William K. Wolfrum's picture

    The Dallas Mavericks show the Left that the Team is the thing

    As the clock struck zero and the NBA Finals ended, the national sports media found itself forced to focus solely on the Dallas Mavericks. The time for analyzing and re-analyzing Lebron James and the star-studded Miami Heat had come to an end. There was a new champion in town, and the time had come to praise the victors.

    Mind you, this wasn't a chore for the media. The NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks are an eclectic group. From their mercurial owner Mark Cuban, to their on-court leader Dirk Nowitzki, to a a roster filled with familiar names and long journeys, this was a Team to celebrate. In beating the vaunted Big Three of the Heat – James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh – the Mavericks had shown themselves to be what sportswriters most love – a great Team.

    Watching it all unfold, I was struck by how much the Left could learn from these Mavericks, and how similar the travails of both have been these many years. Few teams in the NBA have dealt with more disappointment and failure than the Mavericks. Year after year Dallas put a team on the court that would cruise through the regular season, only to see it all collapse in the playoffs. Year after year, a talented group of men led by a singular superstar would head home without a prize.

    The similarities to the Left are striking, especially the past few years. Led by one of the great superstars in political history – Barack Obama – the Left has fielded an impressive and diverse group of men and women, only to see pressure from inside and out defeat them.

    Compare the 2006-2007 Mavericks with the 2009 Democrats. The Mavs blasted through the regular season, winning 67 games. Nowitzki took home the regular-season MVP award. Yet somehow this group was beaten in the first round of the playoffs by the lowly and oft-maligned Golden State Warriors. It was a collapse for the ages.

    In 2009, Obama took home his MVP Trophy with the passage of Health-Care Reform. But as a team, the Left struggled and sputtered on nearly all key issues. Despite wild advantages for Democrats in the Senate and the House, the left never gelled and eventually became a group of individuals marching to different drummers. And in 2010, the lowly and oft-maligned Republicans dealt Democrats a brutal defeat in the mid-term elections.

    As of June 2011, the Left is the Miami Heat not the Dallas Mavericks. It's a group with a leader that is both the most hated and most talented man in the game. It is a group that brings to mind greatness. But it is a group that collapses under pressure and plays as individuals when it matters most. It is now a group defined by its greatest defeats rather than important victories.

    This is not a call for the Left to march lockstep with one another. After all, the Mavericks won the championship with a team of diverse personalities from diverse backgrounds. But whenever it mattered, they showed confidence and trust in one another. When it mattered most, the Ring became the Thing, and the entire Team was on the same page.

    While it is an imperfect comparison, there is indeed a lesson the Left can take from the World Champion Dallas Mavericks. To achieve any victory, what's needed is confidence and trust. A group of spectacular solo artists will only take one so far, whether it be politics or basketball. But at the highest levels of both of these things, only one thing will garner true victory, whether that victory is an NBA Title or making life better for Americans – becoming and playing as a Team.


    Crossposted at William K. Wolfrum Chronicles


    What I find ironic is that--as a holdover tendency dating back to the beginning of the Cold War when the Left was tied to the Communists by its opponents both inside and outside the Democratic party--the Right conjures for the public an image of a Left that is menacing in part because of its supposed centralizing, centripetal tendencies.  Fear the Left as you would fear Tyranny itself, for with the one you will get the other, is the message.

    Whereas anyone who knows the real left, who has any experience interacting with it, knows it is exceptionally fragmented and unfocused, borderline anarchic, barely capable of agreeing with itself about the time of day, let alone, say, 3 or 4 top priority issues to work on addressing.

    So, yes, I think the Left could learn something from the Mavs. 

    For that matter, I think Democrats could as well. Nancy Pelosi I think had already learned a whole lot about teamwork and effectiveness prior to her House majority achieving a progressive legislative record in 2009-2010 which, however flawed, is unsurpassed since the mid-1960s.  She is one of the very few, and by far the most effective, progressive generals since that time.  And yet (or is it because of that?) not a few Democrats have been willing not just to tolerate, but advocate, throwing her under the bus.

    In order to play as a team with our teammates, we first have to find out who is on our team.   Who is on our team?

    Another thing we need to do is define what the team's goals are.  There is no trophy in politics that defines victory.  What is sucess and what is not success?  If one of our teammates is not doing enough to achieve the team's goals, we need to kick him in the ass.  What are the goals?

    In my book, success means...things are better now than before.

    They aren't.  Or, at least, while I don't know about you, my own life is significantly worse now than it was three years ago.   And that doesn't have anything to do with odd, quirky things that have happened to me personally, but is based almost entirely on the fact that I and many others have the misfortune of enduring the do-nothing Hooverism of the Obama economy.

    If we are counting from the fall of 2008 to now, the economy is definitely better.

    In my books, "success" is a bit simpler.

    It's jamming in their face, putting an exclamation mark on our 7th consecutive Presidential victory, then landing on their broken bodies, providing me with a soft landing as I come hurtling back toward Earth. 

    Then, taking all their cheerleaders home.

    Success. So sweet. 

