The Private Intellectual
Ecclesiastes-Based Real Estate Advice

Friday, February 05, 2010  

They Sentenced Me to Twenty Years of Boredom / For Trying to Change the System from Within*

If there has ever been a moment in my Illinois sojourn for a progressive voter to look around and find ways other than electoral politics to change the world, this might well be it. On a visceral level I still like Pat Quinn and I voted for him, but I see no reason to expect that he'll be more effective in the future than he has been heretofore, and being saddled with a scuzzy running mate doesn't help.

I've found it useful to characterize political strategies in terms of inside games and outside games. An inside game focuses on building majorities, working legislation, and consolidating incremental gains (or minimizing incremental losses). An outside game focuses on changing public opinion, reforming the process, and fundamentally altering the dynamics of the politics. By habit I am an inside game kind of guy. I did doors for Tony Earl in Wisconsin when I was three. My son will be just old enough to do doors with me this fall, and do doors he will. My political giving and volunteering tends to go to candidates and major parties rather than movements or causes. Barack Obama is the rare politician who has attempted a hybrid approach--working the existing process and the existing players while trying to keep OFA active as an outside force shifting the inside game in a favorable direction. Someone like Dan Hynes or Mark Kirk is a classic inside-game politician, consolidating forces within the system and planning to win and govern on that basis.

Pat Quinn had a pretty good career as an outside-game politician. He was a process reformer and an un-patroned figure who stumbled into power and had to decide how to govern. Rather than doubling down on his outside game--working the media and building an organization to force change on an obstinate establishment--he tried to govern from the inside. To put it charitably, he has not done well, and in the process he has lost a lot of the energy that can come from even an unsuccessfully-played outside game.

Considering the scale of the challenges that face the state (and the country), it would not be wise for anyone to give up on the nitty gritty of legislative process. All the same, it's a good time to consider what people can accomplish by taking a longer, more immediately pessimistic view and working to shift ideas about the role of government. Everyone is a part of some community or other that could be receptive to the influence of argument, example, and steadfast policy innovation. It might be a good time to find advocacy groups that can work outside of the doomed budget battles to lay the groundwork for a different kind of public debate in years to come.

In a fantasy world, Scott Lee Cohen's devastating troubles could spur a salutary shake-up in state politics. If the attempts to get Cohen off the November ballot fail, I like to imagine that Quinn could quit the Democratic line and run as a Green with Rich Whitney as his running mate. This would give us the chance to play an outside game that had an outside chance of winning. With the feeding frenzy on, a likelier outcome is Cohen being persuaded to withdraw, perhaps giving way to a Quinn-Hynes unity ticket. The second-likeliest outcome is that Cohen weathers the storm and drags Quinn to defeat. But I hope Quinn keeps open the possibility of jumping the Democratic ship and running on a separate line. That allows any outcome--Quinn, Brady, even Dillard--to be a mandate for serious change.

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posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 2:06 AM
I was just listening to that song.
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