The Democratic TriParty (Part 2: Incrementalists v. Reactionaries)

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The Democratic TriParty (Part 1: The Players) introduced the three centers of influence in the Democratic Party: Progressive, Reactionary, and Incrementalist.

In this part, we begin to examine the intersecting Areas of Competition, starting with the blue area where the Incrementalist and Reactionary circles overlap.

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Axis: Institutional

The overlap between Incrementalist and Reactionaries is where the business of politics happens. The competition takes place along the Institutional axis, in offices, boardrooms, and legislatures, where the players wheel and deal for Establishment power and Big Money donors. No longer so smoke-filled, those old backrooms still get plenty of use.

How the players view each other:

Reactionaries view Incrementalists as ambitious upstarts, providing technocratic solutions to problems that don't need to be fixed, but who help blunt more sweeping change demanded by Progressives.

Incrementalists view Reactionaries as out of touch dinosaurs whose lack of technical proficiency blinds them to opportunities, but from whom they profit by assuming the role of arbiter in the conflict between Reactionaries and Progressives.


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Messaging: Polite

While the competition can be cut throat, the messaging between these two institutional factions is almost always orderly and polite. Both sides place a premium on civility and 'playing by the rules'. After all, it's just business.

Competition: Contractual

The Incrementalist and Reactionary dynamic lends itself to contractual deal making, where Incrementalists seek to extract concessions from Reactionaries that ameliorate the worst of status quo predations ('rounding the sharp edges').

Reactionaries, under pressure from Progressives for structural reform, seek to limit concessions to non-systemic change.

Incrementalist Goal: Extract Concessions
Incrementalists extract concessions from Reactionaries in two ways:

  1. Appeal to Reactionary Self-Interest.
    Persuade Reactionaries that concessions are to their benefit, typically by couching changes as improvements to systemic efficiency, production, and/or profit.
  2. Appeal to Reactionary Self-Preservation.
    Exploit Progressive demands of systemic change to provide Reactionaries with a benign, non-structural 'off ramp'.

Reactionary Goal: Limit Concessions
The goal of Reactionaries is to concede the minimum in non-systemic reforms for the maximum gain in both self-interest and self-preservation. In this way, Reactionaries seek to leverage their power of institutional inertia to improve their own standing as well as reduce support for systemic change.

Example: Obamacare

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Negotiations between Incrementalist and Reactionary lawmakers during the passing of the ACA provide a good example of the Institutional dynamic in action. Having co-opted Progressive voters with a campaign promise of a potentially system busting* Public Option for health insurance, Incrementalist Obama failed to press Reactionaries for this concession, leaving the Public Option to die on the Progressive vine.

*(A Public Option has the potential for systemic change because over time it out-competes private insurance and eventually results in a de facto public health system.)

Obama was willing to leverage Progressive pressure to gain non-systemic concessions primarily in the area of private health insurance regulation (appealing to Reactionary self-preservation), but only at the cost of large government subsidies to corporate insurers and a doubling of rates to consumers (appealing to Reactionary self-interest).

The system-reforming Public Option, however, was a deal breaker in the negotiations between Incrementalists and Reactionaries.

The lesson of Obamacare is clear: voters expecting Incrementalists to follow through on promises of negotiating systemic reforms with Reactionaries are bound to be disappointed, because much of Incrementalists' leverage with Reactionaries is based specifically on ensuring that those systemic reforms do NOT happen.

Looking back now, Progressives really should not have been surprised by Obama's Public Option capitulation. Having appointed old Clinton Administration Reactionaries like Rahm Emmanuel to lead the negotiations, Obama all but ensured that the systemic reform of the Public Option would never see the light of day.


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Other Observations:
An interesting twist for Reactionaries is that the bigger they 'win' at these negotiations, the more Incrementalists lose support from co-opted voters disappointed by the lack of reform. But Reactionaries need to be careful, because they also rely on Incrementalists to help ward off systemic challenges from Progressives.

If Reactionaries win too big over Incrementalists, then co-opted voters hoping for more robust change start looking elsewhere. Indeed, ten years after Obamacare, Democratic voters are so disillusioned by the Incrementalist ACA that fundamental systemic reform under Progressive M4A now enjoys overwhelming support.

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Next Time: The Democratic TriParty (Part 3: Incrementalists v. Progressives)

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Other Essays in this Series:
The Democratic TriParty (Part 1: The Players)

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Comments

Just like the Godfather!

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Not Henry Kissinger's picture

@The Voice In the Wilderness

The strategies and tactics of Organized Crime and Establishment Democrats are disturbingly similar at times.

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Peace Sells

karl pearson's picture

Thanks for this series of essays explaining the Democratic party. Your concept map simplifies a complex topic and is helping me understand just how difficult it is for progressives to accomplish their goals. I wish I had read your essay before the 2008 presidential election. It would have saved me a lot of disappointment regarding Obama.

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Not Henry Kissinger's picture

@karl pearson

Disappointing in hind sight, but the outcome of Dem primary that year plays a huge role in informing our current political dynamic.

