Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Inside/Outside Game

Many years ago, the late, great Isaac Asimov wrote a short story about human beings trying to overthrow alien invaders. The story focused on two characters: one a wild-eyed radical and the other a compromising bureaucrat. The radical starting screaming from Day One that the aliens were invaders, not friends, and we must kill them immediately before they took over. The bureaucrat condemned the radical as crazy and dangerous and had him locked up. Over the course of decades, this scenario repeated itself: the radical led protests against the encroachments of the aliens and the surrender of the planet by the bureaucrat, and the bureaucrat responded by jailing the radical.

In the end, the bureaucrat succeeded in using subterfuge and secret diplomacy to kick the aliens out. The radical, freed from his latest imprisonment, found himself hailed as a hero, while the bureaucrat was condemned as a collaborator. The radical objected to this mistreatment of the man he now realized had been right all along. The bureaucrat responded that the radical really was the hero. Without the radical's constant protest in contrast, the bureaucrat would have had no credibility in slowly building a strong opposition and leading it to victory.

David Atkins concludes a superb post on the protest left vs. the electoral left this way:

In order for change to take place, good Democrats do need to be in power. But only an angry and motivated populace angry with both Parties and strongly intent on holding Democrats accountable will scare and motivate Democrats enough to do what they were elected to do.

LBJ wouldn't have been pushed to do the right thing for civil rights without MLK. But neither would MLK have brought his dream to fruition without a president in power with the courage to enforce desegregation.

Ultimately, the institutionalists need to allow the Occupy Wall Street protests to develop organically without attempting to convert them into electoral activism in any form. Supporting the protests is perhaps the most important thing progressives can be doing right now. As Robert Cruickshank tweeted:

We need to focus on generating the waves, not recruiting people to surf them.

But on the other hand, it would behoove movement progressives not to dismiss the arena of electoral politics and those who engage in it. If Mitt Romney becomes president or John Boehner remains the House Speaker, it won't matter how big or successful the protests become. For things to really work, Democrats will have to be in power and a powerful progressive protest movement with a healthy distrust of institutional Democrats will need to be in place to hold them accountable.

I follow Steve M. on this - we're not going to have a critical mass of liberals elected to office until we have a critical mass of liberals voting them into office.
Call me naive, but I think OccupyTogether might just have the answer to Steve's question: how do we make more liberals?

Down with Tyranny is working the inside/outside angle by strongly criticizing President Obama while researching, identifying and supporting congressional candidates who are genuine liberals. You can find them here.

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