    What team are we discussing? The Left may have a set of goals while Democrats with similar goals are trying to figure out how to craft legislation that will pass in a Congress that is strictly divided by political party. The Left may consider the Democrats worthless, while Democrats may consider the Left unrealistic.

    While the left may consider the Democrats worthless ... the rest of us unquestionably do.

    It is amazing how low the bar for what is considered realistic drops when Democrats are in charge. I'm pretty sure if a republican went on Fox and said "I DON'T LIKE PANTS," Democrats would start arriving to congress in their skivvies; declaring nobody understands the political realities involved with getting dressed in the morning.

    My theory is you folks enjoy yelling at "The Left" (who are the most consistently loyal and active Democrats of any Demographic; it really is THEIR party) because they are the only bleeding-heart idiots remaining in America who haven't gotten to the point of just looking you in your face and telling you the current batch of "Democrats" (as you have defined them) should go fuck themselves.

    Me, I'm no liberal: the current batch of Democrats can go fuck themselves. And that's your real problem. Not-liberals hate what you have narrowly defined as "Democrat" more than liberals do. Corporations are buying this for Obama; he'll have to get "Sharon Angled" to lose  ... but what about the rest of 'em? Who's going to elect your candidates with "Democrat" defined thus? Nobody. You'll never win an election on a desire to see a Democrat in office on merit .... it'll be backlash votes against a GOPer or gerrymandering.

    Sure wish Democrats could put the same energy into achieving something other than workforce-killing pro-corporatist shit policy as they do tearing down people on your own side still pushing for what used to make Democrats worthwhile. Nope. Those folks aren't "democrats" anymore ... they are "the left" ... wholly not a part of the Democratic party. Nice big tent you guys have rolling.

    I think a lot of those people you label "not liberal" are also dedicated and cast votes for Democrats just as frequently as you do. The "pure" Left seems to offer few political candidates, but does have a lot of criticism for Democrats that do get elected. There seem to be a lot more people on the "left" side who are stating that they won't be voting for Democrats in 2012. So much for being "the base".

    In the last election cycle Russ Feingold and Alan Grrayson lost  re-election bids and Joyce Elliot could not get elected to replace Vic Snyder. It was not a rosy time for Progressives.

    he'll have to get "Sharon Angled" to lose

    At this point, I think he could definitely lose to Romney. Romney will have enough money, too.

    You have an interesting perspective KG. I wouldn't agree that the "left" (as I understand the term) is the most loyal of Democrats. I think it's the folks who put in all the scut work that goes into running for office at all levels. I don't disregard the "left" or demean their contribution, but I think it comes in bursts. They aren't "party" people, really.

    We've had this discussion before, but one more time won't hurt. Humphrey. McGovern. Mondale. Dukakis (maybe). Gore. All of these guys believed in the traditional platform of government action. Mondale PROMISED to raise taxes. They all got hammered. Of course, they got hammered for lots of reasons, but still.

    Clinton ran along the same lines, but almost immediately got hammered when Congress changed hands. And now Obama. Perhaps if Obama had gone for a single payer or a public option, the bill would have gotten through more easily. Perhaps if Obama had asked for 1.3 trillion, he would have gotten in it easily. I don't know. There's sense in speculating he could and should have hit them hard and fast when his brand was shining and new.

    But it's somehow hard to imagine all those "non-liberals" flocking to a big fat stimulus and Medicare For All. Maybe. It certainly would have been worth a try.

    We've been through this before (under another pseudonym), but I think it's worth emphasizing that it's wrong to view economic progressives' argument in terms appropriate to social issues. Social policies get evaluated at election time on their intrinsic value - on the values being expressed by those policies. Economic policies get evaluated at election time not on the ideology expressed, but on their consequences. The argument for stimulus or front-loading Medicaid expansion, say, is not that people love the 'idea' of stimulus or single-payer. The argument is that, despite short term wailing from the right, they would have had positive consequences. More people would see their grandparents and kids have health care coverage. More people would have jobs. And the general sense that things were improving. It would have been a perhaps more high-risk strategy, he might have failed on one or the other, but as always, unless you take risks you can't get the benefits.

    By only going for the shots he couldn't miss, he has a great scoring percentage, but he only scores ten points and loses the game. Obama is like James - hiding from the ball in the corner, hoping someone else will take the important shots instead of taking charge, taking risks.

    The economy is tanking again, Medicaid rolls are getting cut across the country, private insurance rates are inflating at an unprecedented rate, the employment/population rate is stuck at 58%, and Obama is proposing ... what?


    It's not a winning strategy. And it seems misguided to blame the left.

    We may be talking at cross-purposes...and perhaps with different time lines.

    Economic policies get evaluated at election time not on the ideology expressed, but on their consequences.

    This was somewhat my point in looking back. Those candidates proposed standard liberal policies and lost at election time. Their policies never had a chance to be evaluated based on how well they worked. In fact, many people felt they had already, and for a long time, given traditional Democratic policies time to work, understood what they were, and felt they didn't work.

    Similarly, Clinton pursued liberal policies out of the gate and found himself with a Republican congress two years later. I'm not sure being MORE liberal or progressive would have helped Clinton, and I'm not sure it would have helped Obama politically.

