The Informed Citizen (An Endangered Species)

The American Family Gazette

Volume I, 0904

 

 

Sir . .  a question, if I may:

Are you kinda mad?   KInda disappointed?  Kinda fed up with all the bull-shit we seem to get from the “trust me” promises from our politicians, to no avail once the elections are over?  Lost—or are you losing— faith in government?  Everybody has an opinion (just read the papers, listen to the radio or watch the TV).  Everyone seems to know what’s wrong.  Yet no one seems interested in improving our perceived situation with government.  Yeah, we know we have problems, but best we just keep “muddling through,” seems to be the political view of most. All we have to do is to vote-in the other party come the next election.  Well, we’ve seen the difference that game of musical chairs makes!   

So let me ask you, how’s your particular political Satisfaction Index? How many more straws do you think we can toss on the old camel’s back?

What do you mean, “How’s my political Satisfaction Index?” What’s that?

Well, it’s a measure of your personal satisfaction, or lack thereof, with our political (and governmental) situation here in the Country at the moment, like right now.  You know, from “I don’t like it at all” to I like it pretty much.” I ask you some questions about what’s going on in Washington and elsewhere and you give me your opinion which we can quantify on a scale with zero being like in the dumps and ten being really good?

About a two, I’d say.

Really?  That low, and I haven’t even asked you any questions?

Yeah.

Is this because of some specific issue or piece of news of late, or has this “dissatisfaction” (as indicated by your low scoring of two out of a possible ten) been hanging on for some time?

Been hanging on for some time.

Anything you can put your finger on causing it?

Government.

Government?

Yeah. 

Can you pinpoint or narrow down the problem a little more specifically than that?

Politics.

So, politics and government are causing you this down-in-the-dumps feelings about our present national situation, is that right?

Yeah.

I see.  And is this just a general impression of how things are going, or is there a couple of specific items you aren’t happy with?  Are you a republican that is unhappy to see the democrats in control?  Is that it?

No. Doesn’t make any difference which party is in power. It’s a matter of governability

Governability?

Yeah.

That’s a pretty abstract answer.

Yeah.

All right; can I ask you to hold that thought, and let me ask you some of my questions here for your political Satisfaction Index.  You say your unscientific Index is about a two at the moment, lets test that. I have five questions I want to ask you.  You give me an answer from one to ten depending upon your opinion, okay?

Okay.

Do you think that quite a few of the people running the government are crooked, not very many are, or do you think hardly any of them are crooked?

Not many

How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington to do what’s right—just about always, most of the time or only some of the time?

That’s harder to answer. Who decides what “right means?”

In this case, it’s your opinion.

Okay, then I would have to say “some of the time.”

Do you have deep faith in government’s competence to solve the country’s problems?

Under today’s political c
onditions, no.

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job?

Disapprove . . .  mostly.

Finally, do you think our present two-party political system is capable of providing the American people with good government?

Yes, and no.

That won’t do.  I need a simple yes or no.

You’re not going to get one with the way that question is worded.

What do you mean?

I mean it’s a double-barreled question.

How so?

Are you asking if our two-party political system is capable of delivering good government, or are you asking if the two parties presently dominant in the system are capable of doing so.  My answer is that, yes, the system is capable of doing so; no, the current dominant parties are not capable of doing so.

Yes, I see what you mean.

Yeah.  There’s a difference, a big difference. A difference we would find difficult to change, and yet one we should be able to change with a minimum of systemic upheaval.

You seem to know a bit about these issues.

Yeah.  I’m sort of that hard to spot American.

What’s that?

An informed citizen. 

Really?

Yeah.

Is that supposed to make you smarter than the rest of us?

In some ways, yeah.

Such as?

Who’s your congressman?

My congressman?

Yeah.

Ah, well, right at the moment his name escapes me, but I know he’s a republican.  I think this is his first term.  Actually, I didn’t vote for him.

And I suppose you consider yourself “informed.”Well, don’t feel too bad. That’s not atypical.  Few of us keep abreast of politics and government operations.  Most of us aren’t political “junkies.’  We’ve got too much other important matters to attend to and things to think about right here at home.  The problem with that is that those anointed ones in D.C. know of our antipathy toward government, our ignorance of both who they are and generally what they are doing.  That emboldens those we choose to govern us to ignore most of us, to great a degree—except come election times.

That’s a pretty cynical view.

Yeah.

I’m curious about that reason you mentioned a bit ago about it not making any difference which political party is in power, the government is the way it is because of governability. What do you mean by governability, that the country is ungovernable?

No, that’s not quite it. Wait a minute while I get you a definition of what I mean.

You carry around a political dictionary with you?

No.  It’s just some notes in my Blackberry; kinda a diary I keep around to jot down my thoughts on this and other matters as and where they come to me.  Kinda like senior citizens’ memory:  you know, if I don’t write it down, poof, it’s gone!  Okay, here it is:

Governability was a political concept, kind of a theory developed and circulated around in the 1970’s. It suggested that advanced industrial countries were becoming ungovernable, or at least more difficult to govern. The concept was never clearly developed but centered on the idea that, as the range of problems that the government was expected to deal with had increased, its capacity to solve them had been reduced. Government had become more ineffective because its ability to secure compliance with its policies had diminished. This was partly because of the intractability of the problems facing government, and excessive citizen expectations—recall that this was the generally very liberal era of the 1970’s— but also reflected resistance to government authority from a variety of groups, notably strong interest groups, like unions, in many countries (especially in England).

