Tuesday, 2 May 2006

Turning Congress & the New Silent Majority

I came of age politically when Richard Nixon was President, and dissent against the Vietnam war and his Presidency was noisy and noticed. Nixon spoke of the "Silent Majority" of Americans who were not outspoken and remained at home, presumably supporting his policies. Noise is more apt to draw attention, and one could sense Nixon's petulant indignation that these objectors got all the press, while regular folk went about their business unnoticed.

The conservative movement which has been building since that time learned that lesson, and has been all about creating noise of a different sort. Like the antiwar movement of the 60's, this one represents a minority, but unlike that movement, the conservatives have their base already entrenched in the power elite. There is some new noise on the left, but the "new silent majority" is one of cynical distrust of all politicians. It is an ideologically mixed majority, but if the question was the generic one of trusting politicians, the answer would be pretty overwhelming.

I'm not much interested in silent majorities. They prove nothing about what is right or wrong - but it is worth noting their presence when electoral results are used to prove a point about what "most people" believe. I'm much more interested in honoring the few committed individuals who act on their conscience to make real differences that silent majorities don't care to make. But we live in a nation where political power is real and does make a difference. So it makes a difference to me who wins these contests, even if it means supporting the campaign of someone I may view as "the lesser of two evils."

Which brings me to Congress - turning Congress, that is. There are those who just want to "throw the bums out", and they can make a compelling argument that if incumbents became an endangered species due to the distrust of voters, that in itself would engender real reform. But they stand no chance of convincing me that voting against my Democratic Congressman is any way to make a positive difference. Right now we are stuck with two parties in national elections, and there is a difference. While there are flaws all around, the Republicans in power are a scary breed - not as individuals, but as a group and as a force for maintaining the current imbalance of power and wealth.

I don't buy the suggestion that putting the Democrats in power would represent no change. Even to the extent that Democratic politicians are also beholden to the money that puts them there, there is not the same strict allegiance to a corporate agenda which pays only lip service to the public good while being truly committed only to a program of, by, and for the established plutocracy. Some readers who have been peppered with the language of the failure of socialism, will roll their eyes at this suggestion, but the evidence seems clear enough to me. It's as if those in power use Marxist critique as a script for their behavior so that anyone who calls them on their misbehavior will sound like a Marxist, and thus be discredited. My own belief that the personal incentives inherent in capitalism lead to productivity and innovation which tends to be absent in a strictly controlled egalitarian economy, doesn't mean that Marx did not correctly identify some of the ills of Capitalism. Western liberalism, while not perfect, represents a better method of addressing some of those ills than Marxist revolution.

At least the Democrats are obliged to act like they represent common folk, even when we know it's often not true. The Republicans' focus on being steadfastly opposed to any hint of liberalism or mandated controls on business assures that the economic interests of common folk will be subjugated to the almighty power of the boardroom. Common sense balance is discarded in favor of ideological purity.

The rules of Congress give so little power to the minority party, that Republican control of the House has become the primary roadblock to any chance of economic justice for the growing population living in poverty in the United States. It is why at this point in time I would vote for any Democrat over any Republican in any Congressional race, regardless of my opinion of the individuals involved.

There has been a lot of attention lately to the possibility that the House could change hands this year. Even many Republican strategists are conceding the possibility, though there remain many reasons to doubt it will happen. It's not a very sexy issue, but it is very substantive, and if the right set of progressives get energized around the effort, there is potential for a very real stanching of the growing power of the corporate elite. Turning Congress is not enough -- progressive vigilance will need to follow -- but moving the leadership of the House to the Democrats represents a huge step in the right direction.


Scottage said...

Yes, I think in general a move towards the democrats in congress would be a step in the right direction. But I don't feel that it's essential to vote for every democrat just because they are democrats. I actually believe the key lies in voting for people who think, and who actually care for the wants and needs of ordinary citizens. Yes, this is considered a democractic trait, but there are republicans in that boat too.

I know this is unpopular, but if Condi Rice were to run for office, I would vote for her, because I have consistently seen her as thinking abotu the public good, although at many times she's been forced to speak the party line. Similarly, I would vote for Guilliani if he ran for congress. He always stuck up for people, values, integrity. He was fantastic in a crisis, and would be beneficial to this government, imho.

I think you're heading the right direction with this, but I think there are good politicians and bad, and that they aren't necessarily divided along party lines.

Walker said...


My bias for CONGRESSIONAL voting has absolutely nothing to do with blind partisanship, but with a sober understanding of the way our government works. I too have crossed party lines, and will continue to do so for many races, such as statewide officeholders in my state of Washington. But one member of the House of Representatives is far less significant than which party has the majority there. Far too few Congressional Districts are swing districts, so those that are become very significant for the national picture.

Allow me to explain with a specific example. In 2004 my belief was that Tom DeLay was a extraordinarily corrupt politician with far too much influence nationally, but I don’t live in DeLay’s district. Say I live in a swing district and the Republican is some reasonable fellow like Leach of Iowa, and the Democrat is a demagogic mouthpiece who shows little evidence of independent thought or compassion. I will likely have a much higher opinion personally of the Republican, and it will rankle me to vote for the less honorable candidate, but I would do it because my district just might be the one which changes party control of the whole body. If one vote in one district caused the House to switch parties that changes the Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader (DeLay), and the Chairmanships of every committee, not to mention who controls the rules et cetera, and so on. I might be sorry that one of the 435 Congresspeople is less honorable than would otherwise be the case, but removing one-party control of our government is far more significant.

I would be more likely to vote for a Republican for President than for Congress, but would remain concerned that as a Republican they would be obliged to fill all the appointed positions with Republicans and conservatives. In 2002-3 I was actually hoping that McCain and Feingold might team up and run together as a bipartisan ticket independently. It would be refreshing to get out of the winner takes all yoyoing that shakes up the top level of all government departments every time there is a change at the top. Right now we badly need some yoyoing back in the Democratic direction.