On Keeping Your Allies As Allies

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

There can be no doubt we face many problems and crises as a nation at this time. Most of these are the direct results of the misanthropic mismanagement of the Republican Party over the last eight years of so. This combined with a change in controlling party has put the Democrats and a the Political Left in general in a place where they are expected to clean up the mess and do it right now. This is a huge opportunity, but it will only happen if we can stay together as a coalition. This is the challenge the Dog would like to talk about today.

Originally posted at Squarestate.net

There are a plethora of issues for Liberals, Progressives, Democrats and others to address right now. Since each of us is an individual (please keep the Life of Brian jokes to minimum here) we are all going to prioritize the importance of each of these issues differently. This is complicated by the fact there can only ever be one number one priority. Now the Dog knows there are folks who will argue there can be multiple priorities worked on at the same time, which is true as far as it goes, but when push comes to shove and there has to be a order made, there is only one top priority slot, no matter how close numbers two through ten are.

This leads to a tendency for fractious debate, especially on the Left which has a larger range of issues than the Right. Everyone chooses their number one priority for the best of reasons, to themselves. This is important to recognize as we seem to spend a lot of time as a group trying to change the minds of those who don’t have our personal number one priority to our way of seeing things. To the Dog this is a waste of resources and effort.

An example; if you have a position that have 20% acceptance as the number one priority and you have another 40% who agree it is important, you are likely to get this issue worked on politically. You may or may not get what you want but it is enough to be sure it is addressed in some fashion. This being the case do you really need to convince the 40% to have this as their number one issue? No, you really don’t. Now, this is an extreme example, as even within a group who has the same priority the solution to their issue is rarely, if ever, monolithic within that group.

So why is the Dog pointing out the obvious to all of you this morning? It is due to the level of inter-Democratic anger the Dog is seeing around the Blogosphere of late. To be even clearer, it is the level of anger we seem to have with each other, not our politicians. This is where the waste the Dog is talking about comes in. The effort which is being used to hammer people about their priorities is effort we could be using to hammer the folks who can actually change things.

The Dog is going to ask all of us to take a step back and give those who are generally our allies a bit of break. If you don’t find the need for gay citizens to have full civil rights and particularly the right to marry and serve in the military to be compelling, do you actually have to go on those diaries and threads and dispute its importance? If you believe the need for torture accountability in terms of the restoration of the rule of law is the primary and overriding issue facing the nation, does this mean you can not agree there are other issues and support them as they are worked on?

In the end, no matter what our individual number one priorities are, we as a group on the Left pretty much have the same issues. We might put them in different order, we might (will) have different solutions which inform this order, but we are more alike in our goals than we are different.

The only way to achieve significant sections of our agenda is maintain our alliances with those who don’t share our number one priority. Those who do are the true believers; they are the ones we need to argue the specifics of the policy with. Those who agree it is important but not critical are the fellow travelers we need to have the weight to get action on our personal issues. They are not going to respond to bullying or being painted with a broad brush because they don’t agree with us completely.

As a practical matter if someone tells you they don’t think X is the highest priority, it does no good to try to argue it with them. It is a personal choice and while we can educate them as to why we feel the way we do, the choice to change their minds will always be theirs. In order to change someone’s mind you have to give them a compelling reason to do so. There has to be a reason the current state is unacceptable, there has to be a clear vision of the end state after the change, a plan for getting from here to there and what is in it for them. Without all of these factors plus time for them to process and come to the choice they will not change their minds. Again, given the effort this takes, it is better to focus this kind of change on our politicians and not our allies. If our allies won’t be massively unhappy if we achieve our goal, then it does not matter if they think it is the first goal or the fifth.

All this comes around to the need to keep out allies on our side, even if they are never going to have our issue as their number one. This in not what we need from them in any case. What we need is for them to agree it is in the top ten or so. This is where the weight of public opinion is felt, the mildly disinterested interest of the majority. It is totally counterproductive to get into fights over who is right on their prioritization of issues. Are you likely to change yours? Then why do you think you will change someone else? If by trying to force them to agree you push them away, then all you have done is weaken the chances of achieving your goals.

If we can give our allies some space, all of us, we keep our alliances healthy, free up effort and creativity for our agenda and in the end become more effective. The Dog could be wrong, but isn’t effecting change our goal? If so, fighting with each other over level of need and rightness is pushing us further from the goal. At Docudharma the proprietor Buhdydharma says in the FAQ “Be Excellent to each other” it is good advice, not just on a blog, but in any coalition which aims to be effective. The Dog urges all of the Left to take this advice.

The floor is yours.  


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  1. get the change I want, so I don’t need everyone to completely agree with me all the time. Just so long as they can support me, as long as I support them.  

    • Edger on June 23, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    if there were enough politicians in both party’s who placed honesty and respect for people (iow real self-interest instead of false self interest) at the top of their list of “values” then all else would fall into place.

    The problems and crises all stem from that one single moral crisis.

  2. will be a good start toward a “cure”… (Im reacting to above discussion btw The Dog and Edge.)

    The Dog and Edge. What a great place this is! lol

  3. … is the consequence of a lack of a coalition.

    The political logic of a coalition is perfectly correct. That is how a governing change coalition is formed … find a majority out of first priorities of sufficient number of activists to press ahead, where large numbers of supporters of each first priority think that the balance of the platform is important, and the policies are crafted so that one position does not drive off significant numbers of coalition members brought in by another position.

    Its just that it has not yet happened. We have not yet formed that coalition. While there is the opportunity to form that coalition, it has not yet been formed.

    And so we get the kind of status quo plus changes around the edges politics that drives the frustration, on the part of people who see the demands of the moment and the incapacity of current political leaders to rise to that challenge.

    That incapacity is systemic. We have a political system that opposes dramatic change unless an active change coalition is formed, and then is able to become a governing coalition. And whenever that happens in our history, we have a wave of reform, and then that governing change coalition evolves into a coalition in defense of the new status quo.

    We do have to work within the coalition, once we have one. First we have to build it.

  4. you need at least a fundamental principal other then winning elections. Issues and solutions all become irrelevant when they are tossed under the bus of the possible, framed and offered by the very entities that we need to defeat. Accepting defeat at the outset because we have no other choice if we want to win. The trouble is we nobody wins except the big party, the ones who own the place.

    The overriding issue, is democracy. It is the taking back of our country and it’s sacred documents, principles and systems that were designed to keep the powerful in check. I see a legitimate rift in the politics of the net, one that reflects the grassroots off line. It is caused by imho the inability of our political electoral system to actually offer representation. So all issues fragment under the crushing machine of power that we are ruled by. All avenues to representation are closed no matter how much we vote, compromise and petition.

    The last regime/coup was so God awful that coalitions were formed, we had a single purpose. We won or did we? We still have the same rulers, we still have the same policies and our framework is still being dismantled brick by brick. Affecting change is too vague a goal, and pointless when you believe that the only way to get it is to knuckle under to a reality that offers the illusion of democracy but refuses to represent you, regardless of your issues.

    ‘I’m taking back my country and the vehicle I’m using is the Democratic party’ Howard Dean

    If the party offers us nothing but a bamboozle, all issues are irrelevant except representation, and restoring our system. Defining our powerlessness seems to be at the heart of the matter some believe in the illusion projected by the political ‘reality’ some believe that change cannot come unless we let go of the political fictions that define our powerlessness and challenge the hydra that now controls all issues and renders the citizens powerless. It’s ass backwards politics to assume we can not have representation, the goal of winning is empty with out it.                


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