have prevented them from taking power in one way or another. And I think that's a perfectly fair thing to be resentful about, even if it's not something that can be safely appeased in this or maybe any election cycle.

So while I think that Clinton can defeat McCain more easily than Obama can defeat McCain, either way it's still going to be hard for either of them to go up against the Maverickociousness (cf. truthiness). Clinton *is* going to need the money and the feet on the ground and the blogthusiasm. So on a Clinton nomination, is it possible to heal this divide? I guess the only way to do so would be for a Clinton candidacy to make process issues somehow relevant to a campaign as well. I don't know if that can be done in time.

While threats like this and the ones that Donna Brazile seem to have implied may rankle, it remains the case that, whatever the outcome, this nomination campaign will an effect far in the future for the Democratic Party, particularly in the attitudes that its factions will have towards one another.

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Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

I just have realistic expectations. It was the collective understanding,IMO, of the Progressive Blogosphere 1.0, that we were embarking on a life long mission, one that might not be accomplished in our lifetime. But somehow, Obama made them believe that the long years of dedication to our mission were unnecessary, and all we had to do was elect him, and the "process" would solve itself.

This is complete and total garbage, but unfortunately our "intellectual" class bought it hook, line and sinker. This mission of changing the process is an incremental one, and as I've said 100 times, I believe getting the citizens of this country to trust that government can improve their lives, is much more important, than Change. And having a President like Clinton, who will make the trains run on time, will benefit our goal of long term process change more, than electing Obama, and making some short term gains now.

Bill Clinton for First Dude!!!

Submitted by scoff on

is a part of the problem that I think Hillary better addresses. Yes, there are structural problems with our political system as it stands now, but wishing and hoping and intellectualizing isn't going to change it. It will take hard work, determination and a commitmentment to making our government responsive to the needs of its citizens before Americans will once again begin to trust government.

After a quarter century of having "government is part of the problem, not part of the solution" drilled into their heads, Americans will need to be convinced by seeing that change, not just hearing about it. What will change the system is for citizens to see government once again working for them, and that's where I think Hillary has it all over Obama.

Mandos's picture
Submitted by Mandos on

Well, so, maybe it's that Kos happened, writing manuals, apparently, on how to do it quickly. And changed expectations.

Historiann's picture
Submitted by Historiann on

is right on. However, one of the things that Clinton does--apparently much better than Obama--is change to incorporate a critique. When something (or someone) doesn't work, it/he/she is gone, and Clinton pivots with a new message. She doesn't blame the voters if she's not winning them over, she tunes the message and the outreach to get them on her side. So, I'm optimistic that she'll be able to win over at least half of the fanboiz.

(On my blog last week, I got into it with a commenter about gay rights and how I think Obama is running to Clinton's right on that topic, despite the apparent similarity of their policy positions. In the end, he couldn't argue that Obama was actually winning more gay votes, so he accused Clinton of "pandering." Some people might call that a bad thing, but quite frankly, it seemed like the frustrated cry of a loser who's been less effective in courting votes.)

koshembos's picture
Submitted by koshembos on

The only reason Obama is process oriented is that he has no policy dear to him. All he want is to be president.

Process issues in many fields are admitting that nothing else works. Then process, by definition, is giving up on trying to make things work.

As for his "Big Bloggers", they aren't driven by process; they are driven by hate (of the Clintons, the poor, women).

Process doesn't trigger passion or brings money. It's a nice cover for a lot of ugliness.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

He offers a fantasy where the ruthless, corrupt, authoritarian, incompetent Republican Party isn't so bad.

He offers his personal awesomeness and the "Think System" out of "The Music Man," i.e., the truthy illusion of progress.

Imelda Blahnik's picture
Submitted by Imelda Blahnik on

I agree that on some level, or with some people ("folks", I think, is what we're calling them these days), process does matter. It's all about the meta. And with others it's all about the anti-Clinton, anti-HRC to be exact. But with a large chunk of the support for Obama, it's all about the man, or rather the myth - he is the blank slate onto which they project their hopeyness for a new day in America. It is is imputed charisma that they seize on - imputed because to a great extent they put it there (though arguably that is true for all charismatic leaders). In saying this I don't deny that Obama his charismatic, he clearly is, though his charisma is obviously limited in important ways (limited by the process itself, I might add).

Way back in January I stumbled across a dKos diary that crystallized this state of affairs. I thought the diary was snark. The headline was: "I don't care about the issues, I just want Obama!" Yup, must be snark, I thought, some feet-on-the-ground, policy-oriented lefty-liberal already fed up with the Kool-aid drinkers. But nope, it was for real.

Submitted by lambert on

Or a professional sport, either (Kos's other world). A lot of the culture over at Big Orange is very much Inside Baseball, which dovetails nicely with the "process" mindset called out by this post. Polls are stats, pols are players, and so forth. (In fact, that "folks" are following politics with the same intensity that others follow sports is a very interesting outcome.) They conceive, I imagine, of the pledged delegate count as a score -- "We win!" Hence, the very idea that the automatic delegates might have actual power to affect the outcome of what they see as a game produces tremendous existential uncertainty and denial and anger. They are, indeed, fans.

