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Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

Hon. Eric Schneiderman
New York State Senate
313 Legislative Office Building
Albany, New York 12247

Dear Senator Schneiderman:

I was quite impressed with your recent essay on transformational politics in The Nation. It struck a chord with me because last year’s change in our gubernatorial administration had raised my hopes that we would see some of it. I’m afraid that has not happened to date.

I went to work for the legislature in 1984 and sat that year through my first set of hearings on Governor Cuomo’s executive budget. My most vivid memory was of Assemblyman Arthur Eve and the late Tom Coughlin of the Department of Correctional Services sparring over the beginnings of our long and depressing prison building jag. For twelve years, Cuomo’s version of transactional politics had us building prisons and locking up black people. Then came George Pataki, who gave us twelve years of keeping those prisons full and ensuring that a term in prison was as onerous and pointless an experience as possible. For a quarter of a century now, this has been our response to society’s drug problem--an exercise in the most cynical brand of transactional politics that has done nothing but damage.

When I apply your concept of transformational progressivism to my field of public security, I believe we can do better. I make my top priorities to prevent crime and, failing that as we inevitably do, to undo as well as we can the damage it does. I have had a most singular experience that demonstrated the power of that kind of thinking.

In 1998, I was approached by a former State Trooper who had been shot and left paralyzed while on duty one night in September 1973. He asked me if I thought we could get the legislature to pass a bill that would fund research toward a cure for paralysis. I thought that was an extraordinary response to the terrible injury that had been done to him and his family. More than that, the assemblyman who agreed to sponsor our bill represented a district in Brooklyn in which paralysis as the result of gunshot wounds was not uncommon. The bill was a success. In the decade since, more than $50 million has been invested in advanced neurological research. When have we ever done anything that big and positive in response a crime?

Governor Cuomo famously said: “We campaign in poetry but govern in prose.” I’ve always been appalled by that statement. If I understand the implications of your transformational politics, it has a lot in common with poetry and could well lead to the solutions of many problems that our infamously dysfunctional Albany politics would otherwise continue as long as a billable hour can possibly be milked out of them.

Thank you for writing this inspiring article.

Yours truly,

Terry O'Neill

Albany, NY

Mar 5 2008 - 7:43pm

Web Letter

I regard Schneiderman's article as seminal. It should be considered by the peace movement. When we refer to the conflict as "the Iraq war," we are using the same transactional terminology as the defenders. Were we to adopt the use of transformational terminology such as "invasion" and "occupation," we could hopefully move public opinion in opposition to the Administration's policies, as did Norquest in his anti-tax crusade. Let the proponents term it "the war," but let us tell it as it is: "invasion" and "occupation."

Richard Brown

New York, NY

Mar 5 2008 - 4:19pm

Web Letter

Senator Schneiderman is to be applauded for not only highlighting the urgent need for progressives to insist on transformational politics from their elected officials but for also offering possible ways to help reframe the issues of reproductive choice, taxation, health care and gun control. Relative to all four of those issues--and so many more--the modern conservative movement owns the debate and is allowed to set the rhetorical context. Through control of the corporate media, they set the rules of engagement and are allowed to limit debates' directions and options in their favor before progressives have even opened their mouths or written a word of legislation. Reversing this dangerous situation will take time, money and great effort... just as it took conservatives time, money and great effort to create the situation.

Scott Isebrand

New York City, NY

Feb 29 2008 - 12:53pm

Web Letter

Great article. Senator Schneiderman is a true visionary. His work is all about a true progressive vision, which is way too expansive and inclusive to fit in one of Mark Penn's antiquated triangles.

Ethan Nichtern

New York, NY

Feb 28 2008 - 3:35pm

Web Letter

Not long ago I read an article explaining that Americans' views on political issues hadn't changed that much over time, and weren't all that different between the "red" and "blue" states. That article had statistics; I wish I'd kept the URL, but I thought it was so obvious I didn't bother. This one doesn't--it's all theory, and never touches the ground.

