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The process chicken and the policy egg

Mandos's picture

Mighty Corrente Building Manager Lambert brought something up in the comments to this post by bringiton that I thought deserved its own, entirely new thread. Maybe; it's part of the "What To Do With The OFB" issue that I think is a fairly important matter.

Anyway, Lambert quoth:

How about they go fuck themselves?

Either that, or start pushing universal health care, even if it doesn’t have life or death consequences for them. They could console themselves with the thought that the policies FDR put in place led to some pretty good process as well.

And that’s the kicker, isn’t it? They seem to think that policy is a function of process. But we already have (or, at least had) a process that constrains most other processes at a very high level: It’s called constitutional government. Below that level, I’d say process is a function of policy. Put a policy in place to end hunger; the process (Food Stamps, agricultural subsidies (sigh)) follows.

So the “creative class” has it exactly backward. They’re fetishizing the role they play, which is at the process level, and treating their part of the system as a proxy for the whole system.

That is, indeed, the kicker. There are two interpretations of the world going on here, and have been for some time now, and now that the "netroots" hasn't been cut off at the knees after the first primaries as it was in '04, these conflicting interpretations have come to the fore.

One view (a view held by a good chunk of the most devoted OFB) is that the "right, natural" policy falls out automatically: after all, the rest of the world has universal health care. Universal health care is so natural and obvious that even the Harper government in Canada is not touching that third rail---some of their own corporate contributors apparently like it too much.

So if it's not falling out automatically, then there's something wrong with the matrix in which policies are being grown. That means that talking about policy---substantive policy---is a waste of time. The only thing to do is experiment with process changes and meta issues. One such meta issue is the role of race in the USA. Perhaps by exorcising the Ghost of Racism Past (And Present) with a black Meta Leader. There are other meta issues variously held by other people. But the outline of this viewpoint is the same regardless.

The other viewpoint is the one reflected by Lambert. The meta issues are themselves a result of policy. Policy choices have made Americans increasingly unequal and, for example, created an "I've got mine" dynamic that makes such an obvious thing as universal health care impossible to consider. The times when the process has worked best in pushing forward a progressive agenda are ones that existed alongside policy reforms like those of FDR. The USA has the infrastructure to make policy changes---that's why it has a constitution, and Congress, and so on. It's a matter of the will to choose to use it.

The riposte to this is that: structural issues prevent the will to make policy changes from ever being realized at the level at which it matters. Obama has the potential to change these structural issues. More potential than Clinton, at least.

And the response to that is to say that Obama's structural change has so far involved throwing the policy change under the bus.

And so on, and so forth, ad infinitum, amen.

But the real-world upshot is, Obamafans clearly believe in the process before policy interpretation, and the majority of working-class Dems implicitly accept the policy before process interpretation, and if Clinton takes the nomination, the process people, believing that policy is futile, are likely to make choices that affect US politics adversely---unless something can be Done With Them. I wonder if this dilemma could have been avoided if Clinton had made process a bigger issue in this campaign (giving a bigger weight to the Dean effect)---certainly she has made some crucial mistakes. And certainly the lack of process emphasis seems symbolically reflected in what might be seen as poor performance in the caucus states, but that's just a speculation.

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white_n_az's picture
Submitted by white_n_az on

Obama would never deliver if he were elected. He won't be able to sway votes but would only have veto power. He won't deliver on pulling the troops out on schedule.

All you have to do is to check out Deval Patricks favorable/unfavorable ratings and you'll see he is in the tank since being elected...and that's in one of the most liberal states in the country.

The biggest problem that the OFB would have is if Obama were to get the nomination and get elected because the reality that they have ridden the wrong horse will become evident in a fairly quick fashion. Evidently, they have forgotten what promise the Democratic victories in 2006 held and how they have failed to slow anything down in Iraq...in fact, Iraq funding and the number of troops increased by 40% since the Dems won in 2006.

OFB should be careful what they wish for because if they were to get it, they would be terribly disillusioned.

That said though, I don't see any possibility that Obama would beat McCain in the general election, barring some type of self-destruction by McCain.

Submitted by lambert on

1. Policy is getting the work done, and, if the company is viable, making money and maybe even doing some good or at least staying afloat.

2. Process is the management consultants who come in with their suits and their PowerPoint slides and proceed to suck up everybody's time promulgating slogans and distributing charts after the re-org (which I think you will agree describes the "creative class" [cough] with a fair degree of precision).

The point here is that the management consultants only infest the conference rooms when the business has lost its way in some fundamental sense. Unfortunately, the process types are as useless as tits on a bull; only the business can find its own way.

