Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell

Jamie Court has a book just out called "A Progressive's Guide to Raising Hell" that is a good counter-point to the opinion raised in yesterday's post that Obama is fulfilling the populist position for the left. In the first chapter, while confronting the speaker of the California Assembly, Fabian Núñez, Court points out the fundamental problem with this assertion:

They believed in insider connections, political machinery, and the money that greased both. To them, it was just a question of which team, red or blue, would marshal its resources and get there firrst. They were the blue squad. For me, genuine change has always been born of an uncontainable populism that knew no party. Perhaps that’s why I was as frank as I was when my turn came.

... The back-and-forth turned to the governor’s plan for mandatory private health insurance purchases and Schwarzenegger’s refusal to regulate the industry to make sure that people could afford to pay the premiums. This turned out to be the very debate that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would have six months later in the heat of the primary. Obama won by opposing mandatory health insurance purchases, taking on the populist view, but later reversed himself during his first year in office. It was one of a series of betray- als on health care reform during Obama’s first year that undermined his support among his progressive base and independents.

... Barack Obama, whose campaign my colleagues and I never talked to, used our talking points, almost verbatim, to attack Clinton’s mandatory purchase plan. At the time no one in America was making the same arguments in the same way as Consumer Watchdog was. California was on the cutting edge of the debate, and some of my arguments in a Los Angeles Times op-ed about the parallel to mandatory auto insurance laws later became the basis for Obama campaign statements. Obama said, “The reason people don’t have health insurance isn’t because they don’t want it, it’s because they can’t afford it.” Obama had a platform. We had a populist message. The public had a strong opinion that turned out to be a defining difference in who became the Democratic nominee.

Barack Obama, whose campaign my colleagues and I never talked to, used our talking points, almost verbatim, to attack Clinton’s mandatory purchase plan. At the time no one in America was making the same arguments in the same way as Consumer Watchdog was. California was on the cutting edge of the debate, and some of my arguments in aLos Angeles Times op-ed about the parallel to manda- tory auto insurance laws later became the basis for Obama campaign statements. Obama said, “The reason people don’t have health insur- ance isn’t because they don’t want it, it’s because they can’t afford it.” Obama had a platform. We had a populist message. The public had a strong opinion that turned out to be a defining difference in who became the Democratic nominee.

Flash forward to January 2010, Obama’s one-year anniversary in the Oval Office. To win moderate Democratic support for health reform legislation, President Obama had months before agreed to mandatory health insurance purchases for every U.S. citizen, the very kind of “reality-based” politics he had criticized Hillary Clinton for. He also jettisoned from the legislation the so-called public option to the private health insurers, another key campaign plank. Even earlier in his presidency he had cut a deal with pharmaceutical companies not to subject them to new government bulk purchasing that would lower prescription drug costs in exchange for the industry’s support for health reform legislation. The populist campaigner had given in to every cash-rich industry in the health care reform debate so as not to incur their wrath. While he railed against the power of money in Washington on the campaign trial, he bowed to the big-money donors at pivotal moments once he occupied the Oval Office. These critical turning points not only guaranteed that health care reform, as written by Congress, would not be cost-effective, but confirmed for the watchful public that Obama was not an authentic reformer.

Quickly, the public bit back in Massachusetts on January 19, 2010, when the special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Ted Kennedy’s death suddenly turned into a referendum on Obama’s leadership. The Massachusetts electorate, which had more independents by 2010 than either Democrats or Republicans, took away the Democrats’ supposed flibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Obama Democrats stayed home, while a strong turnout of Republicans and a swing contingent of independents gave Scott Brown the edge.

Those who study politics look for such tipping points because they understand that momentum is the key force in politics. The GOP proved it could disguise itself as outsiders and retake power. The White House would have to get back in touch with the people or pay a price.

