When Top-Down is Bottom Up

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He insists that change comes from the bottom up (specifically, 1:25 into the clip).

But Barack Obama has moved toward tighter top down control of the party:

The move [of the Democratic National Committee] to Obama’s headquarters puts the Windy City squarely at the center of American politics for the first time since it was the scene of a Democratic Party meltdown at the 1968 convention. Then and now, it’s a city whose central political feature – top-down machine control – is one legacy Obama has taken from his allies in the reigning Daley family. His campaign has been a model of leak-free discipline and clear lines of authority from the candidate and his guru, Chicago-based David Axelrod, through his campaign manager David Plouffe and a tight-knit staff.

Dean’s Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, has won the affection of state party officials by dispatching paid organizers to supplement state party staff in every state in the country, and has worked to update databases of voters. But it has been outmatched by the muscular Republican National Committee – which benefits from control of the White House – in fundraising and communication. In those latter areas, the RNC – in a mirror image of the Democratic side – has filled gaps in Senator John McCain’s smaller organization.

Is he talking out of two sides of his mouth, or is there more here than meets the eye?

This is a tricky one, but may speak to, and remove, a stone in the shoe of progressives ever since the human potential movement took hold in the 1970’s. That stone would be a flattening of roles in the name of equality and intellectual war declared on all hierarchy in the name of human dignity. What am I getting at? Let’s play a word association. I say “control.” You say —

Did you say “freak?” That’s the problem. Some who control are control freaks, but not all. And there always is control, even if it comes from a thousand egos on parade leading the effort into the edge of chaos. Sounds a bit like the Democratic Party of yore there, no?

Better that efforts are decently coordinated, tightly organized, with activities answerable at the top. A McCain-like disclaimer that the negative attacks of others are out of his control just wouldn’t happen in a well functioning campaign.

But that does not mean that change comes from the top down. It only means that the top takes responsibility for getting us to places where change can happen. The there comes from the bottom up. So does the sustained public intensity that makes the difference between positive change and, say, mass hysteria.

The abolitionist, women’s suffrage and civil rights movements were classic bottom-up change movements. Had there been no abolitionists, there would have been no Lincoln. Yet leadership decision after leadership decision distinguished Abraham Lincoln from a Franklin Pierce or James Buchanan.

The Jewish question in Germany, the avenging of the Battle of Kosovo (1389) by Serbs in Bosnia, and elements of the anti-immigrant movement in the United States are top-down change movements. Groups in leadership positions manfactured, promoted, and sold a “crisis” no differently than Harold Hill sold River City, Iowa, on a marching band.

We can hope that “change” means  altering the societal landscape because of needs and aspirations the people felt and articulated first, and that well organized political operations exist to take their cues from the vox populi. That would be a consistent picture of how things ought to be.

 

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