Sunday, May 2, 2010

Political Participation and Shyness

I am not shy. A shock I'm sure. It is often hard for me as an avid political commentator, blogger, and political science major to realize that there are people, my fellow citizens, who choose not to pontificate their opinions and ideologies on others. I make a hobby out of it frankly. A bad habit perhaps, yet I understand that it is essential to democratic governance that everyone participate on one level or another. I don't have to be as loud or zealous as I am, yet it's a part of who I am. I am not inclined to hide it. For those that do, there are compelling psychological factors at play. Many people feel inclined not to participate thus take part in a process of self censorship. This censorship, like other forms, prohibit voices to be heard. In the article, "Nonparticipation as Self-Censorship: Publicly Observable Political Activity in a Polarized Opinion Climate" by Andrew Hays & Michael E. Hugo of Ohio State University with Dietram A. Scheufele from the University of Wisconsin published September 2006 in Political Behavior this phenomenon of self-censorship is examined. It is found in the article that social fears have an detrimental impact on the body politic. Self-censorship is too vast and must be discouraged. Civility and tolerance need to make a comeback.

In this polarized climate, many of my fellow Americans feel that public forms of political participation are susceptible to public scrutiny or social ostracism. Such activities, including a campaign sign in their yard, engaging in political discourse, and volunteering for a campaign, require some form of 'publicness' since they are observable by one's peers. Even a financial contribution to a campaign can be searched on the FEC website. Meaning that seemingly private political activities can be observed. Politics have become more divisive and the fear that political activity will be scrutinized by one's peers and neighbors has forced many people to censor themselves through nonparticipation.

I can understand the fear to express one's views having many uncomfortable conversations on politics myself. As a politically active student at St. Olaf campus, I know there have been numerous complaints of how I have handled such conversations (a fault I have attempted to correct) and that the progressive atmosphere of Northfield discourage many students from coming out as conservatives.

Now it must be considered that there are those who are just naturally predisposed to be shy and are not inclined to participate in politics publicly. Moreover, there are citizens who feel that they are not informed enough to participate effectively or are under the incorrect assumption that their opinion or input cannot change politics or policy. Regardless of the exact reason and predisposition, too much self-censorship or embarrassment in regards to one's political opinion leaves our civil society to zealous partisans or even extremists. Policy and elections will be controlled by those at the ends of the political spectrums. This leaves too many legitimate concerns and voices lost in the shuffle. This is the tragedy of too much silence in our democratic life. The incivility that leads to self-censorship helps no one. Speak up. Do not be ashamed of what you believe.

Right vs. Quantity of Expression. The Values and Groups Involved.

The American citizen is a fickle being. This is nothing new. However, in regards to the debate over campaign finance reform, it is can be disconcerting how fickle the American citizen can be towards democratic values. At the heart of the debate over campaign finance reform is the Constitutional right of expression and the equality of impact of such expression. The article "Value Conflict, Group Affect, and the Issue of Campaign Finance" by J. Tobin Grant from Southern Illinois University and Thomas J. Rudolph from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign published by the Midwest Political Science Association in July 2003 examines the conflicted values and effect of interest groups on how the American citizen perceives or supports campaign finance reform.

The authors note that there are different ways to frame the campaign finance debate. For those who opposed campaign finance reform and any limit on political expenditure, any new reform or limit is an offense to our Constitutional right to expression. 'Money equals speech' has been the law of the land since Buckely v. Valeo. The case is truly a landmark and is quoted in the article, "A restriction on the amount of money a perosn or group can spend on political communication during a campaign necessarily reduces the quantity of expression... This is because virtually every means of communicating ideas in today's mass society required the expenditure of money..." (p.454) As an avid campaign volunteer and intern I might disagree with this statement. I have been able, without money, to persuade citizens to vote and express my views to the public. Of course where I can speak to a few hundred residents of Northfield or St. Olaf over the course of a few months, a television commercial that cost a campaign millions and is uploaded to YouTube can reach millions of citizens in seconds can shape a whole debate. My efforts are nil in comparison.

