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Sweet, Sweet Complaining

Markos "spent three days at a conference of various leaders of the budding VLWC" and has some choice observations. The Armchair Generalist flags some quality bitching about your more annoying peaceniks ("we can achieve world peace if we just visualize it" -- um, no) but I think this is actually more important:

But there was another wierd dynamic at play -- this one generational. There were leaders, all of them older, of extremely prominent liberal interest groups. We're talking labor, environmental, economic justice, things like that. And some of them were genuinely awesome.

But there was a large contingent of them that were obsessed with one thing -- their pet issue. It was about them, them, them. Why wasn't their issue being addressed? Did they have to stay in some meeting if their issue wasn't being discussed? Etc.

Wow! Their self-centerdness and lack of interest in working together (unless it revolved around their issue) was breathtaking.

On the other hand, most of the younger activists at this retreat ran community-style groups. They weren't focused on any single issue, but on using the collective force of their communities to bear pressure on various issues.

So at one point we had a session on organizing, and used the Wal-Mart campaign as a case study. While the older folks qvetched that their "issues" weren't being discussed, the younger folk seemed eager to find ways they could use their organizations to help execute various components of the campaign.

This is a serious and widespread problem. In part, it's literally generational, but more broadly it reflects a kind of outdated mindset that doesn't correlate perfectly with age. There was a time when the government was basically run by people who, when they decided to focus on Problem X, did in fact make a reasonable effort to solve Problem X. If you were dissatisfied with federal treatment of X the difficulty might be that people weren't worrying about X when they should have been. Or it could have been that they were simply mistaken in terms of how best to deal with X. There was a certain set of tactics and strategy that were appropriate to dealing with such a situation.

Those circumstances have, basically, nothing in common with the present situation, which calls for an entirely different approach. Some people get that but many, sadly, do not. Or, worse, they pay lip service to getting it but don't actually behave as though they get it.

April 17, 2005 | Permalink


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"Those circumstances have, basically, nothing in common with the present situation"

I'm assuming that by "present situation" you are talking about the post '94 era...

Posted by: Petey | Apr 17, 2005 4:30:51 PM

Thanks for giving this attention Matt.

I think it important as well.

Posted by: Armando | Apr 17, 2005 4:35:27 PM

Considering this is the same dynamic we saw in the 60s, maybe the thing to do is think about how the strengths of the various age groups can be enhanced. In the 60s young people started communes to solve the homelessness problem. Older people, working on community investment boards or with the churches, would just look at us and shake their heads- a mutual feeling.

Well, we still have homelessness, and the guys I just rented a house to are living communally, altho they don't have enough gut marxism to make it work very well.

Maybe it's time to look specifically at where young-old don't work well together, and ask what goes on here?

Posted by: serial catowner | Apr 17, 2005 4:52:14 PM

Mark Schmitt"

I suspect this piece by Mark Schmitt is on point.

I guess I am one of those old farts of a generation apart, but I have never had any agenda other than the destruction of the GOP.

On the other hand when you kids who grew up under Reagan and Clinton ask that the old farts not "hold on to your pet issues" forgive me if I start searching for DLC Repub-lite DINOS under the conference tables.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 17, 2005 6:17:29 PM

Mark Schmitt

Screwed that link good. If preview is lying to me, title was "The Death of _ism"

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 17, 2005 6:19:39 PM

I agree with Kos's point (I'm of the older generation). Why did it happened?

In part it was because some groups realized that, during the 12-year period of Republican dominance of the executive, that they could be somewhat effective (stalling the right wing plans) on their own issues if they disengaged from the Democrats and recruited moderate Republicans, apoliticals and fringe people, and the non-Democratic left. This happened to a degree with the "social" issues and with environmental issues.

The core Republican issues were always taxes, trade, "law and order", weakening the welfare state, weakening labor, and militarism. They didn't really care about the others. Not to say it too sharply, but the strategy here amounted to letting the Republicans have the big things in order to get the little things.

