Sunday, October 07, 2007

Matt Stoller: A new framework for political strategy

I’ve often wondered why conservatives, who place self-interest first, typically have more influence than liberals, who place community first.

Matt Stoller, a 29 year old political activist, is thinking and writing about political influence and how systemic changes are made through the political system.

Matt is one of three bloggers at Open Left. On its "about" page: “The genuine radical threat at this moment in history is coming from elites who believe that concentrating power, information, and wealth in their hands should be America's priority. The response to this threat is a new era of left-wing activism, promoted by normal Americans, who have innovated with the tools we have.”

I’m intrigued by Stoller’s October 5th post, Emergence Politics and Rush Limbaugh. Stoller observes: “Bush/Cheney controls American foreign policy and pushes for a war with Iran, McConnell controls the Republicans in Congress and pushes against SCHIP, Blue Dogs control the Democrats in Congress….In every case, the leader of the group represents the minority view of the constituent group. Hardliners control small institutions that control larger institutions that control most relevant national instruments of power.

“Breaking through this pattern is vitally necessary to build a progressive economy…. [O]ur strategic understanding of the political system as a two party fight with power passing back and forth between then is inadequate….

“Conservatives see politics as a nonlinear dynamic system, not as a two party system. They take advantage of crisis moments, as Naomi Klein points out in the Shock Doctrine or even foment them, to create positive feedback loops for conservative ideas. Media consolidation under such institutions as GE and the gutting of antitrust create a dishonest media system that allows the country to go to war. War allows companies like GE to make money from selling weapons.”

Stoller uses the term “policy ask” to describe the following tool used by conservatives: “Take the latest episode of Rush Limbaugh and the flame war with VoteVets over the 'phony solder' flap. The RNC sent out an email to its list on Rush Limbaugh, as did the DNC. The DNC had something on the order of twenty times the response rate, and yet, the email from Republican Eric Cantor did something that VoteVets, Moveon, and nearly every Democrat did not. It made a policy ask. Cantor asked RNC recipients to sign a petition to kill any attempt to resurrect the fairness doctrine regulating talk radio. Only Wes Clark on our side made an ask related to the controversy which would change the nature of the system itself: remove Rush Limbaugh from Armed Forces radio. Cantor's request was echoed by every Republican echo chamber, so that a minimally resonant minority view was translated into policy momentum for something promoting right-wing values.”

Stoller concludes, “…[W]e must tie our policy asks to the media moments. Hurting Limbaugh was a media fight….The point is that there are leverage points everywhere in our political system, once you stop seeing the fight as a fight between two teams and begin to consider politics as a dynamic system with regular nonlinear events that can be used for the institutionalization of our values.

“Anyway, I don't have an answer as to why right-wing minorities are controlling larger entities right now, but I think that their capacity to work within an adaptive framework and push for their values consistently, to see the totality of the system instead of barriers they must not cross, is a key part of it.”

(photo of Matt Stoller from


Anonymous said...

The 'policy ask' observation is astute. Matt recognizes the 'go for the throat' attitude the Republcians exhibit that the Dems, who prefer the 'wangle the hands' approach, have never understood.

Who to blame more for Iraq? The pushy Repubs or the pushover Dems?

Tough call, but I'm going with the latter.

tod said...

Ooops. . .tod here, gail.

Gail Jonas said...

I, too, tend to blame the pushover Dems for the ongoing war in Iraq, and surely, if Iran is attacked, the Dems are culpable.

However, it appears that there are enough Dems who are either "Blue Dogs" or "Bush Dogs" (as identified by Open Left [Matt Stoller and coherts]) that the progressive, anti-war Dems can't get anything done in Congress.

Ultimately, I think a distracted or indifferent public is the underlying problem with the direction our country is heading.