Tweet4Labour provides a fascinating link today as Obama the politician becomes Obama the sociologist:
These assumptions are rarely stated explicitly, but they are implicit in much of the progressive concern about Obama’s political strategy – the widely expressed fear that he is essentially “leaving achievable progressive victories on the table” because of his commitment to pragmatism and bipartisanship. Having won 53% of the vote and with 59 Democratic senators, it is often argued that he is clearly in a position to seek more progressive, radical or dramatic changes than those which he is actually seeking. To many liberal and progressive commentators, it seems almost self-evident that Obama could demand and get “more” of a progressive agenda enacted if he behaved in a more aggressively hyper-partisan fashion as George Bush did after the 2004 election. Thomas Frank clearly expressed this liberal-progressive view — and frustration — by saying that “Obama should act as if he won.”
But there is good evidence (which we shall see below) that Obama’s political strategy is actually based on an essentially sociological rather than political science perspective. It rests specifically on one key sociological insight — that the political strategy required to enact significant progressive social reforms is substantially more complex and difficult than is the strategy required to simply resist social change.
When significant social reforms threaten to directly affect major social institutions, enacting such reforms requires two things beyond simply wining an electoral victory:
1. The opposition of the key social institution or institutions affected –which in most cases include either the armed forces, big business or the church – must be neutralized or at least very significantly muted.
2. A certain baseline level of sociological support (or at least relative neutrality) must be obtained among a series of pivotal social groups. Sociologically and demographically speaking these groups – religious voters, military voters or business voters — are often predominantly working class, red state voters.
As a result, the coalition necessary to achieve major social reforms will require more than a knife-edge 50.1% majority. Translated into national levels of public support or approval, a commanding majority of as much as 60% may actually be necessary.
Meanwhile, in the Weekly Standard, the right begins to see the opportunities that “Triangulation II” might bring:
The singular advantage of being in the opposition is that the majority has to make the first move, and unlike chess, going first conveys no advantage the majority doesn’t already enjoy. What was striking last week about the House’s consideration of the stimulus package was the glimpse it offered of a potentially valuable political strategy for Republicans. Call it “Triangulation II”–the GOP effort to gain advantage by dividing Democrats in Congress from President Obama.
Can’t see it happening, mind.
Still, in a time of fine dreams, the right also has a right to dream, I suppose.