Thursday, September 24, 2009

Is American Politics REALLY Worse Than Ever ??? -- Part I

I have asked myself this question and now will attempt to answer it. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

Is American politics worse than ever? Probably not. Buying votes with cash, coal or whiskey was a long-standing tradition. Crass corruption and trading of favors ("log rolling") were rife and unrepentant - think of the Hayes-Tilden election of 1876 and the Compromise of 1877>link<.

What, if anything, is worse than ever about American politics?
  • Civility - Nah! - There is far more civility in modern politics than there has been since the founding-fathers retired from politics. This is not all to the good. It reflects a pact among incumbents to protect each other - to their own profit and to the detriment of responsive, responsible government.
  • Educational Context - Eh - High-school graduates used to have better education in English and history than college-graduates have today . . .however, a larger percentage of the population has these diminished skills now than at any time except 1940-1980 (when the percentage of high-school graduates crested while educational content declined).
  • Literacy - Hmm - The complexity of public discourse is much simplified, compared to any previous period in American history.
  • Media Behavior  - Simplify, then Exaggerate! has always been the motto of the "yellow" press. Print media have almost always been driven by profit-pressures of advertising, so that radio and, later, television, have only maintained the same set of behaviors - seeking readers/listeners/viewers by whatever means possible.
  • Media Bias - Most metropolitan areas now have only one newspaper. The perspective of most reporting is therefore less challenged and more conformist.
  • Media Technology - The internet as a news source, Facebook, Twitter and Lord-knows-what-comes-next make news more accessible, faster, cheaper and more varied. For some, this makes a wider range of views accessible while, for others, it permits a more narrow, more parochial view.
  • Span of attention - A lifetime of news factoids and commercials has left nearly all of us with impaired powers of attention and critical analysis.
  • Power of Special Interests - $$$ - As long as there has been government, there have been special interests attempting to influence that government. The larger and more powerful the government, the larger and more corrupting the efforts of special interests. Eisenhower warned of the "military-industrial complex" that had developed out of World War II. The subsidies and rules that protect Big Ag and Big Pharm have become part of the fabric of American life. Are special interests worse now than ever . . .or are their resurgence and detriment now more visible?
Some Conclusions:

It is tempting to opine that what is worse than ever about American politics actually the failure of our education system to produce citizens with a sufficient grasp of history, civics and rhetoric - leaving voters prey to all manner of legerdemain.

One might say that American politics is no worse than ever and that our crisis, if there is a crisis, is the lack of a coherent view of the future. Those who lived through the Cold War, the Kennedy & King assassinations, the Civil Rights Movement and the Viet Nam War can tell the rest of us about lack of a coherent future. Closer to the truth is the abiding, patent, smarmy conspiracy of politicians to say one thing and do another, yielding lack of coherence the way the circus magician makes the elephant disappear before 20 guys in overalls push the empty box off the stage.

So some things are worse and some things are better and some things are just different. So what?

The answer to "So what?" is in Part II -
to be found at Memetics & Marketing, here