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Progressives all recognize the lengths to which the GOP will try to frame their policies as "good vs. evil", "us vs. them", "winning vs. losing", and other variations of zero-sum formulations.  But do we recognize how often play along, even as we battle their frames?

More about the War Frame and how Obama is handling it on the flipside...

Deep within all of us, progressives and conservatives alike, reside the competing impulses of authoritarianism and democracy, or rather, of "top-down" and "bottom-up" forms of control.
Most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, hear the siren call of the power-of-being-in-charge from time-to-time.  We celebrate when "our guys" are in charge of the government because, in part, we believe that we can effect change efficiently only when we control the levers of power.  We believe that the problems we wish to solve stem from the fact that the wrong people are in charge.  We fantasize that it would be wonderful and great to pass X set of laws, make Y set of changes, and create Z set of rewards and punishments, believing for a moment in benevolent dictatorship. Even when we don’t pine for actual dictatorship, we demand that our leaders that do control levers of power use them with gusto.

But then there is also in our national mythology an abiding faith in notions of liberty, free will, and the wisdom of the people.  On a daily basis, we are free to buy what we can afford, worship or not as we see fit, express ourselves (most of the time) however we wish.  
The founding BIG IDEA of our nation--still revolutionary--is that a viable, sustainable, excellent government can be maintained by enabling "bottom-up" control to balance the top-down impulse.  Adam Smith’s notion of "the invisible hand of the market" gave voice to a theory of economic power that didn’t depend upon the trickle-down largesse of landed nobility for its function.  Several variations of the Reformation reinforced the direct contact the individual soul has with divine power at the expense of ideas of hierarchical spiritual trickle-down.  At the founding of our nation, these ideas of spiritual and economic liberty were mingled with an untested theory of government that aimed to weaken unitary, hierarchical power so that it wouldn’t weaken and destroy that liberty.

The Big Idea that is our Constitution depends on balance—the balance of competing institutions of centralized control, all of which are, to differing degrees subject to the will of the decentralized masses.  However, from the beginning, political battles have usually revolved on getting "right-thinking" people into power who will manipulate the levers of control in such a way as to benefit the "right" people—a battle of authoritarians.  Conservative authoritarians favored the faux aristocrats and the longing-to-be classes; progressive authoritarians favored the spokesmen for "the common man."  But both kinds of authoritarians have steadily moved the political balance point of our democracy more in favor of top-down control because it makes compensating for the opposition’s stupidity easier to accomplish.  Centralized control makes political change seem quicker and more efficient.  (Could FDR have managed the New Deal in antebellum America, or did it need the extra century of concentration of federal power to accomplish?)

Have there been political movements of "bottom-uppers" (call them populists for want of a better term)? Populist movements have tended to be used in service of the out-of-power authoritarians of the moment.  As populist movements become organized, then the same top-down versus bottom-up conflict arises between the movement’s leadership and its rank-and-file.  Most of us have witnessed or participated in "progressive" groups run in an authoritarian mode that tends to drain its founding energy over time.  And we have witnessed or participated in groups whose cohesiveness fades in time because its bottom-up energies had insufficient organization to sustain them in the face of organized opposition.  The populist movements that have had a sustained impact on our society have been those that have shifted the actual structural balance point of power toward the decentralized, people-centered end.  

How does all of this apply to Obama?

The overarching frame of politics in our country has become one of "war"—the Rethugs vs. Democrat Party, Red vs Blue.  The War Frame is perfectly suited to Beltway Politics—a battle between two sets of insiders for authoritarian control of the levers of power.  Partisans must pick sides, stay loyal to leadership, focus on ends over means, and use the rhetoric of combat.  No matter who wins, it’s likely that, to satisfy the partisans, centralized control will be exercised and the balance point in our government will slip a bit further to centralization control.  But the War Frame, which uses fear (of the enemy) to operate, is ideally suited to authoritarians (and has been used for millennia to that effect by the aristocracy to gain and hold popular support for dubious policies).  Yes, the pendulum swings between arrogantly authoritarian and defensively authoritarian (even mildly popular) variations, but slowly over time, political power is evermore centralized with each cycle of the pendulum.