Yes, speech with money is more powerful and should be free, however it is louder than the voices of the people. It is louder than my voice. It can affect elections more than any single citizen or concern. It is all speech, yet there is no equality in quantity or impact. Reasonable limits ensure a fairer debate, that more voices can be heard. This argument is referred to by the authors as the Political Equality Frame. Every interest group and citizen should have equality to a certain quantity of expression. No one interest group, or now after Citizens United multinational corporations, should drown out the legitimate speech of others. Certainly as the 'pragmatic idealist' I believe that everyone should have a quantity to their political speech that is influential and that legislative restrictions on what can be spent might contribute to a fairer debate. However, such legislation cannot have the loopholes that exist in current law for '527's or soft money. We can do better.

A major obstacle in accomplishing a fairer debate during elections is that regardless of how the American citizen feels on campaign finance reform on principle- either that money is speech and should not be restricted or that there should be restrictions to allow for equality of expression and impact, the feelings of the citizenry depend heavily on how the interest groups they are a part of or 'like' are affected. The authors of the aforementioned article measure the effect of group centric thinking on the issue as well as framing campaign finance reform in terms of the right of expression or an issue of political equality. The framing was affected by the group centric thinking. One can speak in favor of campaign finance reform in reference to the gay rights advocacy group they are a part of or 'like' will be able under reform to compete with the corporations that finance opponents to gay rights. Or one can speak out against campaign finance reform if they feel their business will lose influence in the political sphere. A citizen can be for political equality- which insures that every voice is heard and disregard the rights of others to express their views. Or a citizen can be for the right of expression for everyone- that the right cannot be restricted even in regards to the funding of expression. Each stance is dependent on the group or concern involved.

This dichotomy does not bode well for our democratic values. Democratic theory and a healthy democracy depend on both the right of expression and equality of access. The right of expression for the gay rights advocate is only secure if his or her opponent is also allowed to express his or her false if not hateful opposing view. Yet the right of expression for either means little if one side is heard more than the other or one is silenced.

If money is a measure of access and quantity of expression then it should be regulated. Period. Reform can secure both the right and quantity of expression.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Scenes From the State DFL Convention Part Three

Candidate for the Third Congressional District Jim Meffert speaks to the Convention
Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher Won the Endorsement. She is the first woman to be endorsed by either of the major parties in Minnesota.
My seat from the Rice County Delegation Table
Candidate for the Second Congressional District Dan Powers speaks to the Convention
DFL Chair Brian Melendez opens the Convention

Scenes From the State DFL Convention Part Two

Rep. Tom Rukavina rallies supporters and greets the supporters of Sen. Marty
The Kelliher Rally moves to the Convention Center
Supporters of Representative Paul Thissen
'The Pragmatic Idealist' with a very creative John Marty Supporter.
Mayor Rybak rallies supporters

Scenes From the State DFL Convention Part One

Entrance to the Convention Center on the day of the Endorsement
Rally for Speaker Anderson-Kelliher

Rally for the Mayor of Minneapolis R. T. Rybak
Rally for State Senator John Marty
The rallies collide...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Motives and Ideology

For my internship I am reading academic political science literature relevant to political parties, finance, and participation. One such article "The Motives-Ideology Connection Among Political Party Activists" that was published in Political Psychology Vol. 17 No. 3 1998 written by Edmond Costantini and Linda O. Valenty from the Political Science Department of the University of California in Davis. The article examines the motives and ideologies of activists in the California Democratic and Republican parties from 1964 to 1990. Though the data might be data it was still revealing. The different ideologies were a range of more liberal to conservative while the motivations were Ambition, Sociality, Purposive, Allegiance.

Ambition is an obvious motivation to enter party politics and I would be lying to myself and my loyal readers if I wrote that I did not have some ambition to enter politics. Sociality or the opportunities for social activity and friendship available in party politics is another reason I entered politics. Many of my dear friends are political junkies like myself and I met them while getting involved in party politics in Rice County. Purposive members and activists are involved to advance policies through their elected officials and ideals within the party mission. As I have mentioned several times in my earlier blog entries and conversations, I am a proponent of universal healthcare, marriage equality, and public education. It makes sense then that I am active in the Democratic party for sure, yet the study reveals that purposive activists are usually more ideologically 'radical' or 'stringent' than ambitious candidates who tend to move towards the center in pursuit of a majority of voters. Moreover, the analysis shows that purposive activists are more amateur than ambitious ones which could also contribute to the popularity of centrist politics in America. This aspect of the political culture also contributes to the continual, exponential decrease of purposive activists in political parties. However, the emergence of the 'Tea Party' might change this trend for the conservative right. The 'Tea Party' seems focused on ideology and policy. They are uncompromising and extremely active, however their impact on electoral politics has yet to be seen.

