The Inverted Pyramid of US Liberalism

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barack obama

In my magazine article just out, I look at Van Jones' new book Rebuild the Dream, a manifesto for the 99% movement. I think it's the best strategic book for the liberal/progressive forces in the US. In particular I appreciate his clear desire to learn the lessons of the Tea Party movement for a more progressive political perspective. 

inverted pyramid

I once heard former Senator Bill Bradley say that the Republican party was built like a pyramid with its power squarely grounded at the bottom. When The Republicans needed a new leader, they simply changed one person to be the new point on the top of the pyramid. The Democrats he said inverted this structure, with everything resting on one individual. 

Democrats love the charismatic leader--think John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and now Barack Obama. Because all the power rests on one individual, too many liberals (in my view) place far too much belief and hope upon that one person and therefore have a love/hate relationship with that leader. Inevitably that individual fails to live up to being the embodiment and purveyor of total societal transformation. 

We saw this during Clinton's presidency and it has certainly been the case during Obama's with the more progressive sides of the Democratic party (as well as those of more left-leaning persuasions disaffected with the Democratic party). 

Jones, says that you need a movement and a leader in the White House (and Congress) willing to enact legislation that reflects that movement. To really build a strong progressive movement liberals need to focus on winnning local elections, state elections, governerships, running more liberal candidates in safe districts for The House of Representatives rather than relying on the great leader theory of history.

mitt romney

One interesting consequence of the pyramidal structure of politics (rather than the inverted one) is that it forces the leaders on the top to accede to the visions of those on the base (see Mitt Romney's campaign). This is I think problematic currently for the Republican party as their base has been taken over by an anti-immigrant, anti-science, anti-gay faction whose been sold a fundamentalist economic vision in the interests of the elite. 

But the same process and power arrangement could be undertaken for more progressive political ends. And this is what I hope Van Jones' book and his organization (along with other allies) will be able to accomplish. 

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