Thursday, June 29, 2017

Actually, Mr. Lasswell, It's The Other Way Around

A few weeks ago, a graduate student at the London School of Economics named Charles Lasswell had an essay published in TIME magazine chastising the Democratic Party for not making the most of its current state of powerlessness, by not going beyond the we're-not-Trump banner to describe how they would actually lead the nation if they once again had the opportunity to do it.  Playing it safe--and, worst of all, from Mr. Lasswell's perspective, relentlessly mimicking the end-of-history, capitalism-is-all framework of politics from the 1990s--is not going to extract the Democrats or the country as a whole from the rut into which the current President is driving us.

I'm inclined to agree with much of what Mr. Lasswell has to say, at least on the surface.  In particular, I appreciate his noting the fact that more young people voted for Bernie Sanders than for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump combined.  It reinforces my thesis that politics, more than anything else, is generational.  The Obama campaigns, and subsequently the Sanders campaign, were the voices of a new generation, one with a renewed faith in the power of government to make the lives of the governed better, and with a deep appreciation of the urgency in our present condition to unleash that power more fully.

Where Mr. Lasswell goes astray, however, in discussing politics as entirely or fundamentally as a top-down process.  To borrow from and paraphrase another president who did much to inspire young people, ask not what the Democratic Party can do for you; ask what you can do for the Democratic Party.

And what you can do for the Democratic Party is this:  pay Republican voters the compliment of imitating their political behavior, by getting involved with party politics on an everyday basis. That's how democracy works best, when the process is as close as possible to the people who are most affected by it.  That means stop paying Jill Stein the compliment of only showing up every four years. Frankly, it means more than showing up at the polls every two years.

It means getting involved in the day-to-day mechanics of party operations and decision making.  It means getting involved in government at the least sexy levels, like school boards (the ones that decide whether your children will be studying fantasy or reality).  It means some very old-school, but very effective tools called hard work and sacrifice.  It means getting away from the virtual reality of social media (yes, me too; blogging's not enough) and into the actual reality of the political process. It means compromise, disappointment, and the occasional loss.  As Winston Churchill once said, it's the worst system in the world.  Except for all the others.

The Democrats don't need to be lectured, Mr. Lasswell.  They need to be engaged.  So get going, you and your generational colleagues.  Your country and your future need you.  NOW.

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