Why Don't They Do Something?

There appears to be a disconnect between widespread public discontent -- e.g., distrust of the federal government, hostility toward Congress, belief that the country is headed in the wrong direction -- and paucity of overt attempts to rectify the status quo.

Many focus on the mainstream media (MSM) -- still the largest source of news for most citizens -- noting that the MSM's love affair with Barack Obama insures that negative stories -- e.g., Benghazi -- never get much, if any, coverage. The MSM's misreporting of the news probably anesthetizes some who might otherwise be motivated to "throw the bums out."

Unquestionably, partisanship plays a role. People who think of themselves as Democrats, a portion of whom are also liberals/progressives/whatever, are less likely to view America's condition with alarm than people who identify themselves as Republicans, particularly those who also tend to be conservatives.

There are at least three problems with just looking at partisanship. First, a sizable portion of the American public does not identify with either major political party. Yet, some of these people are as exercised about America's plight as are strong conservatives, while others are oblivious.

Second, some Republicans are just as indifferent as their Democrat and Independent peers.

Third, many people do not hold firm, internally consistent political opinions. Such individuals are unlikely to see events clearly enough to react forcefully.

That brings up a related culprit: for a variety of reasons -- poor schools, journalistic malfeasance, whatever -- we live in the age of the "low-information voter" (LIV), and LIVs are too ignorant to realize how bad things are.

One factor that is often overlooked, but shouldn't be, is humans' tendency to endure what some regard as unbearable. Thomas Jefferson noted this trait in the Declaration of Independence: "mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms [of government] to which they are accustomed."

A related reason for the disconnect is that many ordinary people attach relatively low personal importance to public affairs. Evidence of the low personal significance many people attach to politics is not hard to detect. Consider just two examples.

Several years ago, American adults were asked to rank seven different spheres of life -- "family and children," "career and work," "free time and relaxation," "friends and acquaintances," "relatives," "religion and church," and "politics and public life" -- in terms of personal importance. Respondents could rank each sphere from 1 "unimportant" to 7 "very important."

"Family and children" were considered personally most important, by a sizable margin. "Politics and public life" came in last, by an even bigger margin.

There is no reason to believe things would be much different today unless, of course, these queries were posed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 or the Boston Marathon bombings.

Another way to view the low importance many people attach to political matters is to ask how closely they follow media stories about different topics. When that's done, media stories about diverse facets of the political arena -- e.g., "political figures and events in Washington," "international affairs," even "local government" -- garner far less heed than accounts of seemingly less weighty topics as "the weather," "health," or "consumer news."

Regardless of how it's plumbed, all the evidence on the subject points to the same conclusion: For most people, most of the time, public affairs are matters of tertiary concern.

There are many reasons for this, of course, and most are probably benign, although civics teachers might not agree. Still, it's very hard to find fault with an individual if he/she is more worried about family and kids, making ends meet, staying healthy, etc. than about what's happening in the halls of power at home or abroad.

Although it hasn't always been true, at least in the U.S. for as long as most of us can remember and, unless things change a lot in the future, the ebb and flow of political fortunes are not life-and-death matters.

That's a plus, of course, but it crimps activism. It is also a significant reason for the disconnect noted above. Most people, even those who think "the new normal" in the U.S. is abnormal, restrict themselves to an occasional grumble, but go on about their daily activities.

What does it take to get a sufficient number of people -- who are usually passive -- to become politically aware and committed to changing today's mess? This is, of course, the classic conundrum facing those -- of the right or the left -- who seek substantial change in the status quo.

I do not advocate revolution. A reprise of the Tea Party movement of 2009-2010 would suffice. The 1994 voter revolt that ousted Democrats from control of both houses of Congress would do nicely.

What will it take to motivate more people to plump for "a new deal" in America -- not the one in the 1930s, of course -- but a different "deal"? If history is any guide, it will take an economic cataclysm -- high unemployment, renewed inflation, depression, etc. -- at least as great as the crisis that plagued the country in 2007-2008. (We need to remember that the official estimate of unemployment in 1932, as American voters prepared to strip power from Herbert Hoover and the GOP and hand it to Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Democrats, was 25%.)

Things were not that bad in 2008, of course, but they were grave enough for a majority of voters to hand the reins of power to an untested, unvetted candidate who promised "change you can believe in."

Well, now we know what that "change" meant.

So, I return to the original query: how do we end the seeming discrepancy between widespread public discontent with America's "new normal" juxtaposed with almost equally widespread passivity? Between now and 2016, and perhaps as early as 2014, those of us who find the present distasteful (to say the least) must motivate millions of Americans to join with us to become a mass movement determined to replace what Angelo Codevilla calls "the ruling class" -- and they include Republicans as well as Democrats -- with more people from "the country class." Moreover, some means have to be found to insure that, once people from the country class enter the halls of power, they don't just ape the thoughts and acts of today's ruling class.

I doubt that any one person will know enough about "human nature" to provide a complete answer to my question. I certainly don't. Nevertheless, we need to begin a national conversation dedicated to finding the answer or, more likely, answers. The sooner we do so, the better.