(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.