David Letterman made an acute political observation to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair Tuesday night. He said that if you had four people in a room, and three were smart guys and one was a dumb guy, the dumb guy would prevail.
He was referring to what passes for political discussion today and the emergence of candidates who are intellectually challenged or downright loopy. People are in high profile political contests today who in the past would have been dismissed as totally incompetent, and who we would probably never have heard of in more thoughtful times. But the dumb guy prevails.
Most political discourse today is utterly stupid. And a goodly number of people are giving up on the political system the dumb ones are influencing. One of the reasons the dumb guy is prevailing is digital communication. Political discourse has descended to the level of middle school squabbling. Some celebrate the advent of the Internet and web blogs for giving ordinary people a voice. The dumb guy has found a way to amplify his voice and to find networks of other dumb guys. Rather than enhance communication, digital electronics has reduced it to the rituals of dominance and submission of the lower order animals. Text and twitter messages, aside from observing no standards of literacy, are largely grunts and howls. And much of the blogosphere is taken up with middle school taunts, insult, abuse, the utterances of dumb guys too lazy or inherently incapable of civil discourse.
This is not to say that informing and intelligent information is not available on the Internet. Yesterday the Internet aggregator contained two items that reflect the state of politics and discourse. Bob Mercer notes that the Democratic Party in South Dakota is lagging behind in voter registration. Tim Gebhart reviews a book that may explain some of the reasons why the Democratic principles do not generate more enthusiasm among voters. My own observations involving voter interest are informed by Tim Gebhart's summary of the book The Anti-American Manifesto by Ted Rall.
As for the decline in interest among those would seem to be attracted to Democratic programs, I have noted a number of times on this web log how many people I know have left South Dakota, mentally if not physically. I also commented about the problems with finding someone to run against John Thune. Candidates who were being recruited to run for office were adamant in their refusals to subject their families and friends to the libels and falsehoods that characterized Thune's campaign against Tom Daschle in 2004. Furthermore, these people reflect a trend to invest their cultural and intellectual energies in other places. That is why many people are who are allied with Democratic programs are diffident about voting in South Dakota. Their interests are invested where they have a better chance of being realized. Among colleagues of my age who have retired, I note that the vast majority leave the state.
The examples are anecdotal, but the individual anecdotes add up to a noticeable trend. That trend is further illustrated in a mailing list of active supporters I have had the responsibility of maintaining over the years. Every mailing results in a return of letters of 2 to 3 percent. There are, of course, deaths that account for some of the names we remove from the list. But the bulk of the returns is from people who have moved to other areas of the country. In recent years, that list has shrunk by more than 30 percent, and few people are added. A common response we get from people we approach to add to the list is that they are sympathetic with the Democratic program, but do not want to get involved with politics as they are practiced today. Attrition has had its effect on people who would vote Democratic, but many of the people who support Democratic causes have come to believe that the political system has become incapable of reflecting their interests.
The election of President Obama was driven largely by the promise of change. He was given a huge majority in the House and Senate in support. There are those who disagree with his programs, but rather than engage in legislative negotiations to work out agreements, the Republicans have deliberately thrown government into a state of total dysfunction. The raging malevolence of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Ann Coulter became the guiding principles of Republican tactics, and we found out that, like insurgent attackers in Iraq and Afghanistan, a minority could totally disable government and make it irrelevant to the lives of the people it is supposed to serve. While the tea party movement has had the press, the discussions in the media over the meaning of polls have never covered those people who have given up on the system and are in a state of quiet withdrawal. Tim Gebhart quotes Ted Rall in that regard:
Unless you’re hopelessly self-deluded or stupid, you have to accept the painful truth. Under the current triumvirate of state power currently presiding over our lives — governmental, corporate and media — you have no more ability to change anything important — e.g. the way the economy is managed, or which countries and people are being attacked by the armies you pay for — than a medieval serf or a German under Nazism did in the past, or a detainee in a secret CIA prison somewhere does now.
Rall suggests that the only solution is revolution. Tim summarizes Rall's point-of-view:
Not only is necessary change not coming, he believes it never will. Rational people, then, have only one choice, which is to take things into their own hands and start over. Even if people don’t, the system is going to collapse on itself and revolution will be forced upon us. He believes it better to be proactive than reactive. Whether that call to action will succeed is another question altogether.The suggestion that revolution is the solution to our current dysfunction is one I have heard hinted at by many people. They are not advocating revolution, but they seem to accept the idea that it is probably the only way to change the direction in which the country is headed. A colleague who is an authority on journalism and rhetoric says that the country has shifted from the rhetoric of opposition to the rhetoric of war. He says that the focus is not to produce compromise and change, but to incite hatred. He cites Limbaugh and Beck and Coulter as the most obvious proponents of it. He makes the point that the rhetoric of war-level hatred does what it is intended to: make war.
Those who find that America has become unredeemable do not have the political solutions available that their ancestors did. My grandparents were all immigrants who found no economic and cultural opportunities in their fatherland, and a state endorsed religion had become an oppressive force. They moved to America. The people I know who have left South Dakota did so for essentially the same reasons. But where does one go when the whole country follows the trend of South Dakota? There may be other places to recreate America, but the world has shrunk. Revolution may, indeed, be forced upon us.
Iraq, Afghanistan, and Mexico give us a caution. Revolution can take the form of an extended, mindless feud. The dumb guy prevails.