Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

October 1, 2013

EDITORIAL: Money, media and apathy got us in this political mess


CNHI News Service

The Mankato Free Press / Mankato, Minn.

From the coffee shops to the pubs, Americans are frustrated their duly elected leaders can’t figure out how to operate our government in a reasonable way.

It may be no panacea for those folks, but it’s worth discussing how we let it get this far out of hand, out of control.

American democracy and its practice have changed a lot since the last government shutdown about two decades ago.

Political parties have become more susceptible to special interests, making it all the more difficult for citizens to have even an equal say. Money flows more easily into campaigns and individuals or small groups can now influence an election where once it required a large amount of people making small contributions.

Part of that influence has even driven court decisions in certain states that influence where congressional boundary lines are drawn. Critics argue the intransigence of the GOP House tea party movement is bolstered by more and more of these representatives coming from districts that are so dominated by one brand of political thought, the representatives have no worries about re-elections, sometimes for decades.

This kind of concentration of power without accountability also derails the old time power of political party leaders. One only needs to witness how little control Speaker John Boehner has over his tea party caucus to see how this has shifted the power of political party leaders, once key players in Washington. Often decried, these political leaders were sometimes necessary evils. They were key players because they knew how to work with the other side to get things for their members. Maybe it was a road project in their district, or a desirable committee assignment.

Those kind of power centers seem to be fading away quickly. The tools for some of that power wielding also have gone away, some say for the better. There are no more “earmarks.” While that kind of backdoor dealing was widely criticized, it often served a useful purpose for party leaders. We’ll bet Boehner wishes he had the power of earmarks today.

The changing media landscape plays another central role in this eroding of citizen democracy. The number of news reporters whose job it once was to serve as watchdogs for taxpayers and the public has been depleted by 50 percent in some news organizations over the last five years or so.

There’s just a lot more room for political shenanigans to go undetected. And the media that remains — mostly broadcast and national — is aimed at building up the “conflict industry” – overstating or even creating conflict in every story to generate ratings.

And Americans must understand that in the end, they also contribute to this mess by their apathy. The current status quo in Congress shouldn’t be tolerated. There should be massive rallies calling for the ouster of those who would subvert our representative democracy into a road-kill republic, where only the vultures win.

But it isn’t easy for the average citizen. They’re busy trying to keep afloat in an economy that has offered more work for less pay. It’s time consuming to be informed and more so to act on that information.

But unfortunately, becoming informed and active is our best option. Other strategies have so far offered very little success or progress. One commentator urged action by citizens to “scare the hell” out of these people in Washington. That can’t come too soon.

Maybe that’s what World War II vets were thinking when they knocked down the shutdown barricades at the World War II memorial in Washington Tuesday. They were “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”

We hope this shutdown makes clear to political leaders what’s at stake. It may be more than just the next election.