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yesthattom

Ratcheting (DRAFT)

Ratcheting is a management technique for improving a situation over time. For example, first you set a goal of reducing defects to 10%. If the current defect rate is 12%, that that feels achievable by the workers, who gladly set up measurements and processes to get there. When that is achieved, you set the goal to 5%. When that is achieved you set the goal to 1%. And so on and so on. The point is that if you had set the goal to 1% at the start people would feel it is hopeless and not work on it. Ratcheting works very well.

ratchet set A ratchet gear The name "ratcheting" comes from the name of the tool called a "ratchet", pictured on the left. The key element of that tool is that it only turns in one direction.

The key part of such a device is the "Ratchet and pawl" mechanism, pictured on the right.


In politics, the ratcheting technique is also useful.

For the last 15 years when we've fought for Marriage Equality, the radical right was smart enough to not say they are against it for the real homophobic beliefs that they hold. They said, "Why aren't civil unions good enough?" When states pushed for civil unions they said, "why isn't domestic partnership enough?" When we pushed for domestic partnership we were told, "it's too expensive".

We've seen D.P. in New Jersey, Civil Unions in Vermont, as so on and so on. All of these have shown that "almost enough" isnt good enough. We must continue to fight for the fullest, most equal status: full marriage equality.

The breakthroughs in marriage equality around the country that have been springing up just this year are excellent examples.

Ratcheting can be used not just to tear something down, but to build something up. Martin Luther King, Jr's Civil Rights Act passed but only after various states implemented something similar to show that it was possible, and to discover what techniques work.

Ok, that's where this draft ends. The problem that I'm struggling with is that I need better examples of political ratcheting used against us, used by us, and future uses of it. Suggestions?


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Note to self... an example might be the fact that for years conservatives were saying that a market-based solution to the environmental problem would be cap and trade but now that we're ready to support it, they're calling it a "tax" and fighting it.

First two that leapt to my mind: conservatives using the "new baseline" of the Bush II tax cuts to call people "socialists" advocating "class warfare" for suggesting a return to a tax structure that's more generous to the richest 1% (and harder on the working class) than Reagan's was...

and the process that gets cited at the Smithsonian as a prime example of "ratcheting" social change: the mass of legal precedent that Marshall et al. built up throughout the 40s and 50s with the end goal of overturning Plessy v. Ferguson. By challenging specific inequalities in segregated facilities first, the NAACP lawyers could build an "exhaustion" argument to foil the segregationists' claims that "separate but equal" could be just if implemented correctly.

And of course, the "right-to-lifers" nowadays who are borrowing that strategy, ratcheting the abortion debate their way via "fetal personhood" clauses in statutes regarding things like health insurance and domestic violence.


The thing I immediately thought of was the oft-trotted-out poem of "when they came for the [whatevers] I didn't speak because I wasn't a [whatever]"

Ooh, I'm not very well-read on the subject, but the intellectual property vs. "freedom of information" debate might be a good place to find future uses for political ratchets. :)

Recreational drug prohibition since the 21st Amendment would be another good example, especially in contrast to the failure of alcohol prohibition in the 20s (which was not ratcheted). One could even cite the recent explosion of marijuana decriminalization and "medical marijuana" legalization on state levels, show how the tactic can get used by both sides in the same fight.


without thinking this through solidly, just throwing stuff out there:

laws went from seat belts optional, to seat belts required, to car seats required for infants to now, in many states including NJ, booster seats required until age eight.

I think drunk driving laws were implemented this way, bit by bit.

And I think ratcheting would be a great way to get more hospitals to become Baby Friendly Hospitals --- though there, the announcements have already been made and the bar set quite high.

In parenting, this process is often called shaping. If I can get my six year old to run up and interrupt by saying, "May I interrupt please!" it is slightly better than running up while I'm in the middle of a conversation and starting off by talking to us about whatever is on his mind. And I have hope that he will, in the future, learn to be silent while approaching the conversation, and wait for a natural break to then ask if it's OK to interrupt.

I don't have a specific example that isn't the one in this Daily Kos article, but the magic phrase to Google for is probably Overton Window.

An interesting direction you could integrate into this is the usage of the word "ratcheting" versus "slippery slope."


You know, I agree that the right used ratcheting very successfully here, but I believe that it was so successful in part *because* of the emphasis on marriage as a word specifically. As far as I can tell the right won the marriage debate hands down (and still does mostly) because the attempt went something like.

"You know that word you always thought meant marriage of a man and a woman. Well, you don't know what you're talking about. It means any two same sex people too."

As Tom described, this gave the right the ability to ratchet so successfully because they could make the argument to push from marriage *downward* easily. Since the majority didn't want same sex marriage, the right could easily say "Well, maybe we'd consider domestic partnership, but marriage is out of the question" And even when DP was the outcome the right was able to emphasize something like "They won't be satisfied with anything less than corrupting marriage anyway so we can't let them even keep DP" and so the ratchet continues.

Ratcheting works best when people believe the first argument, in this case that people shouldn't be allowed to marry members of the same sex.

Here's an example of how we could have used ratcheting to go *with* the majority:
(Not an option anymore because the debate is already so well framed as pro and anti same sex marriage)

Start with an appeal to fairness (which Americans support, even for gays):
Same sex couples shouldn't pay less/more taxes than married couples!

Maybe even link it to the social change wrt marriage and living together:
Married people shouldn't have to pay more/get away with less taxes than singles!

Move on to other mandates or even directly to pushing domestic partnerships with all rights of marriage, preferable for same and opposite sex people.

At the same time start to loosen the marriange/government link:
Make the government stay out of the church! Keep the government from telling us we have to have licenses and stuff to get married. That's interfering with a preacher's rights. Why should a JP have the right to do something that only a preacher should be able to do (marry people)

Modest steps relatively popular with the American people and harder to counter without seeming like a jerk, but eventually resulting in the same (better!) result.

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