Podcast 020: Incrementalism or Real Change?


Incrementalism is a method of achieving a goal through political gradualism or small steps.  The more I pay attention to President Obama without the blinders, the more I see this political gradualism as wholly inadequate to fix some of the nation’s biggest problems.

I didn’t expect to have any disagreements with a commencement speech, of all things, and this is NOT a point-by-point critique of everything the President said.  However, I do question one concept pushed by President Obama onto these young new graduates at Howard University: the notion of being satisfied with political baby-steps.

One reason why many people are so discontent, even though Obama’s Presidency has a stellar list of accomplishments, is that the root of what’s wrong with the political system has yet to be improved to help the poor and the middle class in a significant way.

Incrementalism as practiced by the Democratic party appears to be made up of compromises simply for the sake of keeping the peace, preventing major confrontations around expansive ideas, and hoping for some type of conclusion about which they can brag to their base.

This type of political stance, in my opinion, involves trying the talk people into being satisfied with slightly better things — slightly better laws, systems and situations  — at the expense of working for a fundamental change to the system.

Incrementalism versus fundamental change, for example, is the difference between installing a water filter onto a faucet versus having the pipes dug up and replaced with better, lead-free piping.  Technically, adding a filter is ‘better’ than having nothing.  But for how long will that one change work?  What’s more, not only is this ‘solution’ wholly inadequate for the magnitude of the problem but it also needs continuous maintenance until someone comes along to fix the root of the problem.

One of the biggest complications I see with incremental changes is that they can be undone almost as quickly as they were implemented.  As soon as someone else gets the power to uninstall that small change, they can do it quite easily.  It also makes it easier for them to then implement their own changes.

For incremental change to work, the politician or political party would have to hold power for a long enough period of time to finally get to the final goal.  This causes another complication: inner-party fighting over what the ‘final goal’ should be.

Using the same analogy above, if someone who disagrees with you gets the power to decide whether the water filter is a good or a bad idea, they can simply snatch the water filter off the faucet and the incremental ‘solution’ is gone just as quickly as it was installed.

At the end of the dispute, almost nothing has changed. Worse yet, the politician who made the incremental change seems incredulous about why people weren’t satisfied with what they tried to do. And may even get a fcking attitude that you didn’t help to keep that small change from being rolled back! #ICant

In addition, baby-step politics can be ruinous to a party’s credibility.  It might mean the party is seen as unreliable to it’s base.  It also doesn’t give the base anything of true substance to get out and fight to protect during Midterm elections.

When Democrats get power, they should use it to get as much accomplished as possible without fear of asking for “too much” or thinking “too big”.  Unfortunately, those big money interests seem to be keeping what we all assumed were their “liberal tendencies” in check.

Republicans don’t seem to have a ‘hand-wringing’ mentality where they worry endlessly about being taken seriously by Democrats or big business if they pass laws asserting the full extent of their ideologies.

Democrats, on the other hand, appear to be forever worried about trying to woo Republicans, even at the expense of their base (Goodbye Public Option/Single-payer).  Before some of the more establishment Democratic politicians even walk in the room to negotiate, they decide to give up almost half of their fcking power just to get Republicans to sit at the table (Hello, Merrick Garland).

In response, Republicans throw temper tantrums and take an uncompromising view in order to manipulate the Democrats’ behavior. Because of these lopsided battles, Republicans have ended up with much more power than they deserve for a much longer period of time — especially in local governments around the country.

And when Republicans get power, they know how to use it.  In the past they have often passed uncompromising pieces of legislation which had the added benefit of motivating their base to vote not only during presidential years, but also during Midterm elections.

So, I am OVER being satisfied with the political ideology of incrementalism. Yall can keep that sh!t.  I am over baby-step politics and tired as fck with baby-step politicians, especially if their explanations of what they’ve done comes wrapped in an off-putting level of condescension.  As much as I respect what President Obama has done and has tried to do, this hobbled way of thinking is partly why regular Americans on both sides are so agitated.

Listen to the Podcast for much more

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