The Paths Ahead (Tweak On 8/4/11)

So are we there yet? Some thoughts as they occur, probably to be consolidated in an omnibus post.

Turn Your Head And Cough, Please

We begin where we are. Political science and philosophy lead to the same diagnosis: today’s America is a hybrid demotic-oligarchy. The hybrid qualifier? Existing institutions are deployed as both hammer and victim. Oligarchy, while increasingly bold, prefers to act through intermediaries. Economic difficulties may highlight oligarchical self-serving action. They still remain, good times or bad. But you already knew that.

All should know by 2011 oligarchy and the Movement are momentarily bed fellows. Koch money et al. funds the Movement. To agitate on tax cuts or issue X. The Movement remains distinct. Across history oligarchies typically are overthrown by authoritarianism. See, e.g. Venice, Genoa, Rome (and even Athens, which was never a republic but a democracy) Or your own example.

Oligarchical rule is never sustainable. It’s primarily extractive and self-interested nature leads to dissipation or opposition, usually chaotic or disorganized because political institutions have atrophied. Thus enters the Man on the White Horse to restore order. (Oligarchical money of course also famously funds Democrats).

Howard Fineman’s ‘we are watching slow rolling secession (from democratic pluralism)’ sums it up. He’s late to the realization; still a nice turn of phrase. We should be clear what this means. When societies reach this devolutionary point, there usually is no ‘re-set’. Things don’t just go ‘back to the way they were’ (see post on Audacity’s failure below).

Politics and society have changed. A by-product of Obama’s refusal to implement (and defend) roll-back of the 2001-2008 corrosion. We should adapt accordingly. For the post-Obama world.

Cowboys And Democrats

Do Democrats want to challenge the game? Today’s circumstances demand a thorough intellectual re-boot. Secession from pluralism requires a new ideological response. Even if Dems must play the money game without reform. The hardest part? Just beginning it all. Democrats have paralyzed themselves with tropes like seeing a snapshot poll and muttering “America is center right anyway”. Forgetting *that’s* the result only after decades of almost totally unopposed Movement AgitProp. How far do Democrats really want to move the cheese?

Ideological entities to bend the social curve are long term endeavors. Today’s Movement’s success 2001-2011 began in the late 1970s.

Still interested? OK. On one post card. What does it mean to be a Democrat? Why does it matter? If one can’t do that, then don’t try. Simplicity is hard. Just ask anyone trying to copy Apple. Complexity is easy. Demotic politics make this priority number one. We’re deadly serious. Dump the laundry list of programs or special interests. Ideologically, why do Democrats exist? One post card.

We understand the old joke about ‘not an organized political party’. A past luxury. Two other hoary chestnuts no longer universally true: (i) ‘politics is the art of addition’; and (ii) ‘all politics are local’. In a ‘rolling secession’ ideological world, both now heavily qualified with ‘sometimes’.

A reader might be thinking by now, ‘But I know all this’. Likely if you found this site. You’d also probably agree that Democrats fail at the second requirement after postcards. How to build and sell narratives. Enrolling narratives are the key to success in a demotic environment. Democrats still don’t know how to build narratives. Worse than TEPCO after Fukushima. Snark? Democrats and their base do well. Narratives are more than a laundry list of interest groups or program names.

Successful narratives begin with foundational, animating concepts that speak to Ur Myths, Ur Truths. Democrats must grok in the very fiber of their beings that *everything* since William Jennings Bryan is up for grabs: empiricism, science, the notion of ‘progress’ as a linear path with direction. Presume and assume *nothing*. Those basic precepts built the American Century. They are the origins for American liberal democratic capitalism. Today’s standards of living, life expectancy, regulation, collective bargaining, the GI Bill, etc. All originated from them. Democrats forgot that all also were outlier ideas that had to overcome significant initial resistance. (See, e.g., Scopes Trial).

To tell a story that commands allegiance, Democrats must re-learn how those basic Enlightenment concepts triumphed. It’s not because they were ‘right’. They were marketed. And pushed. For example, the infusion of objective external data into legal analysis was once considered heretical. Hence the famous Brandeis briefs. The Roberts Court are moving backwards now. Government programs only have legitimacy when seen to be working and effective. (All the WPA plaques, WW II, Apollo, etc.) Increased standards of living, health, etc. are the *by-product.

