Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My Heart Sinks as Our Democracy Flounders

I have been away from this blog for several months, as I was with my education blog. The reason, frankly, is sheer frustration. It's great to be able to vent, but when you have something to say but can't find people to listen, at some point you just need to step away. Well its time to step back.

As I begin to blog again, I started asking myself: "Which of these topics are more toxic, inner city education or our political system?" As a former political science and government teacher, I look back in laughter when I think about the sanitized version of our democracy and political process presented in our standard texts. That travesty, when combined with the fact that so few of our adults have even the slightest interest in our government or the rule of law, or know little more than the sound bites they hear on Fox and CNBC, leaves me troubled that our political system has come under the control of a very select group of people, people utterly detached and unaffected by the true needs of the citizenry.

A few years back Jonathan Rauch wrote a wonderfully prescient book titled "Demosclerosis." In it he details the corrupted nature of our legislative process, much of it based on the work of Mancur Olsen, the late political economist whose understanding of law making and the debasing of our institutions is second to none. Both writers deserve a reading by anyone actually reading this.

I am a former Republican, but I left the Party as the influence of the Tea Party became ascendant. The failure of Republican leaders to expel these knuckleheads and thus compel them to form their own 3rd party was a defining moment that will potentially lead the party- at the national level- to become either (or both) inconsequential or dangerous to our future. The current lack of intellectual diversity in the Party makes them irrelevant to a majority of Americans. But, unfortunately, given the way our legislative process works, they have power to affect so many people whose lives they could not give a shit about. Their stridence and refusal to engage in meaningful negotiation and compromise, qualities essential to a functioning democracy, has turned our system into one that simply moves from crisis to crisis.

With so few of the citizenry actually participating in the electoral process, and with a system of gerrymandering that has created a permanent class of representatives, it is hard to be optimistic that our nation will have a stable future.

A main theme in this blog is that the majority of Americans are neither liberal or conservative, even if they may from time to time seem to gravitate in one or the other direction. Americans are centrists, which to me is another way of saying pragmatists. They do not "become" more liberal or more conservative over time, they simply accept the arguments and solutions or either side as the more pragmatic on particular issues.

The gravest problem our political system faces is that, unlike in most other Western societies, we do not have an impartial entity with the power to affect change that will keep our system inclusive. What a joke that the people empowered to change things "for the better" are the same people who are benefitting from the system as it is.

I was captivated by our politics at a very young age after hearing a speech by Hubert Humphrey. Since them I've been a "political animal," whether it is being President of Student Council, heading an interest group at college, working on the campaigns of John Anderson and Ernest Hollings, writing position papers for Congressman Lawrence Coughlin, getting a master's in political science, or staying current by reading books and watching the news. I BELIEVE in representative government, but I also believe that the current state of politics is an absolute travesty.

Democratic forms of government require an "informed consumer;" it is NECESSARY for all young adults to become engaged, civic minded, and well informed. Unfortunately, among the failures of our education system is its failure to prepare the next generation for the demands of democracy. The fact that government and history is required as part of New Jersey's Core Curriculum, but that this curriculum (weak as it is but that's for another day) is nowhere to be found in the State's graduation test makes absolutely no sense, holding neither the teacher or the student accountable for what is actually learned.

This posting has drifted off in many directions, but that simply reflects my concern that the troubles facing our democracy are so broad and deep. In the coming posts I intend to dissect each of these issues and try to offer answers to the critical question: "Does democracy have a future in America?"

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