World’s Not So Great Democracy

April 19, 2018

Pundits and politicians, largely of the liberal persuasion, have been bemoaning for some time now the threat to democracy and democratic norms since the arrival of President Trump. Language such as ” democracy is under attack,” ” the rule of law is being compromised,” ” the first amendment guarantees have been weakened,” and traditional presidential conventions are being, ” abandoned,” fill the airwaves and print media. And then there is the Russian attack on the 2016 election, our most sacred foundation of democratic life.

And yet despite these outcries about the decline of democracy, President Trump’s popularity – never really outstanding – has not eroded below a consistent 40%; in fact as the economy moves forward, his popularity has picked up a few points in recent polls. Americans appear not to be overly upset about the signs of democratic demise.

So why the disturbing lack of interest by so many Americans in our apparent democratic decline? One possible answer is that the current state of our democracy is suffering from what some call a civic deficit or perhaps a more negative title – political illiteracy. Americans today are shockingly uninformed about their democracy and the democratic values that form the basis for our claim to be the world’s greatest people-based government.

For example, in recent studies researchers have found that only 34% of Americans know that there are three branches of government, a tiny percentage can name only one Supreme Court judge, while an overwhelming majority are clueless, over 200 million of our citizens believe our constitution is based on the Bible, even though God is not mentioned once in our sacred document, and a bare majority can name but one of the four freedoms contained in the 1st Amendment. What a dismal civic deficit scorecard! It is really next to impossible to defend our democracy if the citizenry has little understanding of what our democracy means, or how it runs, or what it stands for.

Correcting these glaring deficiencies in our civic deficit will not come overnight but action must be taken and soon. Here in Massachusetts there is a movement afoot to bring civic education into the classroom and teach the new generation of Americans what their democracy is all about. Through the efforts of organizations like Generation Citizen a bill is working its way through the legislature to begin addressing the civic deficit.  Called an Act To Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement the legislation is designed to direct a modest amount of taxpayer dollars – $ 1.5 million – to develop programs in our schools to promote civic learning in the classroom curriculum and to encourage project based activities to strengthen participation and involvement in the public life of each community. Eventually, civics like math, science and English would be required.

Knowing about democracy does not mean that Americans will automatically come to appreciate and protect their form of government from those who would weaken it. But knowledge can be transformed into power, the power to demand that elected officials never abandon what our founders and those who have died on the battlefield held as a precious gift worthy of protecting.





Women Rule

November 8, 2017

Much has been made of the victory of the Democratic Party in Virginia and the impact of the message it sends to Republicans and President Trump. The real story of the election returns both in Virginia and elsewhere, however,  is the rise of women to positions of governmental responsibility and leadership. This could be the beginning of the Year of the Woman in American politics.

In Virginia 12 of the 16 seats that flipped Democratic in the House of Delegates were won by women. In my home state of Massachusetts two women who were first-time candidates won elections for mayor, one over a guy who said that his opponent was a stay at home mom while he had a full time job. Talk about a huge sexist miscalculation.

But besides the victories of women, there is mounting evidence that the ol’ boys club of politics may be facing  more and more female challengers.  Organizations such as Emily’s List and She Should Run are reporting that there are thousands of women who have expressed an interest in running for political office. With the victories in the Virginia election, the number of women seeking to enter the governmental fray will likely increase even more.

This burst of female political energy was bound to happen not just because of recent sexual harassment charges, but also because women have had enough of men making public policy decisions on equal pay, contraception, workplace advancement and health care.  Male office holders running for re-election against a woman in 2018 should be very scared. What’s that old saying about ” Hell hast no fury, then a woman scorned.” Hillary will not be the first female president of our country but her legacy may be encouraging the sisterhood to take up the fight for woman power.

Now before this analysis of women in politics gets out of hand, men still dominate the governing landscape and turning the tables on generations of male control is not going to happen with one election cycle. The ol’ boys will still be around suggesting that these female entrants to politics are novices who aren’t ready for “prime time.”  But what the ol’ boys don’t understand is that they may be up against a political movement that will be difficult to stop. The Tea Party was a movement, Trumpism was a movement and now Women Rule may just be the new movement destined to shape our politics and the direction of our country. Women got the right to vote in 1920; 2018 and beyond may be the time for women to get governing power.



The End of a Dynasty

February 3, 2010

The election of Scott Brown as the new Senator from Massachusetts was not only significant in the message it sent to Democrats and to Washington, it also marked the end of the Kennedy dynasty in American politics. Since the post-World War II era Massachusetts has always had a Kennedy in office either at the state or national level, and on occasion there were multiple Kennedys in positions of governmental prominence.

But those days are now over – the Camelot of John and Jackie is gone, the excitement over young John John possibly becoming a successor to his father is gone, and the charismatic Bobbie and the Liberal Lion of the Senate, Ted are both gone.

There are scores of Kennedy cousins, but there doesn’t appear to be any interest on their part in running for office or beginning to rebuild the Kennedy dynasty. There is the Kennedy Presidential Library and the soon to be constructed Kennedy Senate Institute to house Ted’s papers, but that is what is left from this unbelievable run of political power – just memories, artifacts and official papers.

The fact that so many Massachusetts voters joined Scott Borwn when he said that he was running for the “people’s seat” not the “Kennedy seat” shows that the loyalty toward the family and the mystique of the Kennedy power are gone. What is also gone is the collective memory in Massachusetts of all the good the Kennedys did for this state and the country.

All dynasties come to an end whether in sports, entertainment or politics; and so to with the Kennedy dynasty. But oh what a run! The Kennedys gave us everything we might want in a family of global influence – glamour, controversy, scandal, tragedy, good deeds and most of all, hope for a better tomorrow.

The Kennedys will always remain a vital part of our history, especially here in Massachusetts, but that is all there is now, just history.

Governor Irrelevant

May 28, 2009

Nothing strikes deeper into the heart of a politician than to  have a governing rival call him or her ” irrelevant.” Well that’s what Senate President Therese Murray called Governor Deval Patrick a few days ago. The Governor, who coined the term ” Yes, We Can” and captured the corner office on Beacon Hill with promises of real change, has become to many of his supporters a huge disappointment and to his fellow Democrats in the legislature an obstacle to their vision of running the Commonwealth.

Despite great anticipation among voters that Patrick had the formula for reforming the ageless political culture in the State House, there is now an emerging consensus that he has squandered all the political capital he once held.  His re-election bid, if there is one, is in deep trouble as the Republicans are smelling blood every time they look at Patrick’s sagging poll numbers.

In many respects, Patrick suffers from the Jimmy Carter syndrome-an outsider who plans to shake up the establishment and bring reform to government, only to find that his inexperience and rusty negotiating skills create a climate of mistrust and political gridlock. All the hope on election day that Massachusetts would evolve into a different political environment has turned sour as again the winds of cynicism fill the air.

Granted that Patrick has led the state through some of the toughest times in recent memory; there is little he can do but say no to just about any new program. His primary job these days is to cut, cut and cut some more. In this climate of economic meltdown, it is nearly impossible to say Yes, We Can. 

But if a governor can’t hand out the goodies, than he has to have the persuasive skills to bring change to those sectors of government that are in need of reform. So far Patrick has shown little capacity to move the political conversation from budget cuts to structural reform in transportation, pensions, and tax policy. There is no sense of movement in the State House; no sense that a governing strategy is being implemented. In short, nothing is happening except budget cuts.

Maybe the governor needs a new set of advisers; maybe he needs to take a Dale Carnegie course on how to win friends and influence people; or maybe he needs to read what happened to Jimmy Carter when Ronald Reagan asked the American people on the campaign trail, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago.”