Yet it seems more and more common that compromises are made during elections. Too many politicians, notably Democrats, cave to pressure and move to the center. Being centrist helps us win elections, but it also limits the expectations for the progress government can achieve.

Finally, Allegiance is another interesting motive. Such activists feel an obligation to party leaders and the party community. My family and I were never really political. I have become a party activist on my own, yet in recent conversations with my grandmother she told me how she remembered FDR and the progress of the New Deal. She has been a Democrat for life. I do not know if I will have that kind of allegiance particularly with the persistence of many of my frustrations with the Democratic party.

All of the aforementioned motivations have been cited by my peers and neighbors as reasons for their political activity. Most times the motives are in combination and are at times challenged by the rate of progress or failures of candidates. Political party attachment however is a powerful force and is necessary for the continuation of a healthy civil society. The challenge of contemporary political parties is how to channel each of these motivations at every ideological alignment to continue strong parties to the elections of 2010, 2012, 2014 and beyond.

A Response to Peggy Noonan

The current mission of this blog was to reflect on my academic readings for my Political Affairs and Finance Internship. However, I was e-mailed this column from Peggy Noonan.

It is title Now For the Slaughter a play on the so called Slaughter Rule or deem and pass rule that will be used by the House to pass the Senate bill. Ms. Noonan insists that President Obama is obfuscating the real disagreements the American people have with healthcare and is not addressing issues of Congressional procedure. First, I am confused. Healthcare already passed both Houses of Congress. A conference procedure has been completed; a procedure that occurs to overcome all of the differences in all House and Senate versions. Now the Senate could vote for healthcare and pass it... again. The current bill is the Senate version anyway. Or they could leave it to the House. Seems simple. Healthcare has been passed by a majority of our representatives. How a bill is passed is the business of Congress.

Never mind that deem and pass, reconciliation, and other procedures have been used by both parties for a variety of pieces of legislation. No one owns the high ground on Congressional procedure. So a question remains, is the argument on procedure the real problem conservatives have with the bill? They argued that the nation cannot afford it. Then the CBO reported that the first ten years of healthcare reform would reduce our deficit by 182 Billion then 1.2 trillion the next ten years. Republicans voted for the Bush Tax Cuts and Medicare Part D when the CBO report on each was dire. Each bill contributed to sending our nation into greater debt. We have a chance to save money and cover 32 million Americans. There is so much good that can be done. Even if you desire a more progressive bill than what is currently being proposed, it is a great first step. Even Former Governor Dr. Howard Dean who made news late in 2009 by breaking ranks with the President recognized that this bill is good legislation and could lead to more reform. If healthcare reform (or as my fellow liberals would want me to say) health insurance reform is passed on Sunday, it is not the end of the world. History will remember that legislation was passed and the implementation will be the next challenge. Let's get it right or much more than this blog entry will seem misguided.

Also, one more thing on the column by Ms. Noonan. She mentions that the President Obama has postponed his state visits to Australia and Indonesia to stay in Washington to help the passage of health care reform is embarrassing. Embarrassing? REALLY? I have spoken to people all over the world and I can tell you what is truly embarrassing to America's image in the world and image abroad is that we have 47 million Americans without health insurance and so many more dropped from their coverage for the sake of a bottom line. THAT IS EMBARRASSING. The President has a simple choice: the health of his people or one of several state visits he will make in his years as President. I am all right with his choice.

Here is the link to the Fox News interview that Peggy Noonan references in her column. It speaks for itself. Mr. Baier should have been more polite, yet the President was right. Healthcare reform is the right thing to do. Period.