As the 1980’s rolled around, a conservative wave in some countries, namely in England and the USA, seemed to mute this feeling. Governments of a greater center-right (or strong right) orientation demonstrated a willingness both to reduce the functions of the state and to reassert their authority.  This may have been the situation in England, but I don’t believe such reversal occurred to the same extent here in the United States. In my looking at our situation, I tend to see, with perhaps a diminished rate of advance, that the same factors that gave rise to this fuzzy theory in the 1970’s are present in ever-increasing intensity in America: The problems that government is expected to deal with continue to increase—everyone looks to Washington to solve all kinds of problems and disputes. The pressures on politics and government from powerful special-interest groups show no abating. And the expectations of the people
continue excessive. On top of this, we have a political arena defined by what you might describe as hyper-partisanship stirring the pot to keep it boiling, so to speak.

That’s about it in a nutshell.  Any questions?

I’m not sure. That’s kinda a lot to take in (do you always take such detailed notes on things?).  So, let me see: if I understood what you just told me, you are indeed saying we are ungovernable.

No, that’s not really the conclusion I would draw, or at least not absolutely.

What do you mean by that?

It’s more that under today’s political conditions, government is not able to do the job most of us expect—just look at the results of those political satisfaction results of yours: Americans’ satisfaction with the job congress is doing, about 12%; faith in government to always do the right thing, about 25%; belief in government’s ability to solve our problems, less than 30%.  By our responses to these questions, we indicate both our distrust of and our lack of confidence in government—by either of our two parties. One guy who does a lot of that automated phone polling says that only about 23% o the people in this country believe today’s federal government has the consent of the governed (Scott Rasmussen, WSJ 8/21/10). That’s hardly an endorsement of government of, by and for the People, in the peoples’ opinion, is it?  What I’m saying is that an awfully lot of Americans, apparently most or at least a plurality of Americans, don’t seem very happy with the results of government, for which they believe they pay a hefty price.

What do you think?

I think they’re right. Admittedly, most of these numbers, these conclusions about our opinions, are only from samples of people polled, but if the polling is broad enough and professionally done, there’s probably a good deal of validity in what they are indicating, and they seem to be pretty clearly indicating people are not happy with the actions and results of government. And it doesn’t seem to be a one-off situation.  It’s becoming a chronic condition: We elect our government leaders, they proceed to govern (to the degree our adversarial political structure allows them to do so), and few seem happy with the results. How long can or should such a situation go on?

Well, do you think there is anything that can be done to correct, or at least improve, this situation, or is this as good as it gets; I mean, are we just plain screwed? And seems to me if the answer is we’re screwed, it’s not only politically but economically and socially as well, in the longer term

Yeah.

What a day!

Yeah.

Well, thank you for your time. . . . . .

Ya gotta wonder—or at least I do— has America reached that point in its muddling through approach to progress where it has plateaued-out on a plain of un-governability, as our laconic friend describes?   Are our problems too big and our expectations of government too unrealistic?  It’s an open question, but I suspect his description of our political situation has merit, at least on the surface.  Much of what he describes is visible to most observers, like it or not. We complain that government has gotten too big, too intrusive into our lives, and in the next breath we insist government do more. Talk about mixed signals.

 And to emphasize this, just look at those poll results we were talking about.  No question, we taxpayer-voter-citizens are not happy with government, and the results of government.  But as we indicated, it doesn’t seem to be a matter of which political party we put in office.  Little of substance seems to change; little progress, as most of us would define it, simply doesn’t happen. Is there any wonder our frustration indexes are off the scale!

Is there anything that we non-political elites can do about (our) situation here?  Must we simply continue to accept what is dished out to us? Maybe; maybe not.  There are two rules regarding governing we want to look at in this connection here.  The first is “Divide and conquer.”The other is “There is power in numbers.”  Our politicians are adept at employing both of these to argue their cases.  Note I did not say, “Fight their battles.” As a point of personal ethics, I will not concede that we here in America must “fight each other” for the right to legitimately govern everybody. This is a mind-set with our politicians, and perhaps some others as well, that needs to be corrected. We may debate, argue, dispute, challenge, try to influence or defend a political, social or economic position, but we must recognize that this must not degenerate into a “fight.  If fight we must over these issues, then the gravitational force keeping us one country, one people, politically, is in great peril. ”Fighting is non-rational behavior to be employed only on occasions of mortal issues.  Politics (to non-politicians) is not a mortal issue.

If this sounds naive, then so be it. Machiavelli, still admired by some, was describing politics in pre-modern democratic situations.  We are not, nor do we want to be, governed by princes.  We are governed by those among us who pledge to govern in our best interests, not simply theirs.  Power, while important and the end of the game of politics is limited today by the ultimate say of those governed, at the ballot box.  I grant you this ultimate power of late appears somewhat diluted; it is not as effective as it should be, to the detriment of all of us generally.  But it is there, and can be “the power in numbers” that it sho
uld be. There are a number of issues that we, as voters, have to face up to in this connection, and it’s time, nay past time, for someone to lay this all out for all to see, consider and make their judgment on.

“Yeah!”

TRH
9/09

 

 

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