Here’s Why Victory Looks Like This

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Jay points to the way Democrats and progressives are now saying all the same things we’ve been saying for a decade, but acting like they thought of them, and remarks that this is What Victory Looks Like.

He’s right, and here’s why. To large extent, you have to let people “steal” your ideas in order to get victory. It’s not just a price we need to be willing to pay if necessary. It’s always necessary.

Major reform of a cultural system has to start with ideas and practices germinating outside the core institutions of that system. If major reform were welcome inside the core institutions, it wouldn’t be necessary in the first place. The incubators of reform can’t be seen as fringe groups – this is why organized libertarianism has had much less influence than its intellectual seriousness and devotion of financial resources might lead you to expect. But the reform incubators are never going to be inside the core, either. You need something that’s a happy medium between credibility and independence.

Now, for a long time in America, the Democratic party and the progressive ideological movement have been the “core” institutions governing education. When you ask the American people whom they trust to do the right thing about education, they overwhelmingly say Democrats and progressives. That makes them the core.

The key to victory is to get the core groups to adopt the ideas that incubated in institutions outside the core. The greatest challenge is that the core groups want to defend their “core” turf against outsiders. They want to keep control of the core, and they can’t do that if they admit that outsiders have superior ideas. The solution is to get the core groups to co-opt (i.e. steal) the ideas and pretend they thought of them.

So you’re never going to get (very many) Democrats and progressives saying, “Why, yes, as a matter of fact the conservatives were right about education all along!” Admitting that would require them to sacrifice their status as the cultural core institutions of American education. Instead they’re going to say, “What American schools need are good, liberal, progressive ideas like choice, competition, and accountability.”

That’s what victory looks like.

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9 Responses to Here’s Why Victory Looks Like This

  1. George Mitchell says:

    The challenge comes in not having D’s redefine and water down the policy as a price for their “support.” A state senator in Wisconsin led an effort in 2009 to cut Milwaukee voucher funding to less than half of public school spending and she was labeled a “champion of choice” or similar nonsense by DFER. The list of such examples is long.

    • Greg Forster says:

      Yes, the reforms always get watered down when they’re co-opted by the core. Nothing to be done about that; this is what victory looks like.

  2. allen says:

    What’s missing in the post is some inspection of the causes of the schism on the left.

    That split, in my humble opinion, is as a result of the fact that blacks are much more supportive of educational alternatives of all stripes then whites and in some cases have driven the reforms. Lefties have picked up on that disastisfaction and being presented with a choice between the public education status quo and a demographic which they like to see themselves as the champions of, have chosen the latter.

    Hey, I’ll take it. I don’t care, within extremely broad limits who helps push the bus, just as long as things move.

    The other factor that’s missing is an attempt to bridge the left-right chasm on this issue. The DER folks might gag at the thought of being on the same side of just about every issue as a conservative but there’s a chance that they might be able to hold their noses long enough to help advance things on this particular issue.

    • George Mitchell says:

      There is no mystery about “schisms” on the left. With very few exceptions, elected officials on the left rely on public employee unions to keep their jobs. A few — such as Wisconsin’s Jason Fields — have the spine to take a principled stand. There are examples of Jason’s courage in Florida and many other states. The common denominator is a willingness to risk losing support from unions and do the right thing.

      • allen says:

        It does help that “doing the right thing” is supported by a constituency the Democrats have long been dependent upon and which the media has a tough time ignoring – poor blacks.

      • George Mitchell says:

        Low participation in elections among inner city residents is a big issue. In Milwaukee, the voucher program has been limited to low-income families until this year. Many of those families are headed by single parents who face an array of struggles to just get through the day and week. Mobilizing them for political action is a challenge. Entrenched incumbent office holders, overwhelmingly Democratic, do not feel a need to worry about these constituents. Milwaukee’s Jason Fields is a rare exception; his political success sends a message that supporting school choice can be a winning position on election day. Much more progress is needed. Now that more politically active middle class families are eligible to participate in Milwaukee’s program there might be a change.

  3. [...] them from the top of the culture, we want to force them to co-opt our preferred solution and pretend it was their idea all along. That can be done. Numerous social movements have done it on other issues in the past. This is [...]

  4. [...] them from the top of the culture, we want to force them to co-opt our preferred solution and pretend it was their idea all along. That can be done. Numerous social movements have done it on other issues in the past. This is [...]

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