Commentary - #5 September 4, 2004

The 2004 political party conventions are finally over

The 2004 political party conventions are finally over. Should one also say ?blessedly? over? No. Some interesting people appeared; some interesting and important things were said. U.S. Senator Zell Miller, for example: He had an important message ? We are liberators, not occupiers of Iraq. The media?s careless or insidious substitution of terms biases the public?s view of what the Iraq operation is about. Indeed, the substitution undermines the effort and our troops. Whether or not you like Zell, recognize that he is a man of conviction who says what he means and means what he says, unlike John Kerry and most other politicians. That is why U.S. Senators are elected to 6 year terms, so that they have time to lead and speak their minds without immediate retribution from voters who disagree with them at the polls -- even though media polls can punish in the meantime.

The tendency towards personality politics was pretty obvious at both conventions. This amounts to more evidence, as if we needed more, as to how politics has been turned into a media game and entertainment spectacle. The conventions? version of US or PEOPLE mag?s? ? wives and children as featured speakers. Why??? Then there was Ahhnold, a Hollywood personality to be sure, but he?s also someone in a position of power with something to say, the speech-making counterpart of heavy lifting. Remember, though: One should not have to be rich or a media star in order to run for office.

Democratic politics in a real republic will not survive as a media game or a Hollywood-style star system. When are we going to see the contributions of ?ordinary? people to the political process featured ? some attention paid to the voluntary contributions of real people from all walks of life in real places -- so we, ?us? rather than ?them?, can see that we count for more than just lever-pullers at polling stations on election day? It?s ironic or troubling that both parties are now recognizing the importance of people-to-people rather than media-driven politics, at least as far as the presidential races in ?battleground? states are concerned, yet the cameras can pan on a fireman or a nurse but not on a political party volunteer who has been laboring in the political vineyards of their own community.

And notwithstanding poll after poll of convention delegates, how much do we know about them and how representative they were or were not of the American people? What percentages of delegates at either convention were local party leaders in touch with the grassroots? What percentages were ?middle class,? ?fat cats? or powerful ?insiders?? Entrepreneurs? Employees? Other kinds of people?

A quick comment on President Bush?s address to the Republican convention: It was fine but lacked any mention of two things that this writer deems to be very important for the future of American democracy:

Of the importance of people getting back into the political picture as producers rather than consumers or couch potatoes ? of getting involved so they can make a difference and take back their politics from the political and media class that has taken it over. Of one feature of the Reagan legacy that needs to be honored: decentralization ? the need to move power and money out of Washington down to the local level.

See WE, THE PEOPLE: A Conservative Populism for more on what it will take to empower the great American majority and reform politics so there?s some semblance of political equality in the system. Better yet, find the phone number or address of your local political party committee, call them or show up and get involved! The upcoming election will be one of the most historic in the saga of our great American Republic. You can help make history instead of having it foisted on you. The parties and their candidates represent real, significant choices between alternative visions of where the country has been and should go. On the Republican side, there?s a great debate shaping up as to what ?conservatism? means and where and how the party should lead. This debate was marked by a lead article in the New York Times Magazine of August 29, 2004. My response to the article follows.

August 30, 2004

Letter in response to David Brook?s ?How to Reinvent the GOP? (New York Times? Magazine of August 29, 2004)

Brooks Is Wrong About a New Conservative Agenda

Disney?s Pocahontas sings ?How high does the sycamore grow; if you cut it down, then you?ll never know?? She?s right. Brooks? vision of a ?new progressive conservatism? is wrong. He tries to cut a party platform down to his size, the limited scope of his own political vision. He ignores the potential for the rise of a conservative populism, the promise of which is set forth in a new book, forthcoming within two weeks, entitled We, the People: A Conservative Populism.

He misunderstands ?size.? He equates ?big? with ?federal.? In an private economy where small businesses can act big and big businesses can be run like a set of small, why is there such a blind spot regarding the public sector? ?Decentralizers? are disposed of at the outset, never to return. He never mentions Reagan. Is this because the late, great President fails to fit within his frame? Reagan was both an opportunity enabler (?This is the age of the entrepreneur?) and a decentralizer (?Move power and money out of Washington?).

Brooks biases his case at the outset by selecting only those parts of the Republican tradition that buttress his (preconceived?) case while ignoring others, especially the decentralized nature of the American Republic. Extending the decentralized, self-governing nature of our American system is the key to the future. A national government that serves as a resource to diverse, largely self-governing, local political communities is the core of an old, alternative Republican vision. Renewed and adapted, it could raise up American democracy to become a beacon to the rest of the world once again. It would also serve to fight terrorism by empowering people and honoring their diversity. We would win by example.

It?s not that Brooks doesn?t present some good ideas on issues. He does. It?s just that he?s so wrong on the fundamentals that affect our politics. Consider:

  • ?government can alter culture???This is one of two pillars of his platform. Without some explanation, it is a dangerous proposition. Behavior modification, anyone? 1984 in 2004, or 2024?
  • We should let external forces ?organize our (internal) politics for a generation.? Since when?, and why should we? Those of the ?Greatest Generation? who returned from WWII practiced an old politics of citizens? involvement that we would do well to imitate and build upon in any ?new? model. ?60?s politics failed to change ?the system.?
  • ?We need to strengthen nation states?The military must be bulked up?? Wrong. Terrorism is partly a reaction to nation-states that have failed to democratize, decentralize governance and empower people.
  • ?Local control?.That?s over?local control means local monopolies and local mediocrity.? Wrong. The monopolies to watch are not usually ?local? and may not prevail if there is a vibrant, community-based politics and public life.
  • ?Republicans will empower people, and the people will empower Republicans.? Yes, but this quote from Jon Rauch points to a ?conservative populism,? not Brooks? agenda.
  • Brooks? ?tank? metaphor is malaprop. Imagine a picture of him in a tank, like Dukakis redux, overriding those who battle in ?the trenches.?

For Brooks is also wrong in writing like those lately drafting national party platforms. They ignore the need for people to participate in the political process. They produce documents that prescribe what the political, money and media-dependent ?pro?s? think voters should buy into. He observes ?anxiety, uncertainty and disagreement? among the party?s rank and file, but he chooses to see this in a negative light rather than a sign of vitality within the party. He adopts an elitist stance, of trying to bring internal debates to premature closure rather than serving as a resource to inform the debates. Thus, he has abdicated the role of a journalist in order to play the power game. Let the games begin. We, the People, will take back our politics from those like Mr. Brooks of the political/media class who presume to take it over.

PETER BEARSE, Ph.D.: author, GOP Team Leader and Townhall Meetup Host -- a Republican and a conservative accessible via

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