The War Frame is very persistent because its obvious alternative is, to caricaturize it, "kumbaya, can’t we all just get along."  We’ve been nicely trained to see compromise as capitulation to the enemy and diplomatic rhetoric as weakness in the face of evil. Don’t get me wrong, here. I’m not trying to suggest a moral equivalence between the conservative and progressive movements, just a rhetorical one.  There are vast differences between progressive and conservative versions of centralized control in its impact on our country.  But the battle between these versions, portrayed as war, will not solve the problem of war, nor will it deliver widespread consensus needed in order to bring sustainable progress in redressing the decay of our democracy, economy, and communal life.  

Barack Obama has frustrated many progressives because he steadfastly resists rhetorically drawing lines in the sand—except for decrying the drawing of lines in sand.  Is he one of us or not?  Will he deliver for progressives or not?  Obama is using the rhetoric of hope and trying to embody it in what is going to be a battle.  He must defend partisanship without using it too aggressively.  He must inspire support for decreasing the centralization of power without alienating those such a change threatens because if he does, the War Frame will be invoked and the opportunity to make sustainable rebalancing changes will be diminished.  He must be able and willing to speak in language that doesn’t reinforce the battle lines, but which breaks them down instead.  Finally, in what will be the hardest part, he must make his movement about empowering his supporters, not about engendering a cult of personality.  The media can only frame his story so far as being about his unique story and his embodiment of the American dream.  

Howard Dean played the role of John the Baptist to Obama’s Savior last cycle by articulating the need to take back America using the grassroots, decentralized power latent in our society.  When his message started to threaten the concentrated powers that be, he lost his head, in a manner of speaking.  The good doctor’s rhetoric, while exactly what was needed to awaken hope again amongst progressives, wasn’t successful at breaking past the War Frame (which the media loves, of course, for its drama). Dean’s electoral failure within the War Frame had the net effect of hiding in plain sight Dean’s larger agenda of decentralizing political power as a means of structurally rebalancing our democracy, to the point where the success of his 50-state strategy surprised the MSM.

Obama has inherited the message of popular empowerment from Dean but has  positioned it less as an insurgency and more as a reawakening of dormant democratic principles.  He isn’t about "taking back our country" from the evildoers as much as rebuilding and reinforcing the core principles of our country so that all are empowered to hope again.  

The time is ripe for a swing of the pendulum—a strong swing, at that.  Obama isn’t the only Democrat who would wish to move the balance of political power back towards the people, but he is the only one who can make it happen across the political spectrum, who can deliver a consensus sweeping enough to overwhelm gridlock and introduce sustainability to our democratic and economic institutions.  The commons, destroyed in war, needs peace in order to be rebuilt.

Originally posted to outofthebox on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 07:36 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  An Obama Administration would get 60 Senators (8+ / 0-)

    on any proposal it presents to the Congress.

    And that's specifically because he knows the Senators and knows who he would be able to get on his side for any endeavor.

    Barack Obama is an incredibly progressive man. Read his published works. Look at his history.

    He's also a pragmatic servant of the people. He knows what it takes to make progress in any area and precisely how far he can take any proposal in a given legislative environment in order to gain the necessary support to achieve the progress.

    He can quickly ascertain these factors. Yes, his work has never gone as far as I would like to see, but the reality is, he knows how far to take it in order to gain enough support to get the legislation passed.

    Look at his records in both the Illinois Senate and the U.S. Senate. He has achieved many things and he did it by buildign appropriate coalitions.

    This is the difference between Barack Obama and those who currently hold sway in both parties (yes, both parties). Bush ruled in dictatorial fashion. His administration crafted the orders and presented them to his troops in the Congress. All marched in lock step.

    This requires an incredible majority, and you notice how this all went in the Senate.

    Based upon how Barack Obama conducts himself currently in the U.S. Senate, that's not how an Obama administration would get things done. He already has the relationships with Republicans and Democrats alike, and has moved legislation forward by pulling on those relationships to build coalitions.

    Now imagine that applied from the White House.

