The Nation Magazine ran an article in its November 8th issue called "Looking Back, Moving Forward." Authors Gara LaMarche and Deepak Bhargava were puzzling out the same problem discussed by Paul Krugman in his recent column evaluating the Obama Presidency: how did all of those high hopes for genuine political, economic, and social change go so quickly from the heights of an almost unlimited expectation to what Krugman referred to as the slough of "despond?"
LaMarche and Bhargava list "five realities" to consider, as we try to figure out what has gone wrong, and what we need to do, politically:
- America has experienced forty years of a systematic effort to delegitimize government, and that's still with us. Any expectation that new national leadership could use the tools of democratic government to help us confront our common problems must inevitably run up against that legacy of suspicion and hatred of government.
- The structures of our political life are designed to prevent reform; "checks and balances" are intentionally part of our governmental system, and we have extended and empowered the "checks" to such an extent that it is virtually impossible for the government to act.
- The "media" is polarized, and has become both degenerate and dysfunctional as a mechanism for the kind of open and inquiring discussion that is the sine qua non of democratic decision making.
- "Community organizing" (which means building a political movement that has specific and achievable "demands" that a healthy politics can "supply") is the way to make democracy work, yet that kind of community organizing has atrophied to the point of non-existence.
- Not least, though last in the list, there are simply not very many "good ideas" out there. And you can't have reform and change without an "idea" of what to do.
As Marx said, "the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it."