In the long run, this strategy just lets things get worse; it isn't a way of building or growing.

It's just another example of the way that the weak anti-Republicans try to win with finesse politics. In order to really beat the Republicans, you have to whip them head-to-head, strength against strength, and get them out of office. In the short term, finesse games are all you have, but the longer you play those games, the worse off you are.

Posted by: John Emerson | Apr 17, 2005 7:50:55 PM

drug overdoses are exactly what we are trying to get our children not to do. and the children are so very, very important. without our children, we have no future. and without our future, there are no children. i wish and hope for a world where there will always be children in it. and i wish the children never got older. i wish they were all just children because that's our hope: to have children everywhere.

Posted by: giasen | Apr 17, 2005 10:05:01 PM

"The present situation" is that we no longer have a government that is in any way interested in solving problems. All the Bushists care about is maintaining and consolidating their grip on power and grabbing as much as they can for themselves using that power.

Posted by: grytpype | Apr 17, 2005 10:18:14 PM

On the contrary Giasen: as Democrats we hope for as many drug overdoses ad possible, especially among children, because we're liberals and that's how liberals think.

Posted by: John Emerson | Apr 17, 2005 11:00:50 PM

The older generation Kos describes received their political formation during an era when there was a entrenched, seemingly permanent Democratic majority in both houses of Congress.

The name of the game in that situation is indeed lobbying and single-issue advocacy - or more accurately, single-theme advocacy. To succeed, the diverse groups that formed the Democratic constituencies had to struggle against each other for their share of the legislative action. Democratic legislators held their seats by delivering the goods to some collection of these groups that formed an electoral majority in their districts. Sometimes the Republicans won the White House, but it didn't matter so much in those days. So there was no felt need to work closely together in a broad-based coalition.

Building a coalition, and finding a few key issues of agreement around which to organize it, is one thing - and Kos is right to be concerned with it. But it's going to be hard to make progress if we insist on believing that the various groups that make up the Democratic coalition form some ideological family called the "left wing" and then fret about why this so-called left wing is so disorganized. How much do greens, to take an example, have in common with Matt's liberal urbanites, who are apparently mystified as to why someone would want to live in a beautiful and sparsely populated rural area, what with its deficient broadband connectivity and all, as opposed to a congested, smelly and noisy metropolis? And how much do either of these groups have in common with small-city and small-town working people? Or university professors? Or the central city urban poor?

There is no left wing or right wing. There are a great profusion of natural political groupings, unnaturally stuffed together into two political boxes labelled "Republican" and "Democrat." The left/right polarity is a mythological construct. Where the Republicans have been more successful is in intensifying and exploiting this myth - the myth that they represent some group of philosophically united people called "conservatives" whose natural enemy is another group of philosophically united people called "liberals". They have enlisted a small army of professional hate-mongers who sell this myth and use it to enhance Republican power by providing their loyalists with the competitive satisfactions of being on one team in a very aggressive team sport. The moronic intensity of this rootless partisan fanaticism, in many cases no more morally or politically deep than the commitment to the local football team, helps obscure from the teammates the fact that actually disagree fairly strenouously on a number of vital issues.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Apr 17, 2005 11:39:39 PM

good point, John Emerson. After all, 'overdose' is such a subjective term...

Posted by: giasen | Apr 18, 2005 4:21:38 AM

What Don Kervick said.

I think the "pet issue" folks are beginning to understand the new era, plus I think the "conservatives" are starting to show that they too can splinter over issues - look at immigration, even health care, and Social Security - part of the reason Bush is having so much domestic difficulty is that his base is showing cracks.

The worst thing we can do is make this into a young/old split where each perceives the other as the enemy. The best startegy makes use of the yhears of experience old liberal actyivists have in the trenches, while synthesizing new ideas. Don't lose sight of that.

Though we could stand to keep discrediting Nader. :)

Posted by: weboy | Apr 18, 2005 9:42:01 AM

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