Politics Is For Power

Subtitled ‘How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action, and Make Real Change” the book by Eitan Hersh mad some useful observations:

When ordinary Americans volunteer in politics, they are trying to acquire power. Each voter they convince is a small piece of that power. Accumulated votes translate into politicians and policies advancing their values. (pages 2-3)

What I’m doing I call political hobbyism, a catchall phrase for consuming and participating in politics by obsessive news-following and online “slacktivision,” by feeling the need to offer a hot take for each daily political flare-up, by emoting and arguing and debating, almost all of this from behind screens or with earphones on. I am in good company: these behaviors represent most of the ways that most “politically engaged” Americans spend their time in politics. (page 3)

Summing up the time we spend on politics, it would be hard to describe our behavior as seeking to influence our communities or country. Most of us are engaging to satisfy our own emotional needs and intellectual curiosities. That’s political hobbyism. (page 4)

Our collective treatment of politics as if it were a sport affects how politicians behave. (page 4)

Hobbyism is a serious threat to democracy because it is taking well-meaning citizens away from pursuing power. The power vacuum will be filled. (page 5)

The increased number of media choices has not only revealed that we demand outrage and celebrity political gossip, but thaat we do not demand news about our local communities. (page 18)

People who are otherwise intelligent will even suspend their commitment to the truth for the sake of the team. (page 31)

Most democracies do not have primaries such as ours, in which ordinary voters vet candidates for their party’s endorsement. We have only had this system since 1972. Before that, as in other countries, political insiders had a strong say in which candidate ran as the endorsed candidate of their party. In our current system, candidates are not vetted at all by party leaders. they are only vetted by primary voters. (page 49)

Without the input of a party’s leaders, primary voters could be seduced by inexperienced celebrities and demagogues, [Nelson] Polsby waned in the eighties, and not because the voters are incompetent but because they get sucked into the sport of politics….The primary system we have is perfectly designed to delight the political junkie, by creating valuable media events, and porrly designed for vetting future presidents. (page 50)

Academics refer to this behavior as postmaterialist. For citizens whose material needs – food, shelter, health – are met, politics can be focused on frivolous and nonmaterial issues. Politics can be more of a game (page 62)

Why do we argue online and share articles? We do this not necessarily to convince anyone but to convey an image of ourselves and to pass the time in an intellecutal-ish way. (page 63)

This asymmetry puts Democrats at a disadvantage. Not motivated by their own bottom line, Democratic donors instead have to be motivated by ideology, issues, or even by the entertainment value that a donation provides. For entertainment value, state legislative races and other low-level offices don’t offer donors much. Maybe this is a reason that over the last decade, Republicans more than Democrats have invested in the offices that, however small and unexciting, are the key to congressional redistricting and consequential state policies. (page 80)

Unsure of their own voices, unable to hold a tune, they carry a phonograph or a radio set with them even on a picnic: afraid to be alone with their own thoughts, afraid to confront the blankness and inertia of their own minds, they turn on the radio and eat and talk and sleep to the accompaniment of a continuous stimulus from the outside world: now a band, now a bit of propaganda, now a piece of public gossip called news. Lewis Mumford, 1934 (page 85)

In short, when people engage in politi8cal hobbyism, power is often the topic; power is the reason that politics is exciting to them. In contrast, when people do politics, power is not just a topic, it’s the goal. (page 93)

In shallow hobbies, we are emphatically not being relied upon. When people quit Facebook, nobody likely calls them up or sends an email to convey concern or disappointment that they are no longer offering their political hot takes. The relationships are not serious enough that anyone would care to make such a call. That no one is relying on you is a great sign that the activity you are doing is a shallow hobby. (page 105)

The first reason hobbyism is a problem is that our small actions, when aggregated, affect how leaders behave. Politicians want to keep their activist base engaged, the core supporters who will vote for them in primary elections (or vote for their opponents if they stray off base) and donate. When we indulge our attraction to drama, they respond by acting dramatically. Politicians who lack the taste for drama are replaced by those who do have a taste for it. Our actions seem small and harmless, but their reactions to our actions are not small or harmless. Email solicitation strategies are the tip of the iceberg. (pages 110-1)

Several conservative analysts agree with this, arguing Kavanaugh would not have been seated if Democrats hadn’t filibustered Gorsuch. (page 114)

Democratic politicians look at their voters and see a group that is liberal and racially diverse and younger; Republicans see their voters as conservative and white and older. And while most of these voters have moderate – or just vague and ill-informed – policy positions, the vocal core supporters who vote3 in primaries, follow the news, and fund campaigns are not moderate at all. By 2015, about 90 percent of Americans who called themselves strong Democrats or strong Republicans reported feeling well represented by their political parties. For independents, even those who say they lean toward a party, fewer than half say their views are well represented. (page 118)

We are attracted to forms of politics that are entertaining and provocative and that elicit our moral outrage. New Media technologies and laws elevate our emotional reactions and reward politicians who cater to them. In the halls of Congress and on the campaign trail, politicians behave badly, even act against their own side’s policy goals and long-term political interests, because the people who pay the most attention to them demand that they behave like stubborn, outraged children. (page 126)

Organizers tend to develop generous hearts for those who are trying to engage because they themselves know how hard it is to have real impact. (page 131)

[I]t’s useful to distinguish hobbyist actions that are focused on news consumption from those focused on token behaviors such as signing an online petition or changing your social media profile picture to a rainbow flag. The latter represents a class of behaviors that has been labeled slacktivism – a king of activity, usually done online, that is merely symbolic. (page 138)

[O]ne reason why organizations are so weak is that they are operating in a culture of privilege that, in spite of our serious national problems, fails to treat politics as if lives are on the line. (page 147)

Left-leaning advocacy organizations that grew up beginning in the 1970s tended to focus on “postmaterialist” issues, issues related to the environment and tolerance. They placed much less emphasis on bread-and-butter economic issues facing the working class, on economic inequality, on job training….The obvious reason why the professional class in the Democratic Party would focus more on environmental and social issues instead of economic ones is that their class interests aren’t aligned with those of working-class Democrats on economic issues. (page 178)

In immigrant communities, political mobilization happens not through the lethargic political parties, which generally no longer see their role as serving those in need, but in local community organizations, which help families facing legal issues, health issues, and work issues. (page 193)

The tight relationship between community service and political power is nothing new. It’s obvious to everyone except the political hobbyists. Your community has needs. You meet those needs directly by providing service and indirectly by amassing political power. To amass power in a democracy, you meet the needs of people and show them you care so they will give you their votes and their voices when you call upon them to act. (page 194)

 

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by skip3house on February 24, 2020 at 9:10 am

    ASK why cruel regressive school property tax is part of Housing Costs…? Should only be based on Ability-To-Pay, not assessment value. That includes Rebates, too. Why collect taxes, THEN refund them a year later?

    Reply

  2. Posted by skip3house on February 24, 2020 at 9:11 am

    SCREW the extra pension payments! Dunstan McNichol (and other Star Ledger letters…..} warned of this about 20 years ago……NJEA response was ‘a promise is better than nothing’….this from those teaching our kids…..!

    Reply

  3. […] are killing them. Men need to drop their tools and pick up others. We’re going to have to get more-involved in politics as unpleasant as that sounds. The Left has achieved everything they’ve wanted despite starting out as a despised minority […]

    Reply

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