Progressive Politics after the Crash: Governing from the Left (Policy Network) by Olaf Cramme Patrick Diamond & Michael McTernan

Progressive Politics after the Crash: Governing from the Left (Policy Network) by Olaf Cramme Patrick Diamond & Michael McTernan

Author:Olaf Cramme, Patrick Diamond & Michael McTernan
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: I.B.Tauris
Published: 2013-08-29T21:00:00+00:00

Lesson 3: Increase the Organisational Might of the Middle

As documented at length in Winner-Take-All Politics, the transformation of America’s political economy over the past generation has had far less to do with the shifting demands of voters than with the changing organisational balance between concentrated economic interests and the broad public. Indeed, the sharp shift of policy towards the affluent and business occurred despite remarkable stability in public views on many economic issues – including views on government redistribution, progressive tax policy and the importance of key programmes of economic security. The agenda disconnect that we see today, as politicians ignore Americans’ concerns about the lack of jobs in favour of cutting programmes that the public likes and preserving tax reductions for the rich that it doesn’t, is not new. It has characterised the politics of much of the past generation.

The root of the problem, once again, is organisational. As Theda Skocpol has argued, middle-class democracy rested on organisations, such as unions and cross-class civic organisations, that gave middle-class voters knowledge about what was at stake in policy debates and political leverage aiming to influence these debates.14 Without this organisational grounding, voters simply have a very hard time drawing connections between the strains they face in their lives and what politicians do, and even more so formulating a broad idea of how those strains could be effectively addressed.

A revival of middle-class organisations will necessarily require moving beyond the traditional base of such movements (namely, organised labour and old-line fraternal organisations) to encompass new social movements and the harnessing of new technologies. Where such initiative will come from is inherently difficult to foresee, but three trends give at least some cause for optimism. The first is that the start-up costs of organisational development have dramatically fallen over the past generation. The second is the widespread dissatisfaction with existing policy seen in the US and other wealthy nations. The third – and most up for grabs – is the typical pattern of new leaders emerging out of crisis moments to galvanise citizens around shared concerns.

Ironically, since the economic crisis, these trends have mostly benefited conservative movements. In the US, the most effective organising has taken place not on the left but on the right, with the rise of the loose organisation of conservative voters, right-wing media figures and corporate-funded ideological activists that travel under the ‘Tea Party’ banner. But there is good reason to believe that many of the forces that impelled these developments also have the potential to galvanise progressive movements in the coming years, especially as the Tea Party agenda moves from gauzy ideals to concrete (and deeply unpopular) policies.

Indeed, the Tea Party’s success should be instructive for all organisational reformers. It rests on the combination of champions inside government and organisers working at the grass roots. It has a clear agenda (scale back government) and enemy (President Obama). And it has effectively utilised both old-style organising through local chapters and new communications technologies (and, yes, has also benefited from lavish financing from deep-pocketed donors, including many from corporate quarters).


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