Friday, December 07, 2012

One man's (mis)understanding of politics

By Richard K. Barry

Political prognosticator Stuart Rothenberg is a smart guy. I'm sure of that. But maybe he should take a step away from what he does for a living to reconsider his own understanding of politics. In a recent piece in Roll Call he argues that it might be good if we all took a break from politics:

Politics is fun, interesting and important, but at the end of the day, it is merely a way of picking the folks who have to make difficult decisions about public policy — including the fiscal cliff, tax reform, entitlements, the Middle East and immigration reform.

Those with some benefit of formal education in political science might recognize this view as the theory of democratic elitism. Politics is about electing decision makers. Once that job is done we are all encouraged to sit back while they do their job until the next time we have to decide on a potentially new set of decision makers, or perhaps choose to keep the same ones.

This is a common view, but I don't share it. I would suggest that electing a set of leaders is only a first step. The steps to follow include strongly encouraging your political allies to do what they said they would do and point out the failings of your political opponents to the extent that it helps make a case for the promotion of your values.

Perhaps Mr. Rothenberg meant to say that we should all take a break from electoral politics, and on that he could be right. But politics, as the pursuit of creating the kind of society in which we would like to live,  is much more than that and something we should be doing all the time.

Okay, maybe just a few weeks off.

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