The process chicken and the policy egg
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.