That last paragraph is key imo. I would only point earlier for the undermining that went on before this tipping point. First, back to the bank bailouts in the spring of 2009, as what undermined Obama's support among progressives, libertarians, and independents that he was real change. Second, later that year, by following through on his minimalist campaign pledge to send two additional brigades to Afghanistan, as a back-door means to send over 60,000 with his own surge of troops. And then, yes, the tipping point, where he caves to allow the betrayal of a multi-generational Democratic Party promise to deliver universal healthcare that is public, by instead making it an individual mandate to buy corporate insurance.

In the extended entry, I'll layout the formula that Court's book (available through Chelsea Green) has for making progressive change happen.

Here are the five steps necessary for any campaign to succeed at creating change.

Step 1: Expose. Exposing new information about opponents—facts that conflict with the image they put forth in public—shows how out of touch with public opinion those opponents are.

Step 2: Confront. Confronting our opponents on the battleground of our values creates a debate, an unfolding drama, over popular values through which a campaign can be won.

Step 3:Wait for the mistakes. The goal of all advocacy is to force our opponents’ mistakes, which gives us the ability to shame our opponents and force them to either do what we want or lose more power.

Step 4: Make the mistakes the issue. If your opponent is ashamed or sorry, he will adopt your proposals or negotiate in good faith. If not, repeat steps 1 to 3 to force more mistakes and gain more leverage.

Step 5: Don’t let go. Persistence often turns up the key lead, connection, or exposure that tips the campaign your way; keep your teeth in their tail until they agree to your terms.

 

Every successful campaign for change that I have been involved in or witnessed has boiled down to these basic steps. President Obama’s failure during his first year as president to lead a genuine populist movement for change is directly the result of his failure to follow this formula. I can count on two hands the elected officials in Washington, D.C., today who practice this art regularly. A lot of politicians’ efforts are geared toward credit and cameras, not creating the friction in the political establishments that’s necessary to catalyze change. In the near future, though, the fate of presidents, politicians, and parties will depend on whether they listen to the public when it speaks. The fate of change will depend upon how the public voices its opinion. Our opponents, as well as many of our allies, typically underestimate the great leveling force of public opinion. But change makers win by seizing upon popular opinion and forcing a confrontation with their opponents’ views from the high ground of populist values.

If President Obama had stood on the high ground of these values in his first year and confronted members of his own party who stood in the way of change, his public standing would be greater, and more progressive reform proposals would already be laws. The next gener- ation of progressive leaders, or a reborn Obama, will have to learn from such mistakes. The public will not have its thirst for change quenched until such confrontations occur.

But how does an outsider know the opportunities for real change on the inside so she can seize them? How does an outsider create a record of progress on his or her issue—an essential aspect to moving that issue forward—if insiders don’t want to listen? When and where is the best opportunity to catalyze change from the outside?

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Comments

12 Comments

nah
If President Obama had stood on the high ground of these values in his first year and confronted members of his own party who stood in the way of change, his public standing would be greater, and more progressive reform proposals would already be laws.
I think you are forgetting that if Obama didn't do it, then by definition it couldn't have been done.
by jeopardy 2010-08-31 12:37PM | 0 recs
RE: nah

oh, and Ben Nelson is a unique political animal that doesn't respond to carrots and sticks like every other politician in the history of the world. Don't forget that.

So there's really nothing Obama couldhave done.

by jeopardy 2010-08-31 01:01PM | 0 recs
RE: nah

No not really. Their was no reason for Nelson to vote for the bill in any shape or form. See the then senator from NE and Clinton's effort in 93 for example.

by vecky 2010-08-31 01:33PM | 0 recs
RE: nah

yes, because '93 and the beginning of 2009 were exactly the same.