Almost everything the modern coalition of interest groups calling themselves Democrats adhere to begins with empiricism, science and rationality. New narratives must begin there. If those basic concepts go, all the superstructure built upon them follows.

The netroots effort in this regard must be judged a non-success. Not just because they were among the biggest Obama kool aiders. And helped enable this disaster. They don’t really understand what they’re up against. Tactically they were caught by surprise in Wisconsin and Ohio. Inexcusable in 2011. After 2001-08. Moreover, they remain marginal within the Democratic Party after 8 years of Bush-Cheney. More time might help. The nation – if it is to arrest, let alone reverse ‘slow rolling secession’ – doesn’t have it.

One sign of for optimism? The Stewart/Colbert rally on the Mall drew almost half a million people for ‘sanity’. There is a yearning for a non-Movement organizing narrative. Stewart and Colbert excel at narrative. They chose not to pull the trigger and galvanize their audience to concrete political action. There is an audience.

Learn To Play Offense And Play To Win

Even if the Democrats do the hard postcard work and begin to speak narratively, organization needs build out. Our background is in Movement/Republican politics and fund raising. However they reconfigure, Democrats must build something new, an organization prepared to wage protracted ideological conflict. ‘Slow rolling secession’ is about ideological struggle beyond the ‘Tea Party’s’ energy level. A demotic society requires constant engagement. That’s one reason Fox manufactures fake narratives like the ludicrous ‘War on Christmas’. Democrats needn’t copy Fox. But they do need to understand the why. To keep people enrolled beyond an election cycle.

The post-Obama world requires Democrats to wake up. It’s a new kind of politics. It’s about prevailing in seeming tectonic rigid ideological combat marked by bursts of sudden Movement radicalism.

A new post-Obama political party designed to win must have: (a) its identity clear (the postcard); (b) it’s story clear (the narratives); (c) surrogate ‘re-tweeters’ (if you will) to help sell the narrative (including faith-based); (d) a clear understanding that it’s AgitProp not designed to be ‘objective truth’; (d) coalition support ; (e) cadre recruitment and training; and (f) finances. All focused on offensive politics. To reclaim lost ground. To propose new approaches.

Let’s use the current FAA shut down over unions as a case study. How can Democrats be surprised? Bush Cheney in 2002 immediately after 9/11 held the entire Homeland Security Act hostage to de-unionizing government/making sure TSA couldn’t unionize. The War on Terror took a back seat to union bashing. The FAA? Small change. (Granted the country might be better off without Homeland Security). The Movement wants to rip the guts out of Old School Democratic support mechanisms. The Democrats have had *years* to build a strong narrative to promote organized labor. Nada. Zip. Nothing.

Democrats going forward ? The time to defend coalition partners is immediately, when they are strong. That’s why the Movement counter-attacks at any perceived slight right away. Narratives work better when partners are healthy too. A stand now on organized labor? After Democrats themselves undercut American labor and manufacturing with NAFTA/Davos/Friedmanisms? If the dilemma is to decide between oligarchical funding and an allegedly key coalition power base? Says it all.

Ideas Matter

Peter Daou famously wrote a memo in 2004 about how Democrats needed to copy Republican techniques. His premise? Democrats need to copy Republicans’ triangle among elected officials, activists and think tanks, etc. Ariania’s website grew from those conversations (now subject to a lawsuit). New structures did follow. D.C. think tanks, and accidentally MSNBC. We all know it’s not working.

It’s all relatively young. It lacks the postcard exercise and shared narrative. There is no synchronicity because the output is not generating enrolling stories. That are seen to be acted upon on the political stage. Without the postcard exercise and narrative focus it becomes random factoids. We have yet to see a Democratic think tank generating a meme (report) that became the organizing basis for a sustained AgitProp and political offensive. Just the other night one of the MSNBC hosts, fuming over the deficit deal, read a list of programs that would be cut. It was Gore and Norwood Dingle all over. That person might as well have added General Tsao’s Chicken.

Powerful narrative also means discipline, orchestration. Winning narratives? Demotic societies (either through decay or primativism) respond to simplicity. Peace. Bread. Land. Or No New Taxes.

