The Disconnect: Two to Tango?

I have heard (and read) many people complain about how out of touch political leaders are from average Americans. How true. Just think of former President Bush marveling at the grocery scanner device, or former Vice President Gore’s “no controlling legal authority” apology that was the most totally off-the-mark mea (non) culpa in recent memory. These and other political leaders are, truly, out of touch with what people think and feel in the real world. And many more current examples come to mind without much effort.

But here is my question: how many average Americans are at all in touch with the notions underlying responsible self-governance? Aren’t we “ordinary folks” just as guilty?

Think about it:

* We treat candidates for office as if they are “applying for a job” and we are the “bosses” — rather than understanding that we are seeking to find leaders in whom we will place our trust.

* We demand a stance on every little issue, with the implicit understanding that, if we don’t hear what we want, we will pick someone else for the “job.” And, woe betide the candidate who has no response, or who learns something new and so changes their views — we will say they have no conviction and that they flip-flop on the issues.

* All too many of us rely on campaign advertisements to inform ourselves. Those few of us who go beyond that only seek out information from sources we already agree with — and so our biases are perpetuated.

* We say people should “get involved” — but how many of us have really done anything that could count as involvement, like volunteer on a campaign or attend a public meeting?

* We demand “public financing” or “campaign finance reform” as if the enterprise of running for office were dirty and money should never touch it — but few of us have ever donated anything besides money (time, for instance) to a candidate whom we admire.

It is little wonder that the least-leaderly among us choose to run for office under such circumstances. Who would want to lead ingrates like us?

Of course, we’re not all so bad. Many who are reading this are no doubt part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

But, while we are patting ourselves on the back, we might ask ourselves, looking deep inside our civic souls: what have we done lately to bridge the disconnect? What have we done lately that could really be counted as a step towards a solution?

I know that, when I get honest about it, I will not like the answer I give. How about you?

Published by

Brad Rourke

Executive editor of issue guides and program officer at the Kettering Foundation.

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