Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Managed Democracy and Secret Audience Plants, or "I Sing Democracy’s Dirge"

I had originally supported and championed Hillary Clinton for president. Why? Well, besides being a democrat, I like her as a personality, support most of her progressive views on social issues, and I felt that as a politician, Hillary had been around the block enough to know how to handle disputes with discussion and diplomacy first, and a firm hand second. I also liked her because I love the idea of a woman finally being president—I won’t deny that, it seems an overdue actuality. But as her campaign progressed, I became wary. Wary of her views on everything from health care, to other economic policies which affect local and global realities. In effect, I started to find her far too “conservative” for my liking. Yet, as I lean more towards Edwards, I still watch and listen to Hillary in hopes of something. Along the way, I kept hearing about her well oiled political “machine” that was calculated, managed, and fixed. This well oiled political machine was truly exposed during her tour of a biodiesel plant in Newton, Iowa, when a young man in the audience was given a “planted” question to ask her: “As a young person, I'm worried about the long-term effects of global warming. How does your plan combat climate change?” This planted question has caused many to go up in arms, yelling: “unfair, unfair.” John Dickerson at Slate in “Great Question. Glad I Asked It,” rightly suggests that the outrage stems from the fact that such political forums, including town halls and informal meetings between candidates and lay persons in cafes, or at the park, or at commercial/industrial plants, are meant to be “organic” and “spontaneous” spaces of true democratic interaction and debate. Having a “plant” in the audience is an attempt to “manage” that process—creating managed democracy. Managed democracy is not new and has been around for ages. Democracy, itself, is a messy, difficult, and, at times, painful process . . . so it is no wonder that people work to manage that “pain.” Yet, managing democracy, either by putting plants in the audience, arranging “fake” presses conferences (ala the current Bush administration), or like the Putinesque procedure of having control over the media and financial institutions in order to limit the potential, resources, and viability of an opponent, is killing democracy. Make no mistake, the true spirit and hope of democracy has been experiencing a slow, but real, death in the United States. One could make the argument that the spirit of democracy has always been in contention in the US. Indeed, we are a republic, not a democracy. Yet, even as a republic, the US has relied upon democracy to help us make the correct decisions, allow spaces to fight injustices, while, at the same time, encouraging our population to actively participate in the political, social, and public issues that affect us all. But from our modern times, from especially the 1970s on, democracy as a concept of public, commons, argumentation and debate, has been eroded and transformed into first a “market” democracy, and second a “managed” democracy. This, in turn, has been sold to the greater public as an asset—after all, no one likes a mess and true democracy is a real mess of opinions, arguments, and passion. If “managed,” it is argued, democracy can be transformed from a jejune frustration into a mature, wise, arbitrator. And yet, what this bill of goods forgets to explain is that democracy can not be “managed” without destroying its sprit and its inner workings. I am sure Hillary is not the only one running for president using “plants,” just as I am sure that Bush did not invent the idea of managed and market democracy. What seems apparent, however, is the fact that such attempts to manage public spaces of democratic workings are the status quo of democracy and politics in the United States today. We must, as many are, complain loudly, and debate fiercely in the face of such democratic disassembling—or, I am saddened to say, be prepared to sing the democratic dirge.

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