 

Anyways, with your logic, there was no point in even trying for HCR. See HCR and Clinton's effort in 93, for example.

by jeopardy 2010-08-31 06:03PM | 0 recs
RE: nah

I would say the lesson to be learned from '93 was to try a different legislative tactic. I think '93 is an apt yard-stick because the legislative balance was quite similar to '09. And external factors - democratic momentum and the recession tend to balance each other out.

by vecky 2010-08-31 07:56PM | 0 recs
RE: nah

I still fail to see why you think that Nelson or a few other Blue Dogs are completely immune to political pressure or rewards, to the sticks and carrots that have helped move politicians forever.

And no, noting a time when a politician wasn't moved does not prove that he/she couldn't be moved had more/other things been done.

by jeopardy 2010-08-31 10:16PM | 0 recs
RE: nah

They are not completely immune. They did vote for the bill in the end after extracting their various pounds of flesh. Who would have guessed in 2006 that Nelson of Nebraska would agree to an expansion of Medicaid and $100 billion in additional yearly spending on the needy?

More could have been done of course. A 100,000 people could have showed up at the pro-PO rally rather than a mere 5000.

by vecky 2010-09-01 12:39AM | 0 recs
Gender reassignment?

If in your first graf you are referring to Jamie Court as "her," Jamie is a guy. 

by jcullen 2010-08-31 12:45PM | 0 recs
This is what I'm talking about!

Thank you Jerome!  This is the action based post I've been waiting for.

I'm definitely getting this book.

Hopefully they will spell out a little more what the five steps entail.  How do you "force policy mistakes?"

More like this please!

by jlars 2010-08-31 11:57PM | 0 recs
RE: This is what I'm talking about!

Jerome is always worth waiting for!

by 2010-09-01 02:38PM | 0 recs
Obama still doesn't get it...

Listening to his Iraq War Withdrawal speech tonight just underscored for me how Obama still doesn't get it. The speech was fraught with calls for putting the discord and disharmony behind us and negotiating a new path forward devoid of disharmony.  Yeah, like the Republicans are going to be willing to do that!

He spoke with such vagueness that most people will likely not realize that he was putting blame for our current fiscal situation on the wasted money spent on the war. Yet, he didn't come right out and make it clear that it was the Republicans who put us in this predicament. A golden opportunity to change the course of the debate and inform the millions of Americans who would be watching about just WHY we are in such a dilemma and why it is taking so long to get us out of it, but instead, he tries once again to elevate that bipartisanship mem... if only we could all just get along.

Obama just seems incapable, or at the worst, unwilling to realize he needs to rally his base and he needs to do it immediately. Yet, every opportunity he has to do that, he goes back to the same worn-out idea of bipartisanship and working together with lofty ideals, all the while ignoring the fact that his opposition is kicking his and our asses, and that when they take control in November, any idea of bipartisanship will finally be put to death. Why he cannot understand that and start tyring to rally those who would still support him, is beyong me. But he doesn't and he seems like he won't either. Too bad. We could still staunch the damage if only he would start respecting his base and working with them; instead, he continues his delusion that he'll find a few good Republicans to help him with his agenda, and they keep stabbing him in the back. If it weren't so pathetic, it would be truly "Grecian" as GWB would say. Just don't get it, speaking for myself.

by mcarnes 2010-09-01 12:18AM | 0 recs
Agree 100%, Worst is yet to come

We're headed towards a GOP controlled congress supported by a GOP media machine that sets the debate. And, in our corner, we have a President who is very likely to try to meet the other side -- that doesn't believe in compromise and seeks to eradicate him and every Democrat from DC and earth -- halfway because he believe in his heart that he needs to be seen as the "post partisanship" president. He is going to be the opposite of Bill Clinton in 94. He is going to stand down, not stand up to the GOP onslaught as he tries to "reach across the isle." The right controlled media will villify him for this weakness and his ratings will go down further. A Palin presidency is becoming a real possibility.  Who knew one of the most talented politicians in recent history would be such a bust. The man was just made for different, more honorable, political times. We need a real, devious, relentless bastard on our side to beat these a-holes and instead, we got a real good guy.  God help us all.

 

 

by lojo 2010-09-01 09:19PM | 0 recs

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