That’s a lot of work to do. Protracted ideological conflict requires a human capital plan. Not just to copy the K Street Project. It all begins and ends with cadres. People. Resume banks. Leadership training. Youth campaign seminars. In duplicate. Triplicate. The formal party apparat should not be the sole or even primary vehicle in current circumstances. For example, Morton Blackwell’s Leadership Institute existed for years very happily — and deliberately — apart from the RNC. None of it will matter, of course, without understanding who they are (the postcard) and why (the narrative) – and why always must be more than ‘against’.

Message discipline is going to get harder for all concerned as we slide further into demotic dissolution. New technologies exacerbate matters. All the more reason for the postcard simplicity and concise narratives. Easy to build, easy to re-Tweet. The original core idea should originate outside of ephemeral social media. Democrats (and non-Rightists) going in are disadvantaged. Demotic societies by their nature favor irrationality, fear, greed and the transient. The Movement’s petri dish.

Is any of this doable? We think so. Even in Fineman’s ‘slow rolling secession’ frame? As mentioned, no republic has ever walked backwards from an oligarchical state. It’d be foolish not to try. We should be honest with ourselves. ‘Virtue’ (in the non-moral, belief sense) once lost doesn’t come back. But perhaps its memory will be enough.

Non-Rightists And All The Roadrunning

All of the above assuming Democrats even want to move the rice bowls. Non-Rightists care only to the extent it might arrest further decline. Restoration would be double plus good. What about other options?

What are the chances of reclaiming a non-radicalized Republican Party? They’ve gone through this before. Had their Goldwater phase. Republicans (Nixon, too) took back their own institutions. The goal of this exercise is admittedly limited – to defuse Movement radicalism and subject oligarchical rule to some restraints for the public good (such as real FinReg reform, etc.)

Those inside the Republican Party trying to wait out the current radicalism say time will exhaust today’s Movement excitability. The argument runs that one should participate in Republican politics, primaries, fund raising — and pretend to go along with the Movement — as an investment. To have a seat at the table when the Movement parasite rests and the Republican host’s future is up for grabs. We’ve talked about this together in comments here a bit. Why some have observed voting for Romney might be objectively the best political act open to a Non-Rightist or even a Democrat.

Republicans more than Democrats also understand power and are comfortable wielding it. It’s a big point. As Democrats showed 2006-2010, what’s the point of a majority if it can’t and won’t stand for anything?

A reclaimed party still is a very long shot. Beyond money for non-Movement candidates. There are so few ‘traditional’ Republicans left. Say in the Howard Baker mold. They don’t exist. The goal posts have moved too far. Those ‘moderates’ lying low in the Republican Party are objectively right wing and Movement semi ex-pats.


There’s also the 3rd party option. Ala Nader they typically have been minor and spoilers. Perot lived and died by Larry King, then today’s version of FB and Twitter. National Town Halls were a siren call from Perot. So it’s not surprising that the 3rd Party candidate idea finds new allure via voting on the Internet. Even less surprising that a hedge fund is doing it. It’s wholly demotic and decadent. The very process accelerates the transition for oligarchy to authoritarianism. Politics also crafted for current circumstances.

The Movement will love it. A demotic direct selection of president plays out largely on its ideological and motivational turf. The Movement has the postcard done. It is masterful at narrative. Most important is the notion of leader principle legitimized by plebiscite. As we’re reported before, Ashcroft told us over lunch not long after he stepped down from Attorney General that a presidential election is all that mattered because the people voted for him. Thus the president could ignore Congress. As a senator he understood and accepted that. A presidential re-election also meant approval of all of that president’s acts, even those still secret. Ashcroft is not alone in this view. It’s not atypical within the Movement.

Don’t ask if a 3rd Party Internet candidate can ‘win’? More important is how much damage would be done.

Still Sitting In Lafayette Park Day 248 #UprisingFail #DidFallingSkiesGetCancelled?

An American Tahrir? Egypt removed Mubarak. But the Army remains. And the protestors are back to square one. Public theater is most effective when backed by an organized political agenda or entity. In history, public demonstrations are a typical response to an oligarchy in decay. Prompting calls to ‘restore order’ (ala Napoleon, for example, in a slightly different context).

