December 16, 2018

Politics at the top: Reaction rather than action

Sam Smith – One of the great myths about American politics is that change comes from the top. The truth of the matter is that change typically starts at the bottom and slowly works its way up to the top. As I wrote some years back:
As late as 1992, the one hundred largest localities in America pursued an estimated 1,700 environmental crime prosecutions, more than twice the number of such cases brought by the federal government in the previous decade. As Washington was vainly struggling to get a handle on the tobacco industry, 750 communities passed indoor no-smoking laws. And, more recently, we have had the local drives towards relaxing anti-marijuana laws, permitting gay marriage and the major local and state outcry against the Real ID act.
Having been covering, and participating in, this frustrating racket for about six decades, I take this for granted but I repeatedly come across the assumption by noble advocates of good causes that we must reject national politicians because they are not up to speed.

Of course not. By the time politics reaches the national level what we get from its participation is largely reaction to unavoidable trends rather than action instigated by themselves.

This is an important fact to keep in mind as the Democrats move awkwardly towards choosing a presidential candidate. We must remember that the truly virtuous in this land represent a small minority and the chances of their favored candidate winning the nomination and election is minute. What we get is a national reaction to everything that has been worked on, tried, succeeded or failed in the recent past. If you as a voter are not willing to compromise at this point, you do everything you’ve been advocating no favor because you have increased the chance that a really bad guy will win.

As I have noted several times in the past, at the national level we are choosing a battlefield not a candidate. For example, despite regarding her as dishonest and too conservative, I voted for Hillary Clinton because I would rather have fought her troops than the ones we currently combatting. The virtue of my own beliefs had nothing to contribute on that particular day except to cast a ballot for the candidate who would be least dangerous to my cause.

If this seems cowardly, I apologize. I am merely a citizen not a saint. Besides I’ve been around long enough to learn how many years progress can take. For example, in 1970 I wrote the first article explaining how DC could become a state without a constitutional amendment. Today, the DC Statehood Green Party still represents less than 1% of voters but in 2016 86% of those in the city voting cast a ballot in support of DC statehood.

Similarly, one of the first meetings of the current ranked choice voting movement was held in our living room back in 1992. Only this year did RCV pass at the state level, thanks to an vote in Maine.

My own efforts have been directed at the level at which there is most chance of change. Politics is not a religion, but a challenge in which you do the best with what you’ve got. So as we watch the Democratic presidential effort unfold, look for signs of candidates who can reach people not like you yet still favor at least some major good policies. The good folks already have your support It’s the others that are going to count. And as a guy who learned his politics in places like Phillly and Boston, you’ll find me backing not just the best candidate, but the best one who can also win folks not like me.

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