What's Tony Thinking

Getting Power


“Everybody talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it,” complained Mark Twain.

A recent op-ed piece said pretty much the same about politics. A lot of us complain about it, but when it comes to getting really involved, we don’t do much. So argues Eitan Hersh, the author of Politics Is About PowerHere’s Hersh, who starts off by noting similar trends in religion:

“But increasingly, especially among well-educated white liberals, religion and politics are not face-to-face communal experiences. Instead, participants try to extract emotional and intellectual gratifications for themselves without obligating themselves to others. “Spiritual but not religious” identifiers, who now constitute a quarter of the United States population, are disproportionately made up of well-educated liberals. They seek spiritual self-care through technology, exercise and nature rather than through weekly attendance in a religious community.

“The political equivalent are the news bingers, online debaters and kitchen-table exasperators who are emotionally invested but do not participate in organized political life. I call them political hobbyists. They are most prevalent among the same cohort of educated white liberals as the spiritual-but-not-religious. In a 2018 survey, for instance, I found that college-educated whites reported spending much more time on political consumption than did blacks and Hispanics, but significantly less time volunteering in political organizations.”

It is interesting to me that Hersh writes of the parallel between politics and religion particularly as it manifests among white liberals. The “spiritual-but-not-religious” find their parallel in the “political-but-not-getting hands dirty.”

My cousin, Ian MacGowan, worked in politics for many, many years. As many eighteen months ago he said to me, “This (2020) election is about power. Getting power to impact the agenda.” I remember being just a bit startled by his bluntness. “It’s about power.” No liberal niceties there. No if’s, and’s or but’s. I thought, “Hmmm . . . he’s right.”

Hersh makes a similar point, saying that too many of us educated, white liberals spend a lot of times complaining about politics, and of course the President in particular, but don’t really get involved. The reason, says Hersh, is that well-educated, white liberals are really pretty comfortable, when push comes to shove, with the way things are. Ouch! Truth in that.

By contrast, and whatever you may say about it, more conservative people — and yes, often, white conservative people — feel threatened, enough so that they have been organizing and strategizing and mobilizing for several decades now.

I’ve been weighing how to be involved in the present election. I have been contributing money to two Democratic candidates, Amy Klobuchar and Joe Biden. We’ll see where both stand after Iowa. Klobuchar is a definite long shot, who may suffer a TKO in Iowa. My mention of candidates by name makes me think of Sam McKinney, long pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist in Seattle. Sam used to say to his congregation, “I won’t tell you how to vote, but I will tell you who I’m voting for.”

At any rate, how to participate this time around? In 2016 I spent two weeks in Ohio working for the Clinton campaign. Mostly I was doing voter registration and door belling. I didn’t feel that my labors were all that productive (though Clinton did get a 53% margin in the area where I worked). This time around I’ve wondered if that involvement was time well spent or if the candidate of my choice would be better off just receiving the money I would have spent should I do something similar in 2020. It could be that a hot senate contest is the place to be.

Do you too feel a bit called out by the Hersh column? How are you participating or planning to do so? Where do you think our efforts are best placed?


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