« the case for Nehamiah | Main | interacting with "the media" »

November 20, 2007

civic leadership

I'd like to reply to two thoughtful recent comments. First, Harry Boyte responds to yesterday's post and helps to develop the connection between hyper-partisanship and divisive politics, on one hand, and technocracy or arrogant expertise, on the other. These two problems are not linked in most of the public discussion--on the contrary, technocrats are seen as apolitical, and populists are depicted as divisive. Harry has been arguing that technocracy and divisiveness are actually part of the same problem.

This, by the way, is a response to Sean Wilentz' argument that Senator Clinton is the best prepared candidate because she understands and relishes "politics." Harry would say (I think) that Clinton practices politics in a specific way that is both partisan and technocratic (and therefore not at all like the politics of the New Deal, which Wilentz admires).

Second, Scott Dinsmore (who has a good blog) asks, "What are the pros and cons of populist campaigns and movements carrying the civic renewal banner?"

These are some of the "cons," in my opinion. There's a risk that any specific strategies or policies for civic renewal will become identified with a particular candidate, who will inevitably have idiosyncratic interests, values, followers, and frailties. Other candidates may shy away from civic themes, thinking that a competitor has already staked that ground. The version of civic participation that one candidate offers may be thin, limited, or even fake. And then that politician can lose, creating the impression that civic renewal is a loser of a platform.

Now here's the "pro" side of the argument: There is more than one flavor of civic renewal, so it would be possible for many candidates to stake out civic ground and compete over who is most likely to empower and respect citizens. There can be a "service" version, emphasizing the national and community service programs in and out of schools; a decentralization version, favoring charter schools and local autonomy; a patriotic version, stressing knowledge of the constitution and military service; and a deliberative version, which puts process first. I'd love to see a healthy competition among these "flavors."

Compared to past decades, we have a richer set of civic experiences and practices at the local level; Bridgeport is just one example. National leaders who understood grassroots civic renewal could bring it to public attention and create supportive national policies.

John Edwards proposed some good ideas for civic participation and explicitly cited the November Fifth Coalition, even though it is a fledgling organization with no money (yet). This was exciting but also risky for us and our friends and allies. We don't want to depend on any one politician to carry our water, but we must welcome their attention.

November 20, 2007 9:00 AM | category: none


Site Meter