We share the frustration of those who call for public demonstrations. American historical experience with peaceful demonstrations makes it attractive. The great causes like civil rights were tied to clear political goals. The Stewart/Colbert rally became an airball because it lacked organized politics. Without some entity doing the postcard thing and narrative discipline in the ready to translate the public spectacle into concrete political action we can’t see an American Tahrir as anything more than a precursor to clampdown.


We rate the chances of Democratic re-invention low. 30% or lower. Most likely scenario is the existing Democratic apparatus re-energized led by one with slightly more spine. Counter-punching the Movement successfully is not wholly unimaginable but it would be DLC/Clinton-esque. Imposing some constraints on oligarchy? Possible. Recapturing the Republican Party from the Movement parasites et al.? High risk, high reward scenario. Success for a Republican host to recover from Movement parasitism ultimately depends on campaign finance reform. That’s the alpha and omega there in our opinion. 10% at best. And not for some time. “Depending on the breaks” per Buck Turgidson. More likely is the dangerous puppet 3rd party construct with a direct appeal to a radicalized demos.

Our first stab at paths ahead. YMMV and probably does.


  1. DrLeoStrauss says

    The kidz wanna have some theater:

    Hey you rebels, radicals and utopian dreamers out there,

    We are living through a rare crisis and moment of opportunity. Western industrialized nations are now being masticated by the financial monster they themselves created. This is triggering a mood that alternates between angry denial and sudden panic. It looks like something is about to break, opening the space for a necessary transformation and a total rethink of global economic affairs. Events are playing perfectly into our September 17 occupation of Wall Street.

    So … can we on the left learn some new tricks? Can we head off to lower Manhattan with a fresh mindset and a powerful new demand?

    Strategically speaking, there is a very real danger that if we naively put our cards on the table and rally around the “overthrow of capitalism” or some equally outworn utopian slogan, then our Tahrir moment will quickly fizzle into another inconsequential ultra-lefty spectacle soon forgotten. But if we have the cunning to come up with a deceptively simple Trojan Horse demand … something profound, yet so specific and doable that it is impossible for President Obama to ignore … something that spotlights Wall Street’s financial capture of the US political system and confronts it with a pragmatic solution … like the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act … or a 1% tax on financial transactions … or an independent investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into the corporate corruption of our representatives in Washington … or another equally creative but downright practical demand that will emerge from the people’s assemblies held during the occupation … and if we then put our asses on the line, screw up our courage and hang in there day after day, week after week, until a large swath of Americans start rooting for us and President Obama is forced to respond … then we just might have a crack at creating a decisive moment of truth for America, a first concrete step towards achieving the radical changes we all dream about unencumbered by commitments to existing power structures.

    So, let’s learn the strategic lessons of Tahrir (nonviolence), Syntagma (tenacity), Puerta del Sol (people’s assemblies) and lay aside adherence to political parties and worn-out lefty dogmas. On September 17, let’s sow the seeds of a new culture of resistance in America that fires up a permanent democratic awakening.

    See you on Wall St. Sept 17. Bring Tent.

    for the wild,
    Culture Jammers HQ

    Read the original listserv that got #OCCUPYWALLSTREET rolling.

    Bulletin from New York:

    A second General Assembly (GA) was held Tuesday, August 9. About 175-200 people attended. The main things that were discussed were why people wanted to participate in #OCCUPYWALLSTREET, how the GAs should be organized, and what the message or demands of the occupation should be. Additional committees were formed and either met after the GA or scheduled future meetings, including website, media and culture committees. One problem we are wrestling with in all these areas is how to set up some kind of framework for 9/17 ahead of time so that we can provide food for people, convene the first GA smoothly, and begin thinking about why we are there, while leaving the process open so that everyone who participates on 9/17 can have a voice in shaping what this action will be about. The other big issue is, unsurprisingly, how to deal with the police. This is one area where some kind of pre-established framework is definitely going to be necessary, because if we don’t have a plan for avoiding mass arrests the occupation will not survive its first day. There’s still lots of work to be done, but we’re off to a good start and we’ve got over four weeks to get everything ready.

    Thanks to Doug S. from New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts for this update.

  2. Comment says

    The far right wing in UK – BNP, EDL is LUVING these dip***t riots. The EU far right is licking its chops – viewing this appetizer.

