At last night's opening keynote at Netroots Nation, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman talked about the difference between transformational and transactional politics. Transactional politics is pragmatic; it is about the best that any particular political constituency can achieve in the here and now, given current electoral and other political realities. Transformational politics involves more long-term thinking. It is about shifting perceptions and attitudes to allow for the possibility of different outcomes.
The Great Depression caused a transformational shift that lasted from about 1930 to 1980. During that period, we put in place the major components of the New Deal and Great Society programs: Social Security, Medicare, etc. During the past 30 years or so, another transformation occurred, to the extent that a large proportion of the electorate now accepts the proposition that everything the government does is bad, and everything the private sector does is better.
I would argue that the Obama campaign of 2008 marked the beginning of another transformational shift, and the 2008 financial crash sealed the deal for Obama. That crash should have caused most people to question the idea that the private sector always knows best, but the ideas behind the Reagan revolution die hard, and the election of Barack Obama also sparked the Tea Party counter-revolution, representing a revival of anti-government thinking, in even more radical form.
Schneiderman believes that another transformation is still possible, which will allow for the creation of a new New Deal. Perhaps that is why he is intent on exposing the responsibility of Wall Street's big banks for the current recession. Schneiderman's theory also goes a long way toward explaining why politics at the moment is so contentious, and why there seems to be so much at stake in this year's election, in which the choices between two competing paradigms seem more marked than usual.
To accomplish the kind of transformation Schneiderman was talking aobut, he thinks the left could learn a lot from the way the right remains focused on its long term goals, and the way the right keeps pushing its political leaders to move its agenda . He reminded us, with quotes from Franklin Roosevelt and from Grover Norquist, of the necessity for a movement's supporters to keep the pressure on elected officials. Schneiderman was candid enough to admit, that he, like all politicians, probably can't be expected to do much more than what their constituents
make them do. The left, however, sometimes acts as though they can sit back and rest once their candidates are elected, and expect those candidates to do the job for them. Maybe that's why the left always seems so disappointed in its leaders, to the extent that we blame them for not getting the job done, and even under-cut their ability to do it.