A Short Book Review: Rebuild the Dream

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Van Jones' new book Rebuild the Dream is, I believe, the great text of the US Obama political era. The book outlines a vision for the rebuilding the American Dream for the 99% in the wake of economic catastrophe.

rebuild-heartspace-347x550Jones outlines a four quadrant (yes a four quadrant!) understanding of political change. His X axis consists of concepts (left side) and action (right side). He then adds a Y axis of rational (upper) and emotional (lower). So Upper Left is Head Space, the realm of concepts and policy papers. Lower Left is the heart space, the realm of political narrative and vision. Lower Right is the Outside Game (action + emotion), the realm of political movements, protests, and outside pressure (like The Occupy or The Tea Party). The Upper Right is the Inside Game, the game of political parties, elections, and enacting legislation.

This four quadrant scheme opens a window into why there was such a feeling of palpable change as Obama ran his 2008 campaign and what happened in the year since he has been president.


"Too many of us treated Obama's inauguration as some kind of finish line, when we should have seen it as just the starting line. Too many of us sat down at the very moment when we should have stood up... I say Obama relied on the people too little, and we tried to rely on him too much."

"The Obama administration had the wrong theory of the movement, and the movement had the wrong theory of the presidency. In America, changes comes when we have two kinds of leaders, not just one. We need a president who is willing to be pushed into doing the right thing, and we need independent leaders and movements that are willing to do the pushing."

Through the four quadrant view Jones is able to articulate a defense of working both inside and outside the major US political parties (especially the Democratic party). When I hear (particularly from the Occupy movement) that there's no difference between a Romney or Obama, between Republicans and Democrats, I find that a profoundly ignorant statement. That kind of mentality led to the Republican landslide victory in the 2010 midterm elections.

Here is a video of Jones making that case: support Obama and the Democrats and do not rely on them either. 

Jones' four quadrant grid allows us to see the value of each group playing its role. Jones looks at changes within all four quadrants for the 99% movement. Succinctly, Jones reminds the reader that during the great moments of US liberal reform, they occurred when movements put pressure on the Democratic Party. This occurred during the tenure of FDR and the New Deal as well as Lyndon Johnson and the Civil Rights reform. And what failed in the Obama years was partly Obama and his administration and (at least equally) the failure of a movement to push him from the left.

In the video above Jones makes a clear distinction between Occupy and the larger Movement for the 99%, comparing Occupy to the Student Noviolent Coordinating Committee and the 99% movement to the Civil Rights movement. I think one of the main failures of Occupy has not been to align itself with a larger agenda in the mainstream democratic process (while remaining outside it and putting pressure on it) and I hope Jones' book helps rectify that situation for the good of all. 

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  • Comment Link Steven Brody Saturday, 22 September 2012 23:02 posted by Steven Brody

    I like a lot of what VJones says, but havent yet read the book. It's your comment that drew my attention.

    You said, "When I hear (particularly from the Occupy movement) that there's no difference between a Romney or Obama, between Republicans and Democrats, I find that a profoundly ignorant statement. That kind of mentality led to the Republican landslide victory in the 2010 midterm elections."

    Think PTF. From a pre-perspective, looking 'up', there is no difference, no distinction. But from a trans-perspective, looking 'down', there is no difference but distinction. I think this awareness can help put things into perspective and suggest a reply that can help reorient/reframe apathy -- the first question being, is the person coming from a pre or trans awareness?



  • Comment Link David MacLeod Monday, 24 September 2012 00:25 posted by David MacLeod

    Thanks for this review Chris, it looks like a fascinating book. I like Jones' thinking: "Too many of us treated Obama's inauguration as some kind of finish line, when we should have seen it as just the starting line. Too many of us sat down at the very moment when we should have stood up... I say Obama relied on the people too little, and we tried to rely on him too much."

    But like Steven, I'm drawn to addressing the statement you made about whether there is a significant distinction between Romney and Obama. I made a similar argument when Kerry was running last time.

    However, I would go as far as calling it a profoundly ignorant remark to say there is no distinction. I think analyst Michael Klare has a valid point in an article where he asked, Is Barack Obama Morphing Into Dick Cheney?
    Klare makes a well argued case that Obama is pursuing Cheney's energy policies in a pretty direct way.

    "When you get two figures as different as Obama and Cheney pursuing the same pathways in the world -- and the first time around was anything but a success -- it’s a sign of just how closed and airless the world of Washington really has become. At a time when most Americans are weary of grand ideological crusades, the pursuit of what looks like simple national self-interest -- in the form of assured energy supplies -- may appear far more attractive as a rationale for military and political involvement abroad."

