Saturday, July 30, 2005

Unsolicited Advice

As anyone with even a cursory awareness of U.S. politics knows, George Bush has nominated some guy to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the United States Supreme Court. There are nuttier folk he could have nominated, and it sounds like the Democratic Party and the big liberal and progressive lobbying organizations haven't quite decided how hard they're going to fight the nomination. However, from what I've read it looks likely that many millions of dollars will be spent by such organizations as they buy the means to participate in the process.

As a Canadian who doesn't even live in the U.S. any more, I am aware that I need to be cautious in offering advice on internal politics in the United States. However, I offer this as a friendly suggestion, for discussion, and fully accepting that "butt out" is an acceptable response.

It is my humble opinion that this nominee is not going to be defeated. For one thing, he is not as gratuitiously offensive as, say, John Bolton for U.N. Ambassador. More importantly, the Right wants him to pass, and they have the majority of representatives who will be voting to approve him, more money, and a much more highly organized and effective movement on the ground. Because of the symbolic centrality of this particular victory to the right-wing quasi-social movements in the U.S., this is a fight that the White House will throw all its resources behind, and though the Bush administration is in a relatively weak state at the moment, that is still a non-trivial commitment.

I think most of the liberal and progressive lobbying organizations know that he is not going to be defeated, but they see it as an opportunity to further chip away at Bush's credibility and political capital. If they play it right, this can be a way to mobilize the liberal base and to illustrate in stark terms for the passive centre-right (white) majority in the U.S. the ways in which the values and methods of the radical right extremists in the White House are out of step even with them and not just with progressives. In other words, they are playing not to win this particular battle but to win points that will play into Democratic Party victories in the mid-term elections in 2006.

This may, indeed, work as predicted. I think the record of the Democratic Party and the major liberal and progressive organizations in this regard are not particularly encouraging, but they might be able to pull it off.

But should they?

I would argue no.

I would argue that this is a golden opportunity to refuse to play the game. I would argue that this is a chance to fake out the opposition, and to sink some serious resources into building long-term, movement-style infrastructure by conceding defeat in a fight you know you're not going to win anyway. I would argue that the money that liberal and progressive lobbying organizations -- mostly controlled by middle-class, white, professionals -- would be spending on this campaign should instead be handed over to grassroots organizations focused on organizing constituencies that are exploited and oppressed. I got an email from MoveOn the other day encouraging me to "Create The Slogan That Will Take Down Karl Rove," which made me feel faintly ill -- the Right isn't strong because it has cooler slogans, it is strong because it has very well organized movements (as well as great, greasy buckets of cash) behind it. A slogan or a slick media campaign may win a particular fight, but it is only with revitalized social movements that even quite moderate and liberal change will occur in any kind of sustained way, let alone the more radical changes that some of us might fantasize about.

My first instinct is to suggest sinking it into labour organizing, though I can forsee some objections to that. For one thing, who would it be given to, now that the AFL-CIO has split? I don't want to get in the middle of that fight. I'd suggest giving it to the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, with the only condition being that it be used specifically for organizing. They could partner with whoever they wanted to in spending the money. That would give the CBTU some leverage in dealing with the two white-dominated trade union centres and it would ensure that a progressive wing of the labour movement was making the decisions about how to use the money.

Of course another criticism of giving it exclusively to labour would be that one of the big issues at stake in the Supreme Court nomination is reproductive freedom, and assigning the money in that way would be a way of paying attention to class oppression at the expense of gender. That's a fair enough critique, so maybe the CBTU should get some of it, and organizations centred around the theme of "reproductive justice" rather than the whiter and more middle-class "choice" should be the recipient of some of the money. Or perhaps grassroots feminist political organizations in the more right-wing areas of the country, like the Deep South.

All of this is, as the title says, unsolicited advice -- unsolicited advice posted on a tiny blog that no one will need to even bother dismissing. And perhaps, tactically, this is not the specific time or place for shifting significant resources from immediate, massified, highly media-driven, electorally-focused politics to the kind of long-term movement building that will be necessary to shift the balance of power in the United States in a decisive way. But a serious shift in how power works in the United States, or even a shift in the balance of power among existing elites in a more liberal direction, will require building anew over the long-term and not just heavy investment in particularly critical campaigns in the moment.


MyBlog said...

You said:

"All of this is, as the title says, unsolicited advice -- unsolicited advice posted on a tiny blog that no one will need to even bother dismissing."

Well, I read it.

PS: Your not a bad writer.

Here is my blog address, which will change soon (to but for now is my

gardensnake said...

As a former NDP and Dem party supporter gone bad... er... conservative... I must say, I agree with you.

My understanding of J. Roberts is that he is a centre-right law upholder, rather than a far right law-maker. Seeing as that is pretty much how I stand on many issues, I do like the man.

The best possible things Dems could have done, would've been to not only not attack Roberts, but to embrace him in a way that makes him appear to be a sign that they had forced the Repubs to moderate their stance on judical nominees. I mean, you have to be pretty wacko to think that Bush will nominate anybody to the left of Roberts. Unfortunatly, this whole Clinton-era brand of reactionary thinking that moved from the right to the left... it's too bad. I remember being in a room with giddy conservatives after hearing about Dean's election to the DNC chair.

In short, groups like dailyKos and spend so much time convincing Democrats to attacks centre right figures that it's no suprise when Dems find themselves scrambling for any kind of foothold whatsoever within centre-right territory.

I like (hearing and giving) unsolicited advice too.

Scott said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Scott said...

Hi gardensnake...thanks for coming by and posting your advice, solicited or not! And sorry to hear about your journey to the right... ;)

Anyway, we're obviously approaching our very similar advice in very different ways...I don't advocate for scrambling for territory in the centre-right, I advocate for reallocating resources to build a base for leftward change. My criticism of the DKos crowd is from the left, not from the right, and I think the biggest barrier to them being more effective is not yet having come to terms with what they're going to need to do to win the kinds of changes that they want. They are stuck in a media-driven, class-free politics, and they are never going to win that game; they need to refocus on movement building. In that effort, I'm sure criticism of the centre-right that appears to be foolish will be part of the game. In fact, it will involve sections of whatever movements result being far farther to the left than the Dkos crowd would be comfortable with. But its a tactical lesson that the liberals can take from the moderate right: fund and empower those who are more extreme than you in doing grassroots activities, and you may lose some control over the party but you'll build a base that can actually win stuff occasionally. Roosevelt was as elitist and establishment as they come, but in his frantic efforts to save capitalism he built bridges with the Communists and in the process, possibly more by accident than anything else, did a few things that made peoples' lives significantly better.

Of course, as someone who is on that farther left, I'd hope that we can take those resources and push the liberals into places they might otherwise not go.

Timmer said...

Hi Scott!

It has been several months since we last exchanged views/jabs on our respective blogs. I recall that your partner would be soon finished with her doctoral work and you would be leaving the U.S.

Although not a democat myself, if I were to advise them I would definitely give them a similar argument to yours - they would be wise to save their resources for other battles, including the imminent replacement of the Chief Justice. Though they would might never admit it, Roberts' nomination was a huge relief to many on the left.

Hope all has been well for you and yours! Stop over for a visit some time - I did enjoy our earlier discourse.

Scott said...

Hi Timmer...good to hear from you again. Hope you are doing well. I'll make a point of wandering over to your site in the next day or two!