  3. Comment says

    The Nocera Syndrome:

    1.) Totally ignore a looming problem for months. Laugh along with MoDo about pop culture.
    2.) Focus on denouncing human rights violations of Russian oligarchs or other foreigners.
    3.) Notice the tea party AFTER they hold America hostage and ruin credit rating – Panic, call them names.
    4.) Apologize and blame your liberal roots.

    With variations you see the Nocera Syndrome replicate itself in various ways.

  4. jwb says

    Yes, I would have liked Nocera to have crossed and doubled down with a rational line of argument. But if did that he wouldn’t be able to write for the NY Times. Which brings me back to this: Media knows exactly what it’s doing: it is doing the job that it is paid to do very effectively. I doubt Nocera even had to be told that he needed to write that mea culpa.

  5. DrLeoStrauss says

    @Comment As you note, Academic obtuse-ness, which is just a level away from West Wing scripts. Yeah, Joe Nocera. All of them get schooled again by Tina Brown for manufactured buzz, tweets and clicks.

  6. Comment says

    @Dr Leo Strauss
    The alternative speech he writes is poorly written baby talk — This is very typical of liberal academics when they note a problem and then come up with palsied solutions.

    Speaking of lame liberals – Joe Nocera says nothing about debt for months, writes hysterical reaction to teaparty, then apologizes.

  7. jwb says

    @Dr Leo Strauss : Amazing, and, as you say, sad. Even I know that the MSM will only take up this story kicking and screaming, so if the D/P/L activists thought by sending a few tweets and writing a couple of blogposts they would generate media interest, they are even more hopeless than I imagined. Either they can collect $30 billion or so and buy an existing media network; or they need to build a different network platform so they are not beholden to MSM. Only at that point will MSM take them seriously. But for now, the D/P/L activists are just at best a loose association and I don’t see anyone working to get them coordinating in any sort of effective way (here discipline would help, but I’m not sure the linkage is there yet or that the network’s reach is extensive enough to do the work it needs to do).

    I guess one hope (and one can only call it a hope) is that money spent on rebuilding OfA will also go toward turning that group into the basis for the new network and that whatever happens in 2012 that Obama and the Democrats will be smart enough not to dismantle it this time, and, while I’m not as pessimistic about Obama as you appear to be, I remain to this day absolutely perplexed why Obama and his team thought it wise, not just to stand down after the election, but to let the alternative media infrastructure they had so effectively built to erode. That was a catastrophic decision, and one that I will not hesitate to join you in calling irresponsible.

  8. Dr Leo Strauss says

    @jwb Well put. You’re right.

    As evidence for your take, have been watching the so-called Democratic/progressive/’left’ [sic] echo chamber try to float the ALEC (American Legislative Exchange) meme as a tool for Movement radicalism at the state level.

    After meme launch, falter and then nothing. No sustained MSM pick-up/reinforcement. Now just a few random tweets. Sad, actually.

  9. jwb says

    Disagree that media doesn’t know what it is doing. Media knows exactly what it’s doing: it is doing the job that it is paid to do very effectively. But it’s also the problem with the dispersion of the narrative: the media is beholden and any narrative that the Democrats settle on will be dismantled and muddied by the media, who will bring on fake Democrats to serve the very purpose of muddying. That is, it is not simply a discipline problem; it’s that the Democrats don’t generally get to choose who speaks in their name, at least through MSM, which remains the dominant form of opinion dispersion. The one exception to this limitation is the President, but by your analysis, he is too irresponsible. Building an effective network to get around the MSM gatekeepers is crucial if you want to disperse the narrative. But I see no signs that such an alternative network is coalescing.

  10. says

    I have often made the comment Democrats believe they have the superior ideas. So people should embrace those ideas. And those Democratic candidates who espouse them. Democrats feel it is beneath them to sell their ideas to voters. So Democrats end up losing. An then as losers, Democrats sell out to salvage at least some of what their superior idea promised. Sound familiar?

    Tried to link the post my way that cited you, Doc, but I think that comment got gobbled as spam. Sigh.

    • Dr Leo Strauss says

      Hi old friend, went through the spam filter and apologize if a post got lost. Adjusted its zealousness back a bit and hope it helps. Like your linked post a great deal. And for new visitors, Heretik’s site picks up where the original left off without missing a beat.