    And then there's this article, which makes the case for voting for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Carl Gibson made this statement:
    "Obama's most notable accomplishments, like a health care reform law that did away with pre-existing conditions, a $90 billion investment in the green energy market and the killing of Osama bin Laden, are overshadowed by the fact that his own Department of Justice refused to press charges against any executives of the biggest Wall Street banks that played a part in the 2008 financial heist, despite ample evidence of fraud on a truly massive scale. Any promise of environmental stewardship by this administration should be taken with a grain of salt, as Obama has approved the first leg of the Keystone XL pipeline in spite of numerous environmental disasters caused by similar pipelines in very recent history. And one Republican Party spokeswoman openly admitted that Romney's economic proposals, upon which he's basing the entirety of his candidacy, is the same as George W. Bush's program, "just updated" -- more tax cuts for the rich in return for the elimination or privatization of government services. It's like DEVO's co-creator said -- choosing between Obama and Romney is like choosing between Coke and Pepsi."

    And having pointed out the above, the likelihood is that I'll be holding my nose and voting for Obama. Unfortunately, no one has heard of Jill Stein.

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Monday, 24 September 2012 00:26 posted by David MacLeod

    I meant to say, "I WOULDN'T go as far as calling it a profoundly ignorant remark..."

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Monday, 24 September 2012 18:40 posted by Chris Dierkes

    Hi David,

    Thanks for the comment. There are significant differences between the two, just as not as much difference as I wish there would be. I'm with you on wishing more people had heard of ideas like those Jill Stein is promoting. I think US political discourse is really narrowly defined.

    So I'm trying to hold a few different views simultaneously. One recognizes that yes there aren't the kind of differences between the two candidates when looked at in that larger scope. I remember in high school civics class there was this 0-40 scale of political views and we all took some assessment and mark our scores and there were scores from famous politicians. I think 0 was arch conservative and 40 super liberal.

    By that one Obama's like a 17 or so. If 20's total centrist he leans slightly left. And Romney's about a 25 I would say but the Republican party is more like a 30-32.

    In this election I think that matters significantly as Romney would not do much on his own, he would be a puppet to the Paul Ryan-led House Republicans. [This is another reason why I don't like the 'there's no difference between them' argument because it leaves out their parties and the role of Congress.]

    So again it's not the kind of larger difference I would like, but there is substantial difference.

    Romney came out yesterday saying uninsured had emergency rooms. He clearly would start a war with Iran with Israel (something Obama is trying to avoid).

    Think of the difference in Supreme Court nominees that either candidate would have. This is especially relevant as it's possible that 2-3 justices could retire this term. Liberals could win back the Court (which along with the current House of Reps) is the major block to federal liberal reform.

    But I agree there have been a number of failures in Obama's first term.

    In economic downturns, green issues get sidelined in favor of economic ones (Van Jones' earlier book made a pitch for a Green Economy that could have worked on both simultaneously).

    Obama's housing policy has been to my mind the single biggest failure of his administration. Not many people talk about that one. I do think The Justice Dept. should have investigated (and brought charges if they found sufficient evidence) against various firms.

    But had he done that I'm not sure he would have been able to pass health care reform or in particular The Dodd-Frank Bill, which again while not perfect is far better that what was there before (again Romney would repeal that law). People forget (in my view) the role that the filibuster and 60 vote threshold now plays in the Senate and Obama had to make deals with centrists (people like Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe) in order to get 60 votes. Centrists were the biggest source of pushback against charges (both for banksters and for investigations into the Bush administration's policies around torture and so forth).

    To be a little cynical politically, I would far have preferred Obama do something on stopping foreclosures and buying underwater mortgages then filing charges against some banksters. The Bank Bailout, as unappealing as it was, did actually prevent a total meltdown. The problem as I see it, is that bankers got bailed out but 'regular folk' (to use the Vice President's language) didn't.

    Overall this is why I wrote another piece saying liberals need to stop relying on great individuals and follow Jones' advice and build power from the bottom towards the top.


  • Comment Link David MacLeod Tuesday, 25 September 2012 03:41 posted by David MacLeod

    Right on, Chris. I do agree there are important differences...while at the same time sympathizing with those who complain that the differences are small and that they have more in common than many people realize.

    And Van Jones is so correct that if progressives want to see Obama act more progressively, they have to stay much more engaged, rather than thinking civic responsibilities end at the polling station.

    I love the quote by Alice Walker: "The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any."

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Saturday, 29 September 2012 04:42 posted by David MacLeod

    Along similar lines is Rebecca Solnit's new article, "The Rain on My Parade: A Letter to my Dismal Allies."

    "O rancid sector of the far left, please stop your grousing! Compared to you, Eeyore sounds like a Teletubby. If I gave you a pony, you would not only be furious that not everyone has a pony, but you would pick on the pony for not being radical enough until it wept big, sad, hot pony tears. Because what we’re talking about here is not an analysis, a strategy, or a cosmology, but an attitude, and one that is poisoning us. Not just me, but you, us, and our possibilities."


    "Nine years ago I began writing about hope, and I eventually began to refer to my project as “snatching the teddy bear of despair from the loving arms of the left.” All that complaining is a form of defeatism, a premature surrender, or an excuse for not really doing much. Despair is also a form of dismissiveness, a way of saying that you already know what will happen and nothing can be done, or that the differences don’t matter, or that nothing but the impossibly perfect is acceptable. If you’re privileged you can then go home and watch bad TV or reinforce your grumpiness with equally grumpy friends."


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