Actually, the "bone-crushing machinery" of the "conservative movement" so-called was stopped quite recently. In 2006, the Democrats won both houses of Congress. Then the Democrats did pretty much nothing with this victory. They have continued to support Bush's war, Bush's ruinous economics, and Bush's destruction of the Constitution and the national honor. I am not proposing that the Democrats could suddenly have become leftists--Heaven forfend!--but they could have acted like a middle-of-the-road party-of-sanity opposition to the fanatics and poltroons of the current Administration. They didn't. I don't know how they managed to resist, but there it is. The majority of the American electorate who voted against Bush were given no representation.

That looks much more like the problem to me than some mind-destroying machinery of conservatism.

Let's figure that one out.

N. R. Cixi

New York, NY

Feb 25 2008 - 11:51pm

Web Letter

What is wrong with 1 million individual contributions to Senator Obama's campaign? My lousy $25 a month is my money well spent, and if it gives him an advantage over the top-down money making of Senator Clinton and Senator McCain, so be it. I feel like I am a part of a grassroots movement by doing this.

I do appreciate the distinction drawn here between transactional and transformational politics. One thing that is accessable right now that is transformational is the ability of a progressive Commander-in-Chief to draw down the military from Iraq. On more evasive issues, let the games begin.

Jim Willingham

St. Petersburg, FL

Feb 24 2008 - 9:17pm

Web Letter

Today Ralph Nader has announced his third candidacy for President. While he is certainly correct in claiming that one cannot prove that he robbed Gore or Kerry of the presidency--you cannot know how people who ended up voting for Nader would have voted had he not been on the ballot--doesn't anyone find awful similarities between Nader's attack on Clinton and Obama and the German Communists' attack on the German Social Democrats as Social Fascists in the years before 1933? Beware what you wish for.

Norman Ravitch

Savannah, GA

Feb 24 2008 - 11:54am

Web Letter

It is interesting to consider whether Clinton or Obama is doing transactional and/or transformational politics.

Clinton, being pragmatic, would certainly be considered an operator or transactional politics, and probably most would consider Obama to be doing transformational politics since he uses the idea of transformation in his campaign a lot.

But the question is: has he in his Senate life or an his campaign actually done what this article describes, change the way of looking at our problems? Or is he saying something else, like bringing Repubs and Dems together on policies and legislation in bipartisanship, which would just be transactional politics?

And has Hillary, in her rhetoric, spoken beyond the transactional to the transformational?

I'd be interested in what people have to say about this.

Sara K. Strong

Columbus, OH

Feb 22 2008 - 8:19pm

Web Letter

I am sure the people Schneiderman mentioned are very learned, but you will bore the voter to death quoting various sources. You have to have a simplified version of their arguments in your head that the average person can understand. Consultants often have an agenda, that may not match your ideas. You had better know where they are coming from before you take their advice. The trick is knowing your own constituents and the problems they face. Listen to them and not consultants. Voters are looking for authenticity in a candidate, and you will do better if you express your beliefs honestly. Put the surveys in the trash! By your works, you will be known. Politics is a calling and not a career. Your career doesn't matter. Your primary concern must be the people's business!

Abandon preconceptions!

Pervis J. Casey

Riverside, CA

Feb 22 2008 - 5:14pm

Web Letter

Where to begin a progressive agenda? First and foremost progressives must harp on publicly funded campaigns. Real funding that matches what has been spent historicaly and add for inflation and then some.

Progressives must drive home the point that there is no such thing as free speech when progressive positions that help the poor and the working class deliver no contributions, while hiding the facts keeps the status quo in the chips and the money coming in. We need publicly funded campaigns so that real progressives will stop having to walking on egg shells every time the right thing to do would undermine the financial viability of his or her campaign.

The American public must be made to understand that someone will pay for the election, and whoever that is will have a seat at the table and whoever doesn't will be an afterthought..

Michael McKinlay

Hercules, CA

Feb 22 2008 - 12:40am

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