We’ve Seen This Movie Before…

William Greider, made the same argument that is being made today about the failures of our American democracy, in 1992. It is still relevant.

Who Will Tell the People? The Betrayal of American Democracy was either prescient or we as a nation have lived in denial for 15 years.   Compare the below excerpt with the Jonathan Rauch Atlantic piece.

… As American democracy evolved, multiple balance wheels and self-correcting mechanisms were put in place that encouraged this.  They promoted stability, but they also leave space for intervention and new ideas, reform and change.

These self-correcting mechanisms are such familiar features of politics as the running competition for power between the two political parties, the scrutiny by the press and reform critics, the natural tension inherent in the coequal branches of government, the sober monitor imposed by law and the Constitution, the political energies that arise naturally from free people when they organize themselves for collective expression.  People are counting on these corrective mechanisms to assert themselves again, as they usually have in the past.

The most troubling proposition of this book is that the self-correcting mechanisms of politics are no longer working.  Most of them are still in place and functioning but, for the most part, do not produce the expected results. Some of the mechanisms have disappeared entirely. Some are atrophied or blocked by new circumstances.  Some have become so warped and disfigured that they now concretely aggravate the imbalance of power between the many and the few.

That breakdown describes a democratic problem in its bleakest dimensions: instead of a politics that leads the society sooner or later to confront its problems, American politics has developed new ways to hide from them.

The consequences of democratic failure are enormous for the country, not simply because important public matters are neglected, but because America won’t work as a society if the civic faith is lost. …

 

 

Perhaps We Need Washington Apparatchiks Afterall

Jonathan Rauch’s July 2016 Atlantic Magazine article argues for the lubricating role of strong political party machines to keep the legislative system working and that the good government reforms of the 1960s and 1970s have had unintended consequences.

This challenged several assumptions I held and is worth a serious read.

Chaos syndrome is a chronic decline in the political system’s capacity for self-organization. It begins with the weakening of the institutions and brokers—political parties, career politicians, and congressional leaders and committees—that have historically held politicians accountable to one another and prevented everyone in the system from pursuing naked self-interest all the time. As these intermediaries’ influence fades, politicians, activists, and voters all become more individualistic and unaccountable. The system atomizes. Chaos becomes the new normal—both in campaigns and in the government itself.

Our intricate, informal system of political intermediation, which took many decades to build, did not commit suicide or die of old age; we reformed it to death. For decades, well-meaning political reformers have attacked intermediaries as corrupt, undemocratic, unnecessary, or (usually) all of the above. Americans have been busy demonizing and disempowering political professionals and parties, which is like spending decades abusing and attacking your own immune system. Eventually, you will get sick.

The disorder has other causes, too: developments such as ideological polarization, the rise of social media, and the radicalization of the Republican base. But chaos syndrome compounds the effects of those developments, by impeding the task of organizing to counteract them. Insurgencies in presidential races and on Capitol Hill are nothing new, and they are not necessarily bad, as long as the governing process can accommodate them. Years before the Senate had to cope with Ted Cruz, it had to cope with Jesse Helms. The difference is that Cruz shut down the government, which Helms could not have done had he even imagined trying.

Exit, Voice and Loyalty – Albert O. Hirschman

Albert O. Hirschman – Exit, Voice, and Loyalty.

 

hirschman

Albert Hirschman defined three modes of responding to unresponsive governments that apply to our times too, in his monograph, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty.

I’m choosing “voice.”

Read about Hirschman’s intellectual legacy in Cass Sunstein’s New York Review of Books tribute.