Politics and Consumer Motivations

Electrolite is one of my favorite blogs and I’ve spent the last half hour trying to remember the link to this brilliant piece in the Washington Post about the consumerization of our political process. I start reading Electrolite and suddenly find the link staring me in the face. Here’s part of what it says:

We are watching the slow-motion collapse of American citizenship. For more than two centuries, ordinary citizens were important actors on this country’s stage. Their vanguard entered political life with a bang in the 18th century, rising up to fire the shot heard ‘round the world. Over the ensuing decades, tens of millions more served their revolutionary republic as citizen-soldiers, jurors, taxpayers and citizen-administrators who helped to extend government authority and services across a sparsely populated continent. At the same time, government extended voting rights to citizens once excluded from the electorate.

Now our government no longer needs us. The citizen-soldiers have given way to the professional all-volunteer military and its armada of smart bombs and drone aircraft. The citizen-administrators have disappeared, too, replaced long ago by professional bureaucrats. Americans may still regard each other as fellow citizens with common causes and commitments. But the candidates seeking votes on Tuesday see us as something less: not a coherent public with a collective identity but a swarm of disconnected individuals out to satisfy our personal needs in the political marketplace. We see them, in turn, as boring commercials to be tuned out.

In my recent reading, while surfing the net, and in my current classes I keep running into the problem of individual versus the group. This is nothing new. I’ve seen the issue in many places I’ve looked ever since high school and college. What disturbed me most about the recent elections and turned me off from the democrats is the complete failure of anyone to counter the consumerist/individualist turn of all our politics.

What really astounds me about conservative politics is a contradiction that seems obvious to me but is missed by every conservative I read and talk to. How can you claim that family and community values are really under attack in America and, at the same time, support the complete abdication of the public sphere to private, capitalist, enterprise? Part of the reason why family values are under attack is because of the relentless drive to privatize everything in our society. Under such an ideology there is no room for community. Although I laughed at Hillary Clinton’s book It Takes a Village, I may have to go back and give it some serious reconsideration. The cliche of the title really does get at an important issue. I just wish the Democrats had a better messenger.