I think Marc Cooper puts his finger on the most serious problem the left is facing today, how to motivate and expand the activist base. Ultimately blaming the system is not enough alone; and I think it is true that all too many progressives treat the movement as therapy rather than as a serious mission to which blood, sweat and tears must be devoted. I have no clear answers, but Cooper's post raises some pretty depressing questions.

 
 

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Room Service, Please

via Marc Cooper by Marc Cooper on 8/3/11

Sorry but true. The overwhelming percentage of Americans relate to politics the same way hotel guests relate to room service (not an original thought. Lewis Lapham came up with it about 20 years ago in an essay I can’t find).  We vote for politicians the same way we choose a hotel room and then we wait to be waited on.

If service isn’t up to snuff, if our needs are not attended to with the deference we expect, we lodge a complaint at the front desk and then next time we choose a different place to stay.  Unlike two decades ago when Lapham wrote the piece I have in mind, one thing has changed.

After our respective disappointment, just as hotel guests write a nasty Yelp review, we  can now also write a derogatory post: We have been gypped, dissed, betrayed, sold a bill of goods. Horrors!

Now, there are truly bad hotels and even worse politicians. And both room guests and and voters have a sacred right to bitch.  But, folks, there’s a world of difference between a consumer and a citizen.

I am not offloading the weakness of our political leadership onto the shoulders of an already burdened citizenry. Yet, the republic is ours, if only we can keep it.

There are some, few, Americans who get actively involved in politics. Too few. And some of them, I fear, are engaged more for therapeutic reasons rather than in any real attempt to build organization and constituencies.

So among all of our disappointments, let’s not please relieve the masses of their own responsibilities.  If the Kardashians or the Patriots really are more important in their lives than medical care and a dignified retirement, then why should any politician stick his or her neck out to show real and courageous leadership? Just exactly to which powerful constituency would he or she be responding?

It’s very easy to get on the Web and post a negative review of this or that elected leader. “Hey, I voted for this guy based on the brochure he offered but then he really screwed me. The bed was uncomfortable, the wall were too thin, the meals were over-priced and the glass was half-empty. I am one real dissatisfied customer and I recommend that none of you ever vote for this guy in the future. Spend your money elsewhere.”

OK, now consider this… consider WHO actually got up off the sofa last week and actually mobilized to participate, albeit minimally, in the national debt “debate.”  The Pew Center has all the stats.  A friend writes with a quick summary of them:

The Pew Research Center for People and the Press offers a clue today into why the battle in Washington to raise the debt ceiling ended up with a deficit-reduction deal that would just cut spending with no increase in taxes. Those who wanted budget cuts paid the most attention. In the last week in July, the story accounted for 47% of the news coverage in newspapers, TV, radio and the Internet; that was appropriate at a time when 41% of all adults considered it the most riveting development according to Pew’s weekly survey of public interest in the news. But if you look more closely, you’ll find that 66% of Republicans and supporters of the Tea Party closely tracked the budget negotiations vs 34% of those who held different views or had no opinion. What’s more, about 20% of the Tea Party supporters contacted an elected official. Only 5% of those who disagreed with the group did so. Interestingly, young people — who had the most at stake in the debate — were least motivated to try to influence the outcome. Only 19% of adults between 18 and 29 followed the story closely and 1% contacted an elected official. By contrast, about 54% of people over 50 kept up with the budget debate with 16% contacting an official. Pew’s findings come from a telephone poll of about 1,000 adults (including both landline and cell customers) and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

What does that tell you? A lot, IMHO.

We certainly saw John Boehner capitulate to the pressure from the tea-baggers. To what pressure were the Democrats exposed?

I understand quite well the alienation that Americans and, especially, young people feel about the political process.  That’s not a good enough excuse, however, to let the country go to hell in a handbasket.

In the meantime, Please Do Not  Disturb.

 

 


 

 

 

 


 
 

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