And one reason for that is that incentives are structured so that the consultants keep consulting, which is not the same at all as fixing the business. (You will, of course, recognize the business model of Dem consultants like Shrum, who I am sure our creative class will end up emulating, just as they are already emulating Broder.)

So, to me, the "creative class" are the consultants that a "creative," "visionary" [unformed] CEO like Obama would hire. And the first thing they'd do is hold a bunch of workshops to come up with a vision statement.

Hillary is somebody who would, you know, fix the business by delivering value to customers.

Great post, mandos. Fun stuff!

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

Mandos's picture
Submitted by Mandos on

white_n_az, I realize that Obama won't deliver. Like I said, he is already throwing their issues under the bus. What they would say, however, is that the *very process* by which he got the nomination would exorcise some structural ghosts in the American political graveyard. If only I could find the link to that reclisted Kos diary a few days ago about how even if Obama loses the general election, the party has still won...

Submitted by lambert on

OFB -- Obama Fan Base. They exhibit cult-like devotion. Synonym: ________ ers.

There are rational Obama supporters who are not OFB. I think they are the ones who would have "views" on process vs. policy. It's not clear to me that the OFB can have views, as such.

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

Mandos's picture
Submitted by Mandos on

By the way, this from Kid Oakland. Make Of It What You Will.

Submitted by lambert on

... I hate to sound like a vulgar Marxist here, but surely there's an obvious "Jobs for the Boiz" aspect to all this?

Obviously, the will to power in the OFB and the "creative class" [cough] is tremendous; but since they can never manage to explain in concrete terms what will happen when they actually gain power, perhaps the forseeably dominant demographic can be forgiven for doubting their readiness to lead or rule (let alone govern). Are we to believe that they, like Obama, are teh awsum and STFU?

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

Submitted by lambert on

That I will say. That one boiled down to: "We really need to reconcile. What are you guys gonna do for us?" That said, the deprogramming is going to be substantial:

he irony of the Wright affair is that it has shown, once again, that Barack Obama has the qualities we look for in a president: poise under pressure, wisdom when called upon to act, and a willingness to take decisive action and ability to rally us to our better angels when events call upon him to do so.

Really? Unless somebody kidnapped the Reverend Wright that Obama knew for twenty years in the last few days, I don't think it shows anything Presidential about Obama at all, and especially not poise under pressure.

But, it was better.

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

Mandos's picture
Submitted by Mandos on

Yes, there are a whole lotta crazy devotees in the Obama Fan Base. And there's a lot of inchoate anger. But combing through the Kosomania, you see consistent themes emerging. Amidst the instrumental sexism, etc, in the attacks on Clinton, there's a sense that the Clinton campaign is taking something away from *them*. The ability to Believe. The ability to Believe that their previous political ennui was unjustified.

I was hearing from a friend that the Trotskyists are loving the Obama campaign, because they're all about the political energy, and are thinking that the political energy being released by the Obama campaign, flawed as it is, is just waiting for the Vanguard...

Mandos's picture
Submitted by Mandos on

Oh, certainly, re the jobs for the Boiz. And I think that another strategic failure for the Clinton camp was to fail to buy some of them out, one way or another. Since clearly some of them are for sale, again in ways that involve more than just the promise of money.

There is a sense that this is the Last Chance, however, among both the sincere and the insincere. "Last Chance in what way?" is up for dispute.

Submitted by lambert on

The Trots love the Obama campaign? As I'm sure we all know, the neo-cons were once Trots.

Oh, and Obama and his humongous database are the vanguard. You thought the OFB would go away after the election? Haw.

NOTE Of course, we called them the Trots for a reason...

UPDATE On buying off the Boiz: Presumably, that's what the Clinton campaign hired Peter Daou, one of the good ones, to do. Perhaps he reported back that none of them would stay bought? (Atrios disclaimer, despite his unfortunate vote in PA.)

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

Mandos's picture
Submitted by Mandos on

That's what I hear from a Canadian political-backroom friend of mine when I was visiting Toronto a couple of weekends ago. Shouldn't be that surprising though. FDR saved capitalism; if Hillary is more like FDR than Stevenson, then obviously no serious Trotskyist could prefer her to Obama.

jeqal's picture
Submitted by jeqal on

Thoughtful and provoking post.

I agree with the assessment of "bean-counters" and workers. I see the bean-counters as seeing actual necessity does not crunch well but "magic formulas" work really well, they could even lead to golden harps and chickens that lay golden eggs.

It's like motivational speakers, you get all fired up and you leave with the books you bought and even though you can't quite put your finger on it, you are deflated and blame yourself. Somehow no one ever gets around to finding out if the motivational speaker was really who they said they were. That would be some weird type of sacrilege.

Both types of mentalities "bean counter" and motivational speaker, actually manage to dishearten the worker. There may be a flurry of activity initially but unless someone is there to keep it going they poop out like a bad sugar rush.

