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Politics: Climate vs. Weather - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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January 25th, 2007


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02:33 pm - Politics: Climate vs. Weather
While I'm as pleased as any halfway reasonable person at the president's exceedingly low popularity and the Democratic victory in Congress, I also agree with teaotter's claim that these changes are far less meaningful than if could be, they signal (as she puts it) "changes in weather, not in climate", meaning that these changes are ultimately ephemeral. Sadly, in the US at least (I have far less data about other nations, but I suspect things are similar there) this is true of the political opinions of around half of all Americans. In the mid-late 1990s, Bill Clinton's popularity was above 70%, immediately after September 11, Shrub's popularity was close to 90%, and now (depending upon which poll you look at) well more than the people who supported him then oppose him now.

My own (admittedly very rough) guess is that around 40-50% of Americans actually have political views that are fairly strong and who have at least some interest in politics. I'm including both progressives and conservatives in these numbers and am also betting the numbers of either are fairly similar, with a much smaller number of alternative viewpoints also being present among this number. This leaves the remaining 50-60% of the American public having (at least in terms of both polls and voting patterns) political attitudes and beliefs that are highly variable.

These people have not suddenly become progressives, just as in late 2001, they did not suddenly become reactionaries. Instead, their attitudes seem relatively amorphous and far more likely to be influenced by recent exposure to various ideas than by anything resembling durable or consistent political views.

Becca suggests that such people's view of politics is much like my opinions about the various contestants on a reality TV show. If exposed to such a show (which I generally avoid) I will develop transitory opinions, but they are easily changed because I simply do not invest much of myself into the entire process. After discussing this idea with Aaron, his suggestion is that such people care deeply about politics, but what they care about is not any actual positions but instead in voting in ways and voicing opinions that are considered "moderate" and "average" – so avoiding being thought (or potentially being thought) as someone who hold extreme views or who "rocks the boat" is far more important that what the actual issues are. My guess is that both attitudes are present, and that the results of both are quite similar – the mass media can and does have a vast affect on election results, especially anything that is in the mass media shortly before the election.

So, the various Republican scandals and the disaster in Iraq turned people who wholeheartedly supported Shrub and the Republicans to people who equally wholeheartedly voted for Democrats. Obviously, this sort of behavior means that control of the mass media in many ways equals control of politics, which is clear from the way that the definition of liberal has been redefined by the far right through control of the mass media during the 80s and 90s, until pro-business centrists like Clinton, Gore, and Kerry were considered liberals. Similarly, it means that the current extremism in US politics is almost certainly due in part to the repeal of the fairness doctrine in the mid 1980s, combined with the consolidation of US mass media so that it is currently owned by a small number of individuals, most of whom have reactionary political views. In many ways, this is difficult for anyone with relatively firm political opinions to understand. Short of him getting a brain transplant from someone progressive (the now quite elderly George McGovern sounds like a great candidate to me), nothing could get me to support Shrub, and no mass media story could do anything but make my opinion of him even worse than it is now. However, it's equally clear that for at least half the people in the US, the nature of their political opinions means that mass media has a vast affect on their voting patterns.

A question to residents of other nations: does something like the fairness doctrine exist in your nation? Also, do the political opinions of much of the general public seem a fickle as they are in the US? In any case, the malleability of political opinion (to me at least) definitely calls into question the validity of democracy.
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[User Picture]
From:rjgrady
Date:January 26th, 2007 02:38 pm (UTC)
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Instead, their attitudes seem relatively amorphous and far more likely to be influenced by recent exposure to various ideas than by anything resembling durable or consistent political views.

I think that's probably a permanent state of affairs for the human race. Even intelligent, opinionated people have surprisingly malleable views, in the right context.

I believe that the politically active portion of society has actually shifted toward a more democratic-socialist viewpoint, but that they and the liberal wing are only just picking themelves up after more than twenty years of public abuse. Just a few years ago, "liberal" was an insult, it is now once again descriptive.

I agree that it brings democracy into question... I'll take a constitutional dictatorship with a Bill of Rights any day over a democracy without one. Political currents shift. What persists it the desire of humanity to fulfill their own happy destinies as best they can.
[User Picture]
From:kitten_goddess
Date:January 26th, 2007 05:32 pm (UTC)
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"I'll take a constitutional dictatorship with a Bill of Rights any day over a democracy without one."

The Soviet Union's and China's constitutions had rights included. Of course, both regimes found ways to interpret those "rights" in ways that did not interfere with human rights violations.
[User Picture]
From:rjgrady
Date:January 26th, 2007 07:11 pm (UTC)
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Obviously, the political will must be there or it doesn't mean anything. I'm glad we have ennumerated rights; without them, we wouldn't have a fig leaf versus the likes of the Chimp-in-Chief. Even under a democracy, even with constitutionally protected rights, you can easily wake up one day and discover someone has legislated away the right to be you.

[User Picture]
From:kitten_goddess
Date:January 26th, 2007 05:31 pm (UTC)
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Your post is on point, as usual. I vote out of self-interest. Namely: does Candiate X support my positions on things? I have a vested interest in someone who is pro-choice, supports national health care, is in favor of marriage rights for all consenting adults, and pro-freedom of expression and pro-freedom of religion for non-Judeochristians.

Most of the other issues either don't affect me directly (education, since I have finished mine) or are too complex for me to understand (economics, anything environmental beyond global warming and recycling). On those issues, my opinions are fickle, depending on what the media and my friends tell me.

BTW, what form of government would you pose as an alternative? The only types I'm familiar with are American-style democracy and various authoritarian regimes, all uniformly horrid.

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