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“Can Anyone Here Play This Game?”

183110228_3bd9151d8c_m.jpgI’ve been following Paul Rosenberg’s series on Open Left with interest, wherein he analyzes the different ways Democrats and Republicans govern and engage tactically via Kegan’s Model of Cognitive Development. (Pach always refers to Rosenberg as “the blogosphere’s best commenter” and there’s good reason for that).

Essentially Paul is arguing that Level 3 cognitive development, which “corresponds with the stage of normal adulthood in a traditional society, a stage in which the self’s subject is defined by the roles and relationships of the social surround,” is the stage of development Republicans govern from (needs, preferences), occasionally dipping down into Level 2 (impulses).

Democrats, on the other hand, are capable of dealing with abstract systems when it comes to policy, and correspond to Level 4 — “the modern self, which takes those roles and relationships as objects to be consciously and intentionally acted on.” Which just makes Democrats inherently better at the kind of sophisticated thought necessary to engage in good governance.

However, when it comes to politicking, Rosenberg argues that the positions are reversed:

My argument is that conservative/GOP policies are stuck at level 3–sometimes devolving to level 2–in a level 4 or even level 5 world, while liberal/Democratic political practice (campaigning, legislative maneuvering, making arguments in the media, etc.) is every bit as backwards as conservative/GOP policies are.

And more often than not, when some Democrat does step up their game to question the level 3 assumptions of Versailles (implicitly or explicitly, intentionally or not) they will be shot down–not so much by the Republicans, but by other Democrats (even many in the blogosphere) who will either leave them stranded at second base, or else join with the Republicans in persuading the umpires to call him out, for failing to tag first.

This diary was inspired in part by this exchange in comments yesterday. There is a fundamental disconnect here: progressive souls just can’t seem to understand the point I’m making–you don’t attack your own guy when he’s advancing the argument, even if he does so imperfectly. You take advantage of the gains he’s made and put them on a firmer foundation. Maybe afterwards you take him aside in private. But not in public. That is simply giving aid and comfort to the GOP, which is, of course, the enemy of normal Americans (Katrina, Iraq, SCHIP, etc.).

I’ve always thought Republicans are better at pure politics than Democrats because they operate on a level of crude cunning that gives them a leg up, but I think Rosenberg might be right. For whatever reason, they are able to step back, abstract and manipulate situations and relationships to their advantage in that particular arena in a way that Democrats just do not seem capable of. Democrats seem to suffer from some sort of mental diarrhea in the press, and whatever thought wanders through their head comes out of their mouths, self-justified as some sort of “truth telling” with little thought as to the larger implications.

The Republicans, on the other hand, have managed to wage an incredibly successful PR effort that keeps them in control of the legislative agenda despite minority status in both the House and the Senate and a President at 24% JAR.

From The Hill:

“Let me get this straight: When they were in the minority, it was the majority’s fault when their agenda failed,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “And now that they’re in the majority, it’s the minority’s fault? Seriously?”

Yes. Seriously. Because they play their hands much better than we do. The GOP doesn’t throw their extremists under the bus in order to seem “reasonable” and “discipline its own,” it invites them to the fucking White House and makes everyone show up and pay homage. And it’s not because Laura admires their keen fashion sense, or because what they say just isn’t as “outrageous” as MoveOn or Pete Stark. They know the strategic value of having those people out there to move the goalposts, while they can sweep in behind them and claim the territory they want.

While I may not always agree with the tactics and speech that those on the “far far left” engage in, I’ve never found it necessary (or desirable) to publicly rebuke them. I’m happy they’re out there making me look moderate. Without them, the putative “center” shifts to…the DLC.

Rosenberg concludes:

[M]y entire argument has been about how the Democrats act from a place of being embedded in the level 3 assumptions that the GOP continually manipulates from a level 4 position. This is not at all the same as saying “that a fellow progressive is a righty.” Rather, it is saying that even a fellow progressive (and not just a DLC clone) is going to be shooting themselves in the foot so long as they remain stuck in level 3 thinking, while the GOP runs level 4 rings around them.

We have to get smarter, people. We are already much smarter when it comes to policy. We know this without doubt. But we need to apply that same intelligence at the same level of cognitive development in the realm of political gamesmanship, or we will continue to defeat ourselves over and over and over again.

For some reason, whatever faculty that Democrats access when they comprehend the connection between, say, children’s health care and overall crime statistics eludes them as they continue to play their role in a battle they are being resoundingly beaten at.

Paul is right, it’s time to smarten up.

(photo by sean dreilinger)

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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