My point is, I like concrete things. I am skeptical of motivational speakers, and I heartily dislike the religious aspect that "bean-counters" have assumed in corporations.

I think that Obama can deliver policies, just as bean counters can, just as motivational speakers can. In the end we will be blamed for its failure. Because there was no process to implement the ideas, and no practical way for them to get done. Veto and veto and veto is a great way to become a lame duck.

While reading this thread I came to realize another falsehood that I had fallen into during this campaign and that is the one that the Republicans propogate of "Those democrats think government can solve everything", well heck what is government? Government is the people, and the Republicans use government. How do they use it? They use it for their supply-side cotton candy in the sky will fall to everyone because the rich will toss it down. Well the rich have moved to India or Africa or Dubai and have forgotten that we are waiting for our trickle down after giving trillions in subsidies, tax incentives, etc. away to corporations who are US companies in name only. Enjoying the privilege of the Nasdaq without the reality of actually being a full fledged American Company.

Yes the Democrats believe the same as Republicans that the government can be utilized to benefit a group, it is not effective without the correct leadership, however. I believe that leadership is Hillary, with her guidance the US government (us) will be utilized to benefit us, everyday Americans. This is after all a Country.

“Democrats have a habit of falling in love with candidates on the first date.”

Submitted by cg.eye on

of process gurus, from EST to Who's Cutting my Cheese? to FISH!, and the Obama Generation has sat down for each and every one of those mandatory meetings.

They know something's wrong, but they'd settle for someone to truly believe in.

But those of us who've been through a few restructurings, reengineerings and downright head-rollings know that the real work, the hardest work, is sitting with the people you don't love, in a stuffy room, for hours, and getting the jobs done.

It ain't glam. It ain't even fair, because power's like that. But it's the way of things in this world, and there are no shortcuts.

I still wake up drifting, and wonder how John's campaign's going, and how nice the Mrs. can be with him, in full remission. But then I wake up, fully, and see what we've got today.

And today Obama put his best, most loyal constituency to the test.

They can diss Tavis Smiley, the SDs who thought of being black and for Clinton at the same time. But his reverend just came out this weekend, in front of the NAACP, as a man who would not change his message -- so Obama had to change his.

The black churches are the main Get Out the Vote mechanism in their communities. How are they going to sell a presidential candidate who only wants a truncated, censored message of black concern and frustration?

myiq2xu's picture
Submitted by myiq2xu on

"I was hearing from a friend that the Trotskyists are loving the Obama campaign, because they’re all about the political energy, and are thinking that the political energy being released by the Obama campaign, flawed as it is, is just waiting for the Vanguard…"

What we are seeing is politcal fission, not fusion.

Splitting the atom releases energy, as does splitting a party. This is uncontrolled fission, aka "The China Syndrome"

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Real ponies don't oink - Patrick McManus

Submitted by Paul_Lukasiak on

So, to me, the “creative class” are the consultants that a “creative,” “visionary” [unformed] CEO like Obama would hire. And the first thing they’d do is hold a bunch of workshops to come up with a vision statement.

which, of course, will be broadcast on C-Span.

When you actually listen to Obama talk about process, there is almost no "there" there.... his idea is that if the government was more transparent, it would change what happened. (I mean, when your answer to preventing "special interests" from influencing health care legislation is hearing on C-Span, you know you have really thought out the whole "process" thing.)

And the Obots buy into this -- basically, they think that a "tranparent" process will result in everyone reaching the conclusions they've already reached -- that their own version of truth is self-evident, and its the current process that prevents everyone else from agreeing with them.

The idea that different people have different legitimate concerns and priorities is alien to them -- they believe that once exposed to their self-evident truths, the legitimacy of the concerns of others will disappear. Compromise becomes unnecessary, because the one truth will be revealed, and everything will fall into placw as sonn as people have been enlightened by the one truth.

While this view appears naive, naivite is not what is at work here -- its pathological narcissism.

And it really should come as no surprise that pathological narcissism in the prevailing dynamic that has emerged from the progressive blogosphere during this campaign among the Boiz on the Blogz. Much like Obama, Kos, WKJM, MattyY, Drum, and the rest of the A-listers have spent the last four years being told how brilliant they are.

Blogging itself is a narcissistic act, and when you get successful at it, the narcissistic impulse is reinforced and unless you are very careful, the narcissism turns pathological in nature. That's the real "process" that we're talking about here, how normal self-regard turns into a pathology.

Julene's picture
Submitted by Julene on

That's exactly what I've been thinking. It's an absolute inability to see or believe that there are different people and ideas and that an idea is not "wrong" just because it's not the same as the one you hold to be "right".