  11. says

    I have often made the comment Democrats believe they have the superior ideas. So people should embrace those ideas. And those Democratic candidates who espouse them. Democrats feel it is beneath them to sell their ideas to voters. So Democrats end up losing. An then as losers, Democrats sell out to salvage at least some of what their superior idea promised. Sound familiar?

    Gave you rather long cite here:

    Thanks for another eye opener.

  12. Comment says

    Weisberg has defended himself by saying he opposed Bush – by which he means snark about Bush’s malapropisms. Yeah – and Palin is dumb yada yada yada – Meanwhile, back at the ranch …

  13. sglover says

    During this last ‘debt ceiling’ horseshit manufactured crisis, listening to Moody’s and S & P chiming in was an ongoing source of bitter amusement. I mean, if ever an organization literally sold its soul, it was those companies, with their endless BOUGHT stock-pumping. How many Ponzi schemes did those motherfuckers help stoke?

    Of course, no Donk would ever be so gauche as to bring up this, ahem, unpleasantness….

  14. DrLeoStrauss says

    @Comment Frankly amazed tonight so many ‘liberal’ thought leaders saying this down grade means now is the time for everyone to join together and solve ‘this’ (undefined) with patriotic unity.

    Time to lower the above % guesses again. And agree about the Weisbergs.

  15. Comment says

    Imagine if Obama was in Jefferson’s place and Lawrence Tribe told him the Lousiana Purchase was constitutionally problematic.

  16. Comment says

    Jacob Weisberg is perfect example of media liberal – lots of whining and blaming the public – yet he went along with all the policies that are now causing problems.

  17. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Couldn’t agree more.

    re your two points on media and Democrats – the crux of this perhaps overlong post. Democrats and the media no longer know who they are and why. Just triage artists of the tactical. Easily overcome by self-aware ideological foes as were Colin Powell, the Benchpresser and Wilkerson.

    IIRC the Boy King did not declare Texas a national emergency area during its recent fires. If it was intentional exercise of power, excruciatingly feeble, shy, hesitant and singular. Anyone recall other examples?

  18. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Yeah, hear that Phillip. The post may be too Pollyanna-ish. As RKKA mentioned, the likely scenario is delaying the inevitable and undercut the retreat. Which raises the uncomfortable question ‘If ti is a race to the bottom, then, what does ‘winning’ mean in that context’?

  19. Comment says

    Objectively it is silly for Rick Perry to be thought to have any sort health care advantage over Mitt Romney. Texas is no where close to Massachusetts in terms of health care in any statistical measure – Indeed, Texas is closer to Mexico than to Massachusetts,

    But it is widely considered an unarguable given that Perry could use health care against Romney. That Perry may have executed an innocent man on death row is also a credit to him in today’s republican party.

    IMHO – the best way for Dems to fight back is to roll back socialistic subsidies in right wing districts – starve the beast, so to speak – expose the hypocrisy that dominates conservative Movement in the south.

    Obama does not understand the importance of inflicting defeats on the opposition – Just for the sake of causing trouble and dividing the opposition. That stimulus with the tax cuts added in exchange for nada was telling.
    Instead – Dems whine about stimulus hypocrites taking credit for pork etc – Well, effing do something about it Dems – Obama could have denied money to congressional districts who opposed a debt in crease – He could have courted impeachment and watched his popularity sore as the crazies on the right alienated upper middle class indendents more.

  20. Comment says

    Americans are more anti free trade and anti war than the secular pro war media liberals who always tut tuting about some mythical center right nation of flyover plebes.

  21. rkka says

    Alas, he is the one in control now. He has what passes for a “Left” in this country locked in the veal pen. Therefore all available resources will go to his 2012 effort, and probably gets flushed down the crapper in the highly likely event he loses.

    And of course, all this will do is prolong and emperil the retreat.

  22. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Dems do exactly the wrong thing.

    Spending hundreds of millions of dollars on Obama brand infrastructure is precisely the wrong thing to do. Falling for the personal brand again. Democratic investment for the post-Obama world should start today.

    That would help his campaign. He could be welcome in the new Democratic journey. But he should no longer define it. He’s proven too irresponsible for that.

    Maybe the 30% guess needs to be re-evaluated sharply lower.

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