Friday, October 8, 2010

The Chicken or The Egg: Blaming....someone...

Matt Steinglass has a post up in Democracy in Action discussing Obama's pocket veto of a once uncontroversial piece of mortgage-related legislation. He gets into a defense of the intelligence of elected officials, but I think he gets off track when he says:

These people [member of Congress] aren't mindlessly partisan carney barkers, but they often play them on TV. Why? My working theory is that it's generally because we, the voters, demand it. We're frequently angry, and we're not very smart.

Slow down. I just can't get fully behind this point, and not because I think I'm a pretty smart guy (trust me, I am). My own "working theory" is a media monster that constantly needs fed and the degradation of professional journalism into a horse-race, process-centric smörgåsbord/trough that the monster can feed at. The gaffe, the audacious, indeed the irrational is sexy. The actual policy is tedious, plodding, and boring. Can you imagine watching Morning Joe (I watch at the gym. Yes the gym. Seriously.) for 3 hours in the morning where there is mostly a reasoned discussion of specific policy choices? Mika would fall asleep. Joe would run out of things to say (maybe).

But Stienglass doesn't stop there, he continues:

Rather, I think one of the things you have to recognize about politics is that it's to a great extent composed of very smart people forcefully saying things they know aren't true, in order to retain the support of the public to do the complicated things they know are actually in the public interest.

Let me get this straight: Our elected officials knowingly say things that aren't true to gain our support so when nobody is looking they can actually serve us. Is that really our reality? No wonder there's a Tea Party and people hate incumbents.

Steinglass presents a vision of the US political scene that makes me want to wave a Gadsden flag (h/t Wikipedia). I refuse to accept that 1) The American people want politicians to dumb it down and 2) Dumbing it down is the way to be reelected.

Am I living in denial? Meh, maybe. I prefer to consider it faith in the ability of our politicians, the media, and the we the people to strive for something better.

1 comment:

Colin said...

I think Steinglass is on to something. It was Churchill, for example, who said that the best argument against democracy was a 5 minute conversation with the average voter. The founding fathers were also skeptics of giving the people too much direct power, which is why we had/have the indirect election of senators and presidents.

You may want to check out Bryan Caplan's book The Myth of the Rational Voter, which is simply outstanding -- and depressing.