Tuesday, July 18, 2017


David Leonhardt, who writes for the Opinion Today newsletter of The New York Times, acknowledges the obvious:
The Health Bill’s Failure: Resistance Works

Over the July 4 recess, most Republican senators decided not to hold town hall meetings with their constituents. One of the rare exceptions was Jerry Moran, a second-term senator from Kansas.

And the opposition to the Republican health care bill was ready.

Moran held his meeting on July 6 in Palco, a town in western Kansas with fewer than 300 residents. Yet more than 100 Kansans showed up, and they had one overwhelming message for their senator: Don’t take health insurance away from people....

I’m not suggesting that the Palco meeting was the main reason for Moran’s decision. Yet he clearly felt political pressure to oppose the bill, and his recent meetings with constituents were a big part of that pressure.

One of this newsletter’s themes this year has been the potential effectiveness of grass-roots political organizing. The Tea Party showed as much in 2010, and the so-called Trump resistance has showed the same in recent months.
Opponents of GOP health care legislation have subjected Republicans in Congress to a tremendous amount of pressure. It's working. Which is why another Times op-ed, one that appeared a couple of weeks ago, continues to anger me.

This one was written by Eitan Hersh, a Tufts political science professor. Titled "The Problem With Participatory Democracy Is the Participants," it's one of a spate of recent "liberal media" opinion pieces that bash liberals and Democrats for, well, just being awful, pathetic people:
At backyard barbecues this holiday weekend, liberals will gab with one another about how much time they’re spending on politics. More than ever, they are watching cable news, and refreshing Twitter and Facebook feeds.

Many kept up with the recent special House elections. Some skipped work to watch the spectacle of James Comey’s Senate hearing. Others have been using a new technology called Resistbot to send text messages that are transformed into letters faxed to a representative’s or senator’s office. Yet, for all this activism, they have a sinking feeling that maybe they’re just spinning their wheels.

Americans who live in relative comfort are emotionally invested in politics, especially after the election, but in a degraded form of politics that caters to the voyeurism of news junkies and the short attention spans of slacktivists. They are engaging in a phenomenon I call “political hobbyism.” They desperately want to do something, but not something that is boring, demanding or slow.

Political hobbyists want easy ways to register their feelings. Democrats in particular embrace tools like Resistbot that offer instantly gratifying participation. Beyond the current political climate, Democrats, more than Republicans, believe in mass participation as a core value and also believe it empowers their side.

But cheap participation reflects a troubling infirmity in how partisans of both parties engage in politics. In fact, it is not because of gerrymandering, Citizens United, cable news or any of the other common scapegoats that our system is broken, but because of us: ordinary people who are doing politics the wrong way.
The contempt is palpable: Liberals are softy "slacktivists" who "live in relative comfort," they "gab" rather than converse, they use an app to send messages to Washington (a reader who didn't know better would assume that all communications sent to politicians by liberals are transmitted via Resistbot), and they don't want to do anything "that is boring, demanding or slow."

Although Hersh goes on to define billionaires who fund super PACs, many of whom are Republicans, as "hobbyists," and even defines the Republican president as one, he says that this is a liberal and Democratic problem first and foremost.

Are all lefty political activitists mere hobbyists? Hersh concedes that some are more than that:
Not all activism is political hobbyism. A Black Lives Matter protest meant to call attention to police misconduct and demand change on an issue with life-or-death consequences is not hobbyism. Neither is a spontaneous airport protest over the president’s travel ban, which also had clear goals and urgent demands.
Oh, okay. So attending a town hall to oppose the overturning of Obamacare passes muster with Hersh, right? Well, no:
What about attendance at town hall meetings hosted by members of Congress? These events could be places for serious discourse and reveal crucial citizen perspectives on matters of public policy, but they are more often hijacked by fair-weather activists looking to see action. It is certainly peculiar that Democrats who are motivated by the health care debate now couldn’t be bothered to show up at town hall meetings back in 2009 (or to vote in 2010), and the Tea Party activists of 2009 can’t be bothered now, since it wouldn’t be any fun for them.
So if you didn't vote in the past, you have apparently forfeited the right to be taken seriously as a political activist for the rest of your life, according to Hersh. You can't say you've seen the error of your ways -- you blew it then, and you're not allowed to change. Besides, you're only going to the town hall "to see action."

Tell that to Jerry Moran, or to all the Republicans who stopped holding town halls out of fear of these "hobbyists," and who couldn't dodge "hobbyist" anger expressed a dozen different ways, sometimes at a safe remove, but other times in police handcuffs.

I don't know why news outlets with largely liberal audiences are so invested in the notion that those audiences need to be told how terrible they are. But I'm happy to see that this scolding, at least for now, has been debunked by reality.

No comments: