I’m about finished with the pontificating pundits inhabiting the inner circles of Beltway wisdom. Like the Agony Aunties of old newspaper columns they move easily from describing the political landscape to their patronizing offerings of over-solicitous advice.
No overall trend is too broad to be trivialized, no trivial detail too arcane to be expanded into sweeping generalizations. No analogy to some personal political experience too obscure to be relegated to irrelevance in the interest of creating a self referential narrative.
Among the “negative nabobs” I can do without are those who seeing a difficult situation promptly declare it impossible. For example, some 24 congressional seats would restore a Democratic majority in the House. For some of the pundits this is an impossible number, given the assumptions on which they’ve constructed their analysis. The problem with this approach is that for all the previous historical evidence, each election eventually turns on its own unique set of circumstances and variables. Thus pronouncing what will, or will not, be is essentially what the author concludes is what ought to be.
Also on my list are the analysts who are forever offering up their predictions, as if they have some personal connection with the Truth. If the Democrats do X, then the Republicans will do Y. When this is predicated on actual interviews and insights freely contributed by the various participants it can be useful. However, when it is based on interior dialogs between imaginary persons it’s securely in the realm of fantasy, of the type associated with good writing for the theater in which we are invited to suspend our disbelief.
The third category on my list are the Standard Bearers. These seem to have a proclivity for telling the rest of us what should be the definitions of success. A demonstration is successful if it includes X number of citizens, and has an agenda which meets the approval of the writer. There is no room in these analyses for the value of personal participation, or for the associated networking involved. Let’s surmise for the moment that the person who walks with a sign in a demonstration, large or small, will be a person more likely to walk into a polling station.
There’s an unfortunate tendency to measure the effectiveness of demonstrations and other civic actions in comparisons to large national actions. Future actions will be characterized in numeric terms, less than, equal to, or greater than the March on Washington for Jobs and Justice, or the Women’s March. This misses the point.
The point is that people are on their feet, meeting with and sharing ideas with other like minded souls. The marches or demonstrations are the spark, the letter writing campaigns, petitions, phone calls, and post card drives are the flames. A politician might easily ignore a small demonstration, unless of course the demonstrators go home and solicit five friends to engage in a town hall meeting or a phone call project. Unless the demonstrators make common cause with another group of advocates and episodically work in unison. Unless the demonstrators are touching on a particularly sensitive local issue…
Tut, tut sayeth these pundits, this will all come to naught unless the civic action has a practical plan for specific legislative outcomes. At this point someone in the audience needs to rise and ask: “Says who?”
Alas, the pundits cry, “These demonstrations and civic actions separate us and facilitate identity politics.” Here’s another idea: All politics is identity politics. We identify as workers, as men, as women, as animal lovers, as environmentalists, as church members, as unchurched. We are urban, rural, suburban, ex-urban, young, middle-aged, or elderly. We are ethnically diverse and united in our humanity. We each have a unique identity which informs our political views, we march both individually and separately.
So, spare me the hand wringing, the concern trolling, the condescension and the patronizing. Some of that which passes for political analysis is little more than the authorship of articles intended, not for those citizens being described, but for other members of the chatterati. Should these individuals deign to join a small group protesting a single issue, or a large group protesting a multitude of issues, they may come to understand that each and every action is of value in itself, because these actions have both individual and collective value…to those who participate in them.
Cynicism is easy, engagement is more difficult, but ultimately much more beneficial in a democracy.