Friday, October 14, 2005

Politics As Usual

Clearly the average politician, whether conservative or liberal or somewhere waffling around in the middle, wants to have a hand in crafting what he or she believes is the best possible solution for Americans. They want to help to create the future and after they have done it once or twice it becomes intoxicating and they want to do it more. Solutions to some problems are relatively easy to think about, but others are persistently intractable and are the real source of political double-talk.

Liberals, for instance, have trouble with national defense because they have no natural ideological affinity with the military-industrial complex and generally believe in the international equivalent of the Rule of Law—collective security, hence they are intrinsically war avoiders for ideological and ethical reasons.

When it comes to talking with the electorate almost every politician feels more comfortable saying what he or she thinks the people want to hear and often that is jobs, health care, pensions, quality of life, and homely issues that most politicians realize are not especially complex until you add up the per individual cost for a population of three hundred million persons, which individuals rarely do.

There is an inherent problem in this kind of politics, of course. How is the politician to know in advance of saying anything what the people are thinking about complex subjects. Do they actually go out to the hustings, the trenches of life and work, and actually listen? Or, do they listen to opinion leaders in the localities, or do they read, listen to, and watch the big-time media? Yes. They do all of that!

Good politicians know how to get the pulse of the area they are seeking to represent. They can go down to the ghettos and slums and observe and even listen to the impoverished speak about the lack of jobs for them. They can go uptown and listen to stories about how no one acceptable applies for the low-paying, low-expectations, low-preparation jobs. They can listen to local newscasters, clergy, police, health officials; they can listen to whomever they please, but do they reflect everything they hear in what they say?

Of course not. How could they? What they hear is a garble of conflicting ideas and half-baked notions, a rant of uninformed opinion, an occasional point well made but perhaps inconsistent with other points also well made, a thrum of appetite and ignorance spiced with immaturity, need, want, and all the daily biles and humors of human life on this planet.

Politicians need to hear the movers and shakers of society, for it is among and through these men and women that change is possible or not. Real content for political consideration is gleaned from these active forces in society; accordingly, they have a disproportionate voice in the chorus of democracy, because they are productive while others are not. The key is to understand that this is so and take advantage of it when you speak. If you talk like an opinion leader, they will listen.

Earlier this week we featured Barack Obama of Illinois, a key speaker at the most recent Democratic National Convention in 2004, and darling of many liberal and moderate Democrats. Does Obama represent liberal thought? Is he correct in saying that there is not just "one way" for liberalism? Or should we be more disciplined and define our goals and ideals more vividly and with greater precision? Is Obama's way likely to bring more into the liberal fold, or is it more likely to just add to the endemic dissention?

It is very frustrating for liberals to see themselves in apparent disarray and contesting among ourselves while the opposition sits smugly on their hymnal contract on America. We seem to look indecisive while they look like a drill team of precision and virtue. But, of course, these appearances are wrong, very wrong.

The conservatives are currently trembling in their shoes over the possibility that Karl Rove and "Scooter" Libby will be indicted and forced from the West Wing, that Dick Cheney will be named as an unindicted co-conspirator and his effectiveness will evaporate like the morning mists, that Senate Majority Leader Frist will soon occupy the Martha Steward suite in West Virginia prison for insider trading, that the unequivocally vicious Tom DeLay will be convicted and removed from society altogether. Why are they trembling? It is because a highly disciplined organization like theirs soon loses its ability to think for itself and to respond to rapidly changing circumstances! Bush will be lost without Rove and Cheney, and he knows it.

Part of our liberal frustration is in the seemingly irrational way we select people to run for office. There are probably a dozen Democrats waiting in the wings for a substantial nod from someone with money to begin their trek to the nomination for president. Yet, their chances are slim and none when the press has nothing else to do but ask them for concrete answers to thorny questions during the time they are out in the hustings listening and formulating their campaign positions. The press plays this game deftly with malice aforethought and corporate pleasure.

We liberals tend to forget how raw and unsophisticated the process of selection and of position taking can be. Josh Lyman may have his polls, and know to within a few percentage points what those polled have said on a given day, but it really comes down to the people and what they think on election day. It also comes down to the thousands of grass-roots meetings of candidates with people that take place starting now.

Understand that now is the time that all candidates for seats in the House of Representatives are tuning up their campaigns; remember that one third of the Senate is up for re-election, too. The rest of our politicians are stoking the fires burning the directions they want them to burn, the way they see the people asking them to. They are all out to capture money to fund polls, to ease the intelligence gathering in the trenches, and to pay for all those media ads and the campaign professionals who get a significant cut of all those ads.

You cannot hope to be heard if you are not at least active enough to get out of the house to meet your candidates. You owe them your opinions and your facts. They really do want to hear from you. They need to feel that touch with their constituents. Give them a story to use. Understand the process and use it! The smaller you are, at this point and for a few more months, the more important is your voice. Politicians want to hear you! Write a letter. Speak!

James R. Brett