    Would a Hillary Clinton White House be capable of broad support in a Senate without 60-63 Democrats?

    Would an Edwards administration?

    •  Barack will win, unify. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      abbeysbooks, Lady Bird Johnson
      I'll recommend this diary for now, but let's see where this discussion heads.  I think he's a great candidate for unifying this country.  He seems to have the spectre of Lincoln surrounding him almost like some sort of impenitrable forcefield.  I find it amusing that 1Clinton attacked Geffen  2Gibbs referenced Geffen's stay in the Lincoln bedroom after having raised 18 million for Clinton's.

      Kinda makes ya think about the whole Lincoln/Obama connection, doesn't it?  Especially when the country is in such dire need of unification.


      p.s.  I'm still having trouble with this site--it'll only let my post comments if I post them as a 'reply'.  Hopefully I get the hang of this soon.

  •  even in Utah... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ShadowSD, amolholm

    If this diary seems too...what's the word...naive, please understand that, here in Utah, Obama could win more than a couple of counties outside of a Democrat! Not gonna happen for anyone else.

  •  How about in the rest of Red America? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Obama will probably outdraw Kerry between 5 and 10% in most counties.  This won't flip Utah,of course, but how about in the rest of the West?  The South?

    •  Red State Rebels (0+ / 0-)
      Well, I like to think we're making an impact here in Idaho.  Barack is most definitely not a hard sell.  The more exposure he gets the more rapidly his base seems to grow.  I suppose Hillary must be getting pretty upset by now.
  •  Reframing (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    abbeysbooks, ReggieH

    Absolutely brilliant! I have written a blog on Culture Kitchen about Obama and Learning Theory, defining his campaign as utilizing constructivist experiential paradigms which engage the populace in a real time project-based experience. Relying on Maslow's self-actualization hierarchy and Friere's nonstructuralized ideas applied to grassroots empowerment.

    This ties in quite well with your ideas, because hopefully this campaign in and of itself will be a civics lesson as well as a lesson in the constitution, bill of rights and international  relations.  

    I think one of the most powerful thing Obama can do right now is to refrain from defining the current situation as the "global war on terror." We, the people,did not sign on to a war on terror. Nor, do I  believe, do these terms in any manner accurately define what US policy is actually about.

    Exactly how Obama chooses to define his 'worldview' independent of this frame will be tricky and I think must necessarily not be an overt redefinition. More a gradual movement towards a new definition which is less divisive, more hopeful, and intuitive.

    The more the Obama campaign can become a vehicle for learning and engaging, the more his supporters will relate to his challenge to turn off those tvs and playstations!

  •  BIG recommend for addressing the war frame (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    and how Obama alone seems aware of it and intent on avoiding it.  Only wish you had focused a bit more on that argument (I seem to spend half my time here making it to people :) )

    But you're dead on.  Obama is the only anti-war candidate who places himself outside the traditional war frame, making him the most likely hope for a broader anti-war movement to have permanent traction in this country.  

  •  The war frame comes from the mind set of (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    YestoWes, ReggieH

    either/or. Obama is about both/and, and these linguistic distinctions are very clear to him in his sophistication and use of language.

    If one considers alternatives then the trap is Hamlet, becoming indecisive, afraid to act, second guessing the self. This is Kerry in 04. Bill Clinton is the master at saying one thing on one level and negating it on another level in the same communication. It's why if you just listen to him on radio, and you grew up on radio, he does not sound convincing somehow. He sounds like he is lying but you can't be sure what he is lying about. Some real lack of sincerity.

    Obama is sincere and passionate. He can win. I also think Gore or Clark could win. But the last two in an Obama administration would be a dreamteam. And there are still more. Hillary's time was in 04 and she didn't take it.

    Obama is envisioning a different world order. An America that has regained its moral imperative without war. The beacon it once was in its beginnings.

    The president sets the tone and this becomes the zeitgeist of the US and trickles into the rest of the world. Bush's has been war, aggression, hostility first facts later and it has spread like wildfire because it appeals to the basest of instinctual energy. Obama connects with the higher powers of the self. Clark is rational, logical, competent and Gore is a visionary. He also didn't believe anyone running for president could be so incompetent and corrupt as Bush.

