Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Meditations on the Presidential Race 08 (Part II)

In Part I of this blog post I posed this question to myself:
Politicians don’t get elected in a vacuum—actual people vote for them and do so in the hope that once elected, that they will do something for them and represent their interests. If my brand of politics, political party, or politicians isn’t represented in the halls of power, it hardly logically follows that the political system has failed ordinary people. Perhaps all it means is I am a fringe kind of guy and my views are not palatable enough for the mainstream to rise above the level of the fringes.

I have often wondered why the politicians I like and the political expressions that move me don’t seem to get any mass traction. I liked the idea of a US Labor Party, for example, yet for the past decade and a half it has existed it hasn’t really taken off like I thought it would. The masses just aren’t moved in great numbers into buying into the types of ideologies and organizations that are designed to get them to “fight the system.”

That is, until election time—that one time every some number of years when our political leaders turn to the citizenry and appeal to them for support. This is when peoples’ desires for politicians to be more responsive to their concerns suddenly come to the forefront of the national discussion. And this is the time you get professional politicians—stalwart guardians of the Establishment—take on the rhetoric and imagery of reformers and revolutionaries.

This is when you see the citizenry pinning their hopes and political desires to politicians who promise “change” and who promise to “fight the establishment” and represent the interests of the Little People.

Take a close look at how politicians craft their campaign communications. Most, if not all, will couch their appeals in terms of being a man or woman of just plain folks. Most won’t couch their appeals in terms of representing the interests of big corporations, lobbyists, the rich and the powerful. Yet between election years everyone knows and complains that politicians and the political system are in the pockets of the rich, the corporations, lobbyists, etc. How can that be with so many reformers elected into office?

This is why I am really not that excited about the 2008 Presidential race. Because no matter who wins, no one is really expecting anyone to fulfill their campaign promises to reform or fix what is wrong with the political system. I don’t doubt the sincerity of people like John McCain, Barack Obama and John Edwards who built their platforms on a populist appeal and anti-establishment sentiments. I just doubt their ability to carry out their campaign promises given the nature of the office they are running for.

The politics that will excite me doesn’t exist in the US in any large scale. It has nothing to do with electing people to office. It has everything to do with realizing the potential of ordinary people to participate in the system of democratic participation and to carry out a platform and agenda of advocating for their own interests. If this makes me a fringe type of guy, then so be it.

Cross-posted in An Ordinary Person


Brian said...

I don't think American "voters" have that much influence on electing these people. However THE MEDIA does....by setting the national agenda, and establishing who the favorite candidates are going to be. Then they focus their coverage on shaping public opinion to support the media favorite. This is how Americans so often end up voting against their own interests. The media is powerful....one of the most powerful institutions in the Country.

As far as the politicians are concerned-- Once in office, they can't get out of the grip of the Corporations because no one wants to break the mold and completely revamp the Washington culture. It will require a fundamental change in how elections are carried out (including regulating media during campaign season), how elections are funded, how legislation is drafted, and it will mean putting considerable restrictions on lobbyists. That will require serious legislation, and rules changes.

No one has been willing to fundamentally change the system so far. What McCain, and Obama are talking about doesn't even begin to scratch the surface. Just last week, Obama was touting his effort to prevent lobbyist from buying meals for Senators... My response was BIG .... DEAL. I don't care about Senators not being able to get free lunch, when the Lobbyists still have open access to Congress and still write legislation.

And Clinton is an establishment candidate who won't change a damn thing.

Until there is an effort to make fundamental changes to the Washington culture, nothing else is going to change for the Country. And as long as politicians can get favors from the corporations (including high paying jobs), they will have little incentive to reform.

Anonymous said...


I could write 25 Blog posts to discuss the phenomenon of yesterday’s New Hampshire Primary. I could also write another 5 Blog Posts on why I know support Barack Obama. But I will give only two reasons for now: I WILL DEFEND ANY BLACK MAN WHO MEANS WELL FOR HIS PEOPLE FROM THE PERNICIOUS HYPOCRISY OF WHITE LIBERAL RACISM!! ALSO, I WILL FIGHT WITH TRUE GRIT TO ERASE THE NOTION IN THE MINDS OF BLACK AMERICA THAT THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY HAS THEIR BEST INTERESTS AT HEART!


Thought Merchant
Politics and commentary for todays thinking person of color
“Better to sell an idea than to buy a lie!”

redante said...

Hello AI

In order to bring about serious reform as the ones you propose--media reform, election reform, new legislation, etc--there needs to be a groundswell of support from the masses of people in order to put these on the national agenda. Yet without some form of widespread and balanced media exposure and effective organizing, such a groundswell is unlikely to happen.

I find Presidential elections always interesting because it is the one time in US culture where this idea that ordinary people can reform the system by the act of voting gains widespread traction and motivates people to donate a lot of their time, money and effort to participate.

What I find baffling is that other than these rituals we go through as citizens every four years, that these sentiments really aren't given meaningful expression in any widespread, mass-scale way. I don't necessarily lay the blame solely on the media for that but on us as citizens for setting the bar for what satisfies our democratic needs so low.

It is like give us a chance to air out our feelings and emotions for reform every four years or so (but without really delivering substantive reform) and we are satisfied with that. But demanding real, substantive reform--well, most people can't be bothered or don't even know such types of efforts exist.

Most Americans don't know and probably don't care about real reform efforts like the National Popular Vote, Instant Runoff Voting, or organizations like Fairvote for example. One promising effort that seems to be gaining a lot of traction lately is the effort to organize independents led by the CUIP.

Ricketson said...

Hi Liberal Arts Dude and all,

I think that the Angry Independent is right in pointing out the massive influence of the media, but I think that this is inevitable in any electoral system.

This problem arises from the fact that few, if any, Americans are really capable of voting effectively. Think of how complicated this decision is: we can't make an informed decision without knowing both how the government works (in reality, not just on paper) and knowing how each candidate would influence the government if they were elected. This decision is probably too complicated for anybody, let alone the regular citizen.

First, the regular citizen has very little understanding of how the government works and it really isn't worthwhile for him to learn. A few of us geeks bother to study the government, but that is more of an obsession than a rational strategy for improving the world.

Second, the regular citizen has no direct knowledge of these candidates--all of our information is second or third-hand, and it is often heavily biased.

Basically, we're faced with a complicated, artificial choice, and we have paltry information on which to base our decisions. And to reiterate, the benefit of a good vote does not even come close to compensating us for all the effort required to make a semi-informed decision...so why should we bother, and why should election results have any connection to the real interests of the American people?