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Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

For coincidental reasons, a few recent posts have looked at the social implications of communications technologies (e.g., how 19th-century magazine publication and 21st-century internet aggregation facilitated the emergence of communities of interest). I was going to turn to other topics–maybe song lyrics–but a just-released study brings me back to the communications theme.

A research report in the Journal of Economic History suggests that early 20th-century rural road improvement led to more mail delivery which then led to more democratic, responsive politics. Ironically, this aspect of technological “modernity” seemed to boost “anti-modern” policies.

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De-Democratizing?

Political power in America has dispersed and democratized over the last 200-plus years. Where once only white men could vote and hold office, and in some states, only property-holding Christian ones at that, now just about every citizen 18 years or older can. Although actual political power is not and has never been shared in any way close to this ideal model, it is shared more than in the days of planter and merchant domination. Democracy’s expansion, however, was not ceaseless; there have been periods of shrinkage – notably the decades around 1900. We appear to be living through another retreat. Money plays a key role in both episodes, though differently now than it did before.

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Panderocracy

Election Day is tomorrow. It’s been a tough year for the democratic ethos, what with billions of dollars of often anonymous money thrown into the campaigns. Yet, if there is one sign that, underneath it all, the heart of democracy faintly beats, it is this: pandering.

Barack Obama storms into big rallies, smiling and laughing and revving up the crowd, acting like the life of the party. You know he’d rather be squirreled up at home surfing his iPad or watching Sports Center. Mitt Romney emotes his concern for the unemployed and declares that he will save Medicare and Social Security just weeks after declaring himself a “severe conservative.”

Iowa State Fair (source)

These men are pandering. To whom are they pandering? To the voters, especially to the undecided voters, that small percentage who are usually ill-informed and uninterested.

That these looming figures – one the commander of a death-star military, the other a multimillionaire maker and breaker of company towns – must pander to the whims of 20-something dropouts and befuddled seniors tells us something. Putin does not have to do that; Ayatollah Khomeini does not; whoever succeeds to the party leadership in China will not; even the techno-politicians who become presidents of France rarely need to. But American presidents, for nearly two centuries, have served the panderocracy.

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