    There's an assumption here, I think, that these policies would be working well right now and would be helping Obama and, even perhaps, with these policies in place, he wouldn't have lost the House in 2010. Maybe.

    (Please try to keep this distinction: I'm not arguing about the substance of policies, but more about the politics which, of course, is what gives policies the opportunity they need to work. But it's also true that, even as I support certain positions, I retain a certain skepticism that keeps me from being a true believer.)

    It's hard to say, looking at the health care debate, that he only went for an easy shot he couldn't miss. He almost missed that one, and he has a whole lot of people hating him for "his success" from all sides and ends of the spectrum. I think an argument could be made that he could have passed single payer or a public option--they would have been easier to understand--there are arguments to be made for it--but given the obstacles he faced and Pelosi faced with the current bill, it's hard for me to say that a more progressive bill would have made it through.

    I guess the last thing is...I'm not "blaming the left" at all or for anything. For one thing, I voted and worked for all those people.

    I took your agreement with A-man pre-emptively blaming 'assholes' people on the left for Obama's election loss as ... blaming the left.

    I don't know about the effects of these policies - in political terms. The stimulus and by extension Keynesian economics have lost all credibility with the public because the labor market has not improved at all since '09. All they see is bumper corporate profits and ... no jobs. And rightly feel screwed. If it had worked, i.e. produced visible improvement in the labor market, then I think it would be more popular, and it would be easier to argue for more of the same.

    Of course if you don't believe in progressive economics, then that's a perfectly valid scientific argument. If the current deficit reduction policy creates jobs over the next year, then I'll revise my economics and become a conservative. My problem with Obama is that his economic policy is conservative by design (and not by necessity - due to a lack of votes), Geithner's design as it turns out. And my problem is that I don't think conservative economics works. But if it works, I don't think Obama should, or will, be punished for it. People just want results.

    You're right in pointing out two essential ways in which the analogy is of limited use, if not totally inapplicable. 

    Didn't Nobel laureate economist Kenneth Arrow show (my cursory and probably completely incorrect "understanding") mathematically that in a society in which individuals hold plural and sometimes contradictory preferences we're all basically hopelessly screwed?

    It's a magnificent day in downtown DC--70s and sunny, no humidity.  Usually I eat at my desk but I think I'll go out for a walk at lunchtime.

    A walk at lunchtime = success. ;-)

    Having a job and a lunchtime = success.  ;~)

    Well I think of it more as good fortune.  I count my blessings.  There but for the grace of...and all.  I am well aware that I could easily have my entire personal and family life blown up due to circumstances beyond my ability to control, as have so many of my fellow countrymen and women.  

    I've been unemployed, twice, in my pre-family days.  It is devastating.  It eats away at a person.  It leaves one feeling unwanted, disconnected, and non-contributory, apart from the basic needs distress that so often goes with it. 

    Long ago I promised myself I would never forget what unemployment feels like.  In no way do I equate unemployment with being personally or occupationally unsuccessful, no matter that many individuals who are unemployed have internalized just such a self-assessment.  Sure, some people are out of work for poor decisions or performance they have made.  But there are legions of outstanding employees, highly competent people, who don't have jobs these days through no fault of their own.  I say provide for as many of them as possible what all of us want and should have: hope, dignity, food and a roof over their heads.  We have had Presidents who agreed with this and stated these as societal goals explicitly, notably FDR in his Second Bill of Rights address to Congress. 

    And oh not so BTW, the struggles of our unemployed fellow citizens are part and parcel of our country's struggles.  There is no fixing what ails our country without utilizing the extraordinary talent available among those now unemployed to rebuild and regenerate our society.  Period.  Full stop.  If we don't figure out how to do a better job of that, we are hurting ourselves as a society, in addition to the individuals and families who are fighting for their very survival.

    A bit on the Coxey's Army story: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coxey's_Army

    Glad I made the quip since it produced such a nice mini-essay, Dreamer.  I will say I've never looked at success the way most Americans do, but I like the energy with which you remind us that it doesn't depend on employment.  I was reading about hunger and unemployment earlier, so both lunch and a job looked like a measure of success.  Still does, no matter how much good fortune, luck, skill goes into it; but I do take your higher point.

    The MSN homepage had up a quote where Obama was saying that he wasn't sanguine about unemployment or the People's Economy or something; I couldn't even click it to find out the context.  Doesn't matter much at the moment.  Looks like states and communities will need to innovate, maybe state banks and more.

    Thanks for the Coxey's Army March and the L Frank Baum Oz info; didn't know that.  He and Disney both had some rotten parts, didn't they? 

    The October 6 folks are trying hard to generate a March, too, and I hope they expand it nationally to waaaaay more locations, times and travel expenses being what they are.

    If we 'don't figure out how to do a better job of that', all bets are off, IMO.  We're the frogs slowly blanching in the not-quite-boiling kettle, but there are signs many are about to leap out.

    And I am very glad you still have a job...and lunch.  Have a nice walk out; maybe you'll stop at a falafel stand.   ;o)

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