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20.6.08

The Paradox Of Change

Barack Obama is running on a platform of "Change we can believe in." Most of his backers seem to assume that change is going to happen in a progressive direction. Let's look at why that won't happen.

To even get started, we have to assume that Obama wants to change the country in a progressive direction. This, of course, is a patent falsehood. But we'll assume it for the time being.

There are two aspects of progressive change: substantive and procedural. Substantive change means things like withdrawing troops from Iraq and limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Procedural change involves change in how our government is run, most notably the excessive power claimed by the presidency over the last eight years.

Obama will have to work with a center-right Congress, not too different from the one we have now. That Congress will seek to stymie any substantively progressive measures that come through -- for example, a climate change bill would be so watered down by the time that it reaches Obama's desk that the ecological footprint of the ink he uses to sign it could well outweigh the bill's actual impacts. That means the only way he can create any real substantive change is to do an end-run around the legislative process, claiming authority as The Decider to do whatever he wants.

In other words, achieving substantive substantive change would require abandoning (or even working contrary to) procedural progressive change. And achieving procedural progressive change would destroy his ability to achieve substantive progressive change.

8 Comments:

Blogger Randal Cooper said...

Since when does the commander-in-chief need a declaration from Congress to remove troops from a war zone? You could argue that Constitutionally he needs approval from Congress to put them in a war, but the counterexamples to that abound.

Climate change and healthcare legislation will take some greasing of the wheels, but even those could be countermanded by an election blowout and subsequent mandate, given him Decider authority to make some sweeping policy reforms, bludgeon them through Congress in his first 100 days, then work on genuine procedural reform to make it more difficult to make stupid decisions in the future.

12:46 PM  
Anonymous Chuck B. said...

Hmmm.
So in effect, you are just throwing up your hands?

I mean aside from the fact that your post has outrageous assumptions, like you know the heart of Obama, I really don't see any point to your post outside of crass cynicism.

Your argument is based on the idea that people cannot be convinced to do good. Considering you identify yourself as a UU, that statement alone is rather surprising.

But let's put that aside. Your post also seems to ignore the major advances our society has made when a President has been willing to really push for change. Many African Americans today are living because a President pushed congress to adopt anti-lynching legislation.

And this is specific to our faith. The voting rights act in and of itself would not have happened if a President, spurred by the assasination of the only white woman to die in the civil rights movement by the Klan(A UU by the way). Now that act allowed blacks to vote and a line from that woman's sacrifice runs straight and true to Obama's candidacy.

I'm sorry for you that you either do not have the education, or the vision to understand how a President who wants to do great things can accomplish great tasks. But as someone who follows both history and politics I would only suggest you wait for the person to fail before you affirm your ignorance.

Presidents can fail, many do, but even some failures can do some important things: Did you know that Nixon elevated the EPA to a cabinate position? He also established the EEOC, and in the beginning of his career "Tricky Dick" support and had a hand in promoting MLK.

Do I expect a golden age from Obama? That would be cruel. No, but I've seen enough good happen when politicians try and I've been part of enough good to know that we can advance.

I'm very sorry your life has been so bereft that you can't see that.

Chuck B.

8:34 PM  
Blogger Stentor said...

chuck b.: That important advances have been made in the past does not mean that current conditions are conducive to additional advances. And I'm baffled by your implication that being a UU entails a particular position in the sociological structure-agency debate.

And while I don't know Obama's heart, I do know enough about his record to be skeptical that he's going to be one to push for major progressive change.

10:03 PM  
Anonymous Chuck B. said...

Being a UU does not put on a specific side in a socio-political discussion (though I think a UU that supports suicide bombers might need to look at our 7 principles again). However, the 7 preinciples and the attendant sources seem to affirm a goodness in all people, that democracy works, and that our faith should support and aid people who are intent to do good things.

But hey...lets look at them

The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
Now that would seem to say that we shouldn't presuppose a candidate aiming to be a voice for change is lying.

Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
Again, since Obama's working for a progressive transformation to help others and our own faith, in the face of a fundamentalist movement still believe we can do it, then it would seem that we would support him.

Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
For now, let's say this is not spot on, but I could make an agrument for it. (i.e. cynicism is not a form of growth)

A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
Since the previous beliefs are positively focused, hermenetics (sp?) would argue that the search is a positive one, as well as being an inclusive one. Seems to be anti-cynicism

The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
Now if you don't believe that our Democratic Pary majority congress cannot perform good, particularly in light of the major obsticles overcome in much less PC congresses than this one, well that's a little surprising. It would seem that if you believe this as a UU then you would give Obama the benefit of the doubt.

The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
Well that's his stated goal. That's our stated goal, seems a little self defeating if you're gonna give up before he even gets elected.


Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part."[7]
Now I will admit this is pretty interpretive and we will take a scenic route. The phrase seems to presuppose a positive view towards life in general. If we are a faith that is a positive faith, then expressing negativity towards someone who is trying to do what we say we want seems, again surprising.

In a way I think I can put it in more cynnical terms for you:

You are either part of the solution, or part of the problem.

Now if you are out there supporting a Candidate that wants to make the world a better place, win, lose, or draw; you are trying to be part of the solution. That's what being a UU seems to be.

Where are you?

9:06 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Chuck b: Your exegesis is at such a generalized level that everything you say could be used as an argument for John McCain -- for example, he also claims to be in favor of peace, liberty, and justice for all.

There's nothing in the UU principles that bars us from making a realistic assessment of the barriers to social change. Nor is there anything that says electoral politics must be the primary route for change.

11:04 PM  
Blogger Stentor said...

Oops, that last post should be by me -- I forgot my wife was logged on to my computer.

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Chuck B. said...

Well... you have a valid point, though I think his support for the Iraq war Might be a stretch, and his opposition to Gay marraige, but I admitted I had to stretch as well.

My point, however, was to contrast your cynicism with the 7 principles to expalin a statement I said earlier.

5:44 AM  
Anonymous Meep said...

As a person who isn't a UU, I feel like you have a valid point, though I would say that Obama's platform is the more on the idea of change instead of implementation.

Also, with things like climate change, it's very hard with Congress because it seems to be a weird affront to their person in some ways. There was a recent interview in Portland where the interviewer was claiming that by having a car-free 6 hours in one neighborhood, it was challenging his right to drive a vehicle. I think deep down this might be applicable to many members of Congress, who want to maintain status quo (on both sides). I realize that's also sort of what you're saying, but there could be a weird personalizing element to it.

9:53 AM  

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