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Earlier today there was a solid diary by MinistryOfTruth where he noted that the quickest way to get Obama impeached was to stay home this November and let the Repubs take over. "Excellent point," I thought to myself, "now let's check out the comments." And right off the tip jar, the war broke out -- over ponies.

Frankly, I was stunned. In the old days (specifically, the dark days of BushCo), ponies were a GOOD thing. In fact, one diarist was well-known for giving out ponies when someone did something note-worthy. But here we were, throwing ponies and each other under the bus and generally getting into the same fight we've been having for months.

I have stayed out of it, hoping it would calm down with the election coming up. It's not going away, though -- in fact, it seems to be getting worse.

So, I've decided to throw something into the mix. Not because I think I'm especially insightful -- although I can be -- but because I've come across an article, and a concept, that might help. An article about the software industry that actually applies directly to what's going on here.

First, let me try to encapsulate the fight in a non-accusatory way -- and note that the following dialogue can start with either group:

  • Group A says "look at this thing Obama (or Obama's administration) has done!"
  • Group B says "but he hasn't done X."
  • Group A says "but look at ALL these things Obama has done!"
  • Group B says "but he hasn't done X, Y, and Z -- and he only did A, B, and C halfway."
  • Group A says "well, Rome wasn't built in a day."
  • Group B says "well, if he doesn't get X done, or stand for Y, then he can't be a true Democrat / progressive."
  • Group A throws down the "you just want a pony" canard, to which Group B retorts "you're just an Obama suck-up" ... and the fight is on.

Sound familiar?


A while back, I came across a blog called Rands in Repose. It's the writings of a long-time software development manager. It's good writing, relevant writing -- and sometimes even wise writing, as he throws out an insight that has applicability beyond the world of slinging code.

Here's the one that seems apropos tonight: "Incrementalists versus Completionists." The names of the two types are, of course, self-describing.

From Rands:

Incrementalists are realists. They have a pretty good idea of what is achievable given a problem to solve, a product to ship. They’re intimately aware of how many resources are available, where the political landscape is at any given moment, and they know who knows what. They tend to know all the secrets and they like to be recognized for that fact.

Completionists are dreamers. They have a very good idea of how to solve a given problem and that answer is SOLVE IT RIGHT. Their mantra is, "If you’re going to spend the time to solve a problem, solve it in a manner that you aren’t going to be solving it AGAIN in three months."

An exceptionally pertinent quote, which will come up again later:

This isn’t the battle of wrong versus right, it’s the battle of right versus right. Bizarre.

And finally:

A healthy population of both Incrementalists and Completionists is essential to a corporate agenda. It’s not only because they both represent groups that "get stuff done", it’s also because they are going to argue, but it’s the argument you want your teams to have. It’s not "Should We or Shouldn’t We", it’s "Let’s do this thing, let’s make sure it gets done, and let’s make sure it get’s done right."

Let's see how this fits into politics.


I think most of us, given a choice, would rather be Completionists. After all, who wouldn't want all the reform, all the progress, all the things we've been working for to become reality? Even on a single issue, we all have a good idea of Done. And we all, I think, have at least one issue where Done is very clear for us, and very important to us.

The reality of politics, though, is that a signature victory is rare. One could point to the Civil Rights Act, perhaps, or certain other well-known political events -- but even those monuments to the ability of a nation to progress through self-governance came after decades of struggle and small victories.

It would seem, therefore, that the Incrementalists among us, who will gladly take their half-loaf today, may be closer to the way our system actually works. By finding the path, building the coalition, getting something through, they are able over time to move the nation in a progressive direction.

But wait! What about the Completionists? What role do THEY play in this? What do we do with THEM?

Quite simply: we listen to them and include them in the process. Why? Because without their insistence on solving it RIGHT, without their vision and idealism, the Incrementalists can lose their way, becoming the Neville Chamberlains of our party, sacrificing principle just to get the bill passed.

Completionists keep us honest; Incrementalists keep us moving. We need both. In fact, each of us needs to BE both.

Teddy Kennedy was both. There was no question about his value system; he was the liberal Lion of the Senate. Everyone knew what his goals were. Yet, he found ways to work with his fellow Senators, even Republicans, to get progressive legislation passed. Did he achieve everything he wanted? Of course not. Did he make a difference TODAY while aiming for TOMORROW? Absolutely.


This diary is already over-long, but I want to wrap up with two observations, one about President Obama and one about the current feud on this site.

First, about the President. I think it is clear he is a complex Incrementalist with Completionist tendencies. <g> He has a large set of Big Wins he wants to accomplish, but realizes that the current reality forces him to use Incremental tactics. Given time and support, I think he will achieve a large number of significant goals -- and has already begun to do so. Has he done everything my Completionist side wants? Not at all. But my Incrementalist side sees progress -- and knows how much harder that progress would be with a Republican legislature. I intend to keep doing two things with President Obama:

  • Supporting him, and
  • Pushing him.

Finally, about the two groups on this site. As you can tell from this site, I sympathize with both Group A and Group B. What I cannot abide, however, is Group C -- the "we don't need you or your kind so fuck off" group.

Remember the quote from above?

This isn’t the battle of wrong versus right, it’s the battle of right versus right. Bizarre.

As long as we all are trying to move the progressive ball forward, isn't that what we came here for? Our call is not to fight with each other; our call is to work together in every way possible to take ground for progressive causes and values. There are more than enough forces arrayed against us "out there," and the work will be life-long.

To the work, my friends.


A Small Update

When I wrote this, I wasn't looking to make the Rec list -- just wanted to share a concept I found helpful. And I CERTAINLY didn't expect to stir up this level of discussion! I'm glad, though, to see the dialogue -- perhaps we can listen to each other, at least, even if we disagree on some/many/most things.

Without doing another diary in the diary, there are a few points I want to make or clear up:

  1. As pointed out so well in the comments, my point was about strategy and tactics, not values or principles. A progressive who aims for a mile down the road, but only is able to get a half-mile, is still a progressive. You can argue he should have fought harder, or compromised less, or worked the system better -- we all do it, and it's a legitimate discussion to have. But to call the person a Not-Progressive because he only got to the halfway point is wrong, and that was part of my point.

On the other hand, to call out certain policies or actions as antithetic to progressive values is not a Completionist-vs-Incrementalist fight (or a Right-vs-Right fight, as Rands calls it); it is a Right vs. Wrong fight, or at the very least a More Good vs. Less Good fight. I really wasn't talking about those discussions -- although the two fights sometimes look similar.

  1. Are there some problems or opportunities that demand a Completionist approach? Sure. The obvious candidate is climate change (hello OPOL!), where dramatic action may be our only hope to prevent catastrophe. And, there are times when the winds are in your favor and the Overton window has moved, and you HAVE to strike while the iron is hot. Politicians count votes; leaders GET votes.

Finally -- let us remember that as one person added, "It takes all kinds to make a revolution." If we are going to win the battles today, tomorrow, and for a long time to come, it will take all of us. I value every person everywhere who is trying, in whatever way they can, to move the ball forward. Thanks to all of you who cared enough to join the conversation. I close with the same call:

To the work, my friends.

Originally posted to Bruce in Louisville on Mon Jul 05, 2010 at 06:45 PM PDT.

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