I'll have much more to say about that in another part.

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Peace Sells

Steven D's picture

Thanks for this.

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"You can't just leave those who created the problem in charge of the solution."---Tyree Scott

Not Henry Kissinger's picture

@Steven D

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Peace Sells

I see Obama as an incrementalist. Who would be an example of a reactionary?

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karl pearson's picture

@humphrey Joe Biden & Hillary Clinton are two examples of Reactionaries.

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Not Henry Kissinger's picture

@karl pearson

Though Biden is running as the inheritor of Obama's Incrementalist legacy, he personally aligns much more closely with Reactionaries like Hillary.

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Peace Sells

Not Henry Kissinger's picture

@humphrey

as another example.

If you take a look at the essay and comment of Part 1, you'll get a better understanding of the attributes of the different groups.

FYI: Buttigieg and Yang are other examples of Incrementalists.

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Peace Sells

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

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Actually, the issue at stake is patriotism. You must return to your world and put an end to the Commies. All it takes are a few good men.
--Q

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

Not Henry Kissinger's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal

I know people want me to write about the Dem primary candidates, but it really helps to set up the tree properly before hanging the ornaments.

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Peace Sells

I see a strong reactionary authoritarian streak running through the left. When it gets so bad that working people are more likely to vote for a Trump than for any version of the left, things are pretty bad. This cycle I've only seen them get worse as every candidate has to pledge allegiance to that subset of the Democratic Party that controls money, entrenched power, and the media.

When the average Joe and Jane on the street reflexively supports someone I'll know we've changed directions.

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TheOtherMaven's picture

@ban nock @ban nock

is really right of center and moving farther right all the time.

We're living a political version of the Poseidon Adventure.

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There is no justice. There can be no peace.

Not Henry Kissinger's picture

@ban nock

This cycle I've only seen them get worse as every candidate has to pledge allegiance to that subset of the Democratic Party that controls money, entrenched power, and the media.

Just saying.

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Peace Sells

@Not Henry Kissinger
"... if they are going to something something something," and in that context, he's correct. Sanders and Gabbard may decline to bow and curtsy, but the price they pay for that is a mobilized effort to marginalize and demonize them. The news media either ignore them or dismiss them, the opinion media ignore them or attack them or announce their imminent collapse, and the party hackerati tweet endless calumnies against them. The approach, as far as I can tell, is working; unsurprising since most voters obtain 94.3% of their opinions directly and fully-formed from the dominant media narrative. Consider: If the media had responded to the last debate in the fashion that c99p did, ie. "Oh my god, Joe, step away from the microphone and close your campaign before you get hurt," it would be the end of his campaign. Instead, many "analysts" insisted he performed well, and so his core constituency -- dopey lifelong democrats who aren't paying serious attention -- continues to choose him in the surveys. After Gabbard gutted Harris, the media were cheerful to run with the "Harris was gutted" narrative, but Gabbard herself was not correspondingly pronounced as a Great New Progressive Voice, she was dismissed as having failed to make an impression on her own behalf.

That is the price of insufficient obeisance: No matter what your accomplishments (10K turnout to a rally? P'shaw, Sanders is in a tailspin!) the narrative that drives public opinion will be that you are a has-been or a never-will-be.

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The earth is a multibillion-year-old sphere.
The Nazis killed millions of Jews.
On 9/11/01 a Boeing 757 (AA77) flew into the Pentagon.
AGCC is happening.
If you cannot accept these facts, I cannot fake an interest in any of your opinions.

Not Henry Kissinger's picture

@UntimelyRippd

That is the price of insufficient obeisance: No matter what your accomplishments (10K turnout to a rally? P'shaw, Sanders is in a tailspin!) the narrative that drives public opinion will be that you are a has-been or a never-will-be.

A: By all the bad Institutional publicity.

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Peace Sells

Mark from Queens's picture

@UntimelyRippd
NHK too!

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"If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:

THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED
FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
WAS MUSIC"

- Kurt Vonnegut

@Not Henry Kissinger Sanders has shifted, he had to. The energised donation class has some issues that one has to get behind of you become the demon. Immigration and guns.

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The lesson of Obamacare is clear: voters expecting Incrementalists to follow through on promises of negotiating systemic reforms with Reactionaries are bound to be disappointed, because much of Incrementalists' leverage with Reactionaries is based specifically on ensuring that those systemic reforms do NOT happen.

... was/is their assumption that the Reactionaries are only in the "other" major party.

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3 users have voted.

The earth is a multibillion-year-old sphere.
The Nazis killed millions of Jews.
On 9/11/01 a Boeing 757 (AA77) flew into the Pentagon.
AGCC is happening.
If you cannot accept these facts, I cannot fake an interest in any of your opinions.

longtalldrink's picture

Which is Warren? Incrementalist..reactionary or progressive? Inquiring minds would like to know.

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Well done is better than well said-Ben Franklin

Not Henry Kissinger's picture

@longtalldrink

but she receives the bulk of her institutional campaign support from Hillary's Reactionaries.

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Peace Sells