    My question about Gore is why didn't he get that about Bush. The evidence was there. I knew it and so did many others. And many of them are here on kos. He slipped on that slope and couldn't regain his footing because he is a gentlemen down to his toes, a civilized man, a principled man, and he could not imagine the dirt that is Bush and Cheney or he would have concentrated much more carefully on what he had to do to win. Clark would have figured it out.

    Recount all the votes in every county in Florida. He just had to do that to save the world. He had to know to do that.

    But he didn't know and he couldn't figure it out fast enough.

    •  asdf (0+ / 0-)

      Gore is a visionary. He also didn't believe anyone running for president could be so incompetent and corrupt as Bush. My question about Gore is why didn't he get that about Bush.

      What makes you say that Gore didn't know that Bush was incompetent. Bush is not dumb in the IQ sense; his IQ is around 123, and that sufficiently good for someone to be trainable to suit a given format of questioning.

      What is the point behind your question anyway? Forget about what purpose it is meant to serve.

      The evidence was there. I knew it and so did many others. And many of them are here on kos.

      Great. Then, what did you and "many of them here at dkos" do with that "evidence" in 2004, when, in addition, there was established record of incompetence for everyone to see?

      He slipped on that slope and couldn't regain his footing

      What slope?

      because he is a gentlemen down to his toes, a civilized man, a principled man, and he could not imagine the dirt that is Bush and Cheney or he would have concentrated much more carefully on what he had to do to win.

      Oh, please. Gore started the race trailing by huge deficits and apparently did figure out how to overcome 18-19 points in polls, against continuous assaults from the media, and having to fight on both fronts, Bush AND Nader, not to mention coming off an an impeached presidency where the President lied to the American public in broad day light, wagging his finger, and the public that bought into nonsense like "restoring honor and integrity to the whitehouse".

      Clark would have figured it out.

      Then, he should have figured out how to win the NH and the remaining primaries. No excuses of Kerry wave etc. He should have just figured out. Period.

      Recount all the votes in every county in Florida.

      When and how did we jump from Bush's incompetence to Florida recounts? He just had to do that to save the world. He had to know to do that. But he didn't know and he couldn't figure it out fast enough.

      You sound so profound stating what apparently does not factual footing, as explained below.

      About that Vote Count in Florida

      Thus the recount was automatic under the Florida Statutes and for a candidate to request specific counties was specified by the law at that time (though these laws have since been amended on various items). The law specifically provided for a candidate to specify the districts wherein the claim for a recount was warranted. So, Gore was following both the statute and procedures as it was codified in law.

      Further, the Bush Campaign declined to either request any counties be recounted and declined and an offer (from the Gore Campaign) to recount all Florida districts or any further districts the Bush Campaign wanted to add. This was declined by the Bush team...and specifically because their claim was NOT that recounting all counties would produce a more accurate or more fair recount effort, but that there was NO basis for ANY recount at all. Not the product of Gore "cherry picking districts" in violation of the Florida laws. Further, the Bush efforts were all aimed at arguing against ANY recount effort at all (in violation of the Florida Statutes and the precedent on recounts in that state and elsewhere.)

      In other words, Gore couldn't ask for a statewide manual recount directly. Only county by county, providing basis for each county separately. You needed to have grounds for each county request. So, he couldn't casually ask for recounts everywhere.

      In addition, the Gore campaign apparently did ask the Bush campaign to join them in asking for a full state recount (or have them them add any counties they wanted), which they declined. It isn't clear that even if Bush campaign had joined them, a statewide recount would have technically been feasible (without a FLSC interjection).

      Therefore the implied suggestion that a statewide recount was at Gore's disposal appears to be bogus. This claim is actually a reworded rightwing meme from that period which claimed that "Gore was cherrypicking districts to count", which is rejected as being false by the above analysis.

      My tone is negative because I am tired of hearing the same things that are weak on facts over and over. Needless to say, the wasted energy on such is not helpful for where we would like the world to be, going forward.

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