Monday, December 13, 2010

"Told ya so" is not a rallying cry

See here. I hope none of those quoted here are breaking their arms patting themselves on the back. I agree wholeheartedly with the basic politics of the letter, and I'm all for organizing the Left to confront and oppose the Democrats. But "I told ya so" is no way to win over new recruits.

It doesn't make sense: you don't begin by creating a wedge between yourself and those you're trying to win over to progressive politics. You begin by staking your arguments commitments people already have, but which cannot be fulfilled by the means they presently endorse (i.e. giving resources and public support to the Democrats). It is a strength of the letter itself that it does precisely this: it documents the right-wing tilt of the Democrat's two years of crushing majorities in Washington. But this "what we were saying" page misses the mark, as does the "who we are" page.

You don't start a conversation with on-the-fence Obama supporters by telling them what dupes they are. You don't win them over with "told ya so" bragging.

You win them by showing them how the causes to which they're already committed (e.g. ending the wars, fighting for single-payer, taxing the rich, etc.) cannot be won without a left-wing movement independent of the Democrats. You win them by showing them, concretely, how the Democrats have opposed and thwarted progressive initiatives. You win them by talking about the history of struggle and how past gains were really won.

This "what we were saying" page reeks of "told ya so" bragging. The quoted parties should save it for a cocktail party. Organizing isn't about tooting your own horn- it's about working with commitments people already have and convincing them that such commitments are part of a bigger struggle for freedom and justice.

To be clear, I'm not saying that we, on the Left, need to play nice with the likes of Tom Hayden and Thomas Frank. They should be held accountable for what they said and did. What I'm talking about here is what's at stake in writing this whole letter in the first place: winning progressive minded people to the idea that their political convictions don't register in the two-party system.


Richard said...

I guess I understand what you are saying, but if you read the letter, it is basically a request that the prominent progressive figures mentioned, ones who have access to the media and a mass audience, take a principled position in support of direct action protest against the policies of the Obama administration.

I don't construe that as the signatories patting themselves on the back, it is a reasonable demand. And, even if they are, the recipients, like Hayden and Fletcher, have been around the block enough times to know that it is urgent to address the substance of the letter instead of firing off a juvenile response. After all, it was people like Hayden, Fletcher and Ehrenreich, among others, that said that it was essential to elect Obama in the hope that he could pressured to implement more progressive policies. But, now, Hayden says that it is "vile" to ask him to do so.

t said...

I did read the letter, and if you'd read my post carefully, you'd have noticed that I in fact praised the letter for the reasons you mention. I have no problem with the letter itself. On the contrary- I'm in full support of it.

As I make quite clear in the post, my beef is with the (see the link in the post) "what we were saying" and "who we are" pages on their website, which, it must be noted, were not endorsed by the signatories (the website itself says as much). Those pages do, it seems to me, reek of "told ya so" bragging. I'm not saying they were wrong to oppose Obama in 2008- read my archives, you'll see that I was also among the critics of Obamamania. My point is, rather, that "told ya so" stuff isn't exactly the best way to win new recruits.

Richard said...

OK, I get that, that's fair enough, but now I wonder, thinking out loud, who are the new recruits going to be? I doubt that it will be the people to whom the letter is directed. So, one could say that the effort is miguided in that sense, although there is a conundrum here in that the signatories believe that those people have the authority and the media resources to motivate lots of others to join a new movement against Obama's policies. But they seem unlikely to do so, and, beyond that, do they really have that capability?

t said...

I've been thinking about this question as well- my sense is that the letter is not, in the first instance, directed at those whom it names explicitly. My sense is that it aims to show those on the fence, by opening up an intra-Left debate, that we need to break with the Democrats. It's difficult to say how effective this will be- but it's a good start in my view. Perhaps it will lead some to seek out, perhaps for the first time, oppositional Left politics outside of the Democrat straightjacket.