We might carry the metaphor a bit further and think of the Obama campaign as a team that's playing both just shy of greatness and at capacity -- sort of like the 76ers when Iverson, like Obama, was The Answer. After the miraculous first season with Larry Brown, all they could so was challenge, but they could not win. A lot of tinkering went on round the edges, with the "supporting cast," and coaches, and this and that, but the real problem was that the star just wasn't quite good enough, and so ultimately the team had to be desconstructed. Unfair, but there it is.

So, in the same way that you can't win a championship with a point guard, you will at least find it very difficult to win a nomination with a speech and a base of AAs and "creative class" types driven by process change as a cover for the will to power. Especially when you've got players on the opposing team who really know how to bang in the paint, as Hillary surely does. That's why Obama's tired and bored. He's banged up, and he's not getting the shots he used to. (And I bet he blames the team around him, too, not himself.)

So, that's my extended sports metaphor for the year.

NOTE And if anybody can think through problems with process, it's an uber-wonk like Hillary. Which means it's not at all about process with the Obama supporters, it's just about power. But since they're fucking me over on universal health care, and they don't want to talk about policy (code word: "pandering," as opposed to simply accepting teh awsum of the Unity Pony), fuck them. Let 'em ask for my vote. Not only don't they think that's important, they don't even know how.

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

There's a whole new "process dodge" here that needs your attention!

That is, a meta narrative about how a candidate will change process, as an alternative to having a real commitment to any particular issues.

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

The Obama campaign and many of his supporters are focused on election processes or the process of politics. How do you fundraise? How do you overwhelm caucuses? Win pledged delegates? Empower the grassroots among the party?

All well and good, but as we've seen during the last eight years - particularly since 2006 - it isn't enough to win elections. It's important. Donna Edwards will be better than Al Wynn. They are focused on taking over the party, but even if they do, that's not going to get rid of Jay Rockefeller or Chuck Schumer. You can't drive every democrat you disagree with out of office. So simply empowering the grassroots isn't enough. You have to make the actual processes of government work, not just politics. Part of that, quite frankly, is having a democratic leader with clear legislative goals who is willing to reward those who help and punish those who hurt. It is not about sitting down in Washington and everyone talking about what will make healthcare better. It's about deciding on a plan that is politically feasible that will make healthcare better and then pushing it through Congress through force and charm. It's herding cats. Beyond overwhelming Republicans with his awesomeness, Obama and his supporters seem to have no plan for the second set of processes. The entire idea that we'll work it out in Congress, works against getting anything done since the first step is having a clear legislative agenda.

Clinton's 300-point policy statements are much closer to what's needed to actually make government work, as opposed to simply taking over the party apparatus. And, personally, I'm much more interested in making government work than in who controls the Democratic Party. I recognize those are not unrelated things, but ultimately if you can't make the government work, then the Democratic Party will fail because it's a belief in the government's ability to make its citizens' lives better that separates us from Republicans.

Mandos's picture
Submitted by Mandos on

But I was more focused on, well, the "process" issue of what happens next with the "process" contingent of the party. The contingent that thinks that racist white voters Simply Don't Understand the fact that the netroots *has* anointed a leader *is* the policy...

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

Thanks for this, eh! It seems clear that we (read "I") don't have a good terminology to deal with what's going on. The existing construct, and the words we use to describe it, no longer apply. Partly the result of deliberate redefinition and muddying by the VRWC, but partly also because things are changing and the new structure that's emerging is not yet fully defined.

Nice post, thoughtful writing, much enjoyed.

zuzu's picture
Submitted by zuzu on

I had rather a bloody run-in with some Obamafans just after the Florida primary, when HRC asked her delegates to seat Florida and Michigan at the convention. God, the screaming over that. "She's breaking the rules! It's dirty politics! She's so CLEARLY in the wrong!"

Yet when I asked which rules she was actually breaking (because while there was an awful lot of insistence that she was breaking the rules, there was no citation to the rules alleged to be broken), I was attacked personally. Told I was a "Clinton apologist," that I don't respect the process, that I was anti-Constitutionalist, and was even likened to John Yoo.

By people with Ph.D.s, too.

And even when I dug up the rules themselves and showed them why they were absolutely wrong, they didn't admit they were wrong, or even look at the rules. The spirit of the rules were broken, even if it wasn't a technical breach. Blah, blah. They simply picked up the goalposts and moved them, because *clearly* if Hillary might use the rules to her advantage, that was unfair and immoral.

And for the past few months, whenever anyone's brought up superdelegates or broken rules or Florida and Michigan or the pledge, I put up a link to the rules or the pledge and issue a simple challenge: Okay, find me the rule you're saying is being broken/needs to be changed.

Not one person who's in the tank for Obama has taken me up on this. Not one.

So, yeah, the "process-oriented" people have limits to how much "process" they're really interested in.