Sunday, December 6, 2015

How Political Power Really Works

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on…………………"


Another mass shooting last week.  So common an occurrence that it hardly seems surprising anymore.  Terrorists, or disgruntled employees, or just crazy, angry people.  And innocent victims.  We decry that society cannot allow this to be the new normal, but all the evidence points that it is.

Gun opponents argue that we have to do something.  Gun defenders argue that it isn't the guns.  Like the Buffalo Springfield song:  "Nobody's right if everybody's wrong."  And what can we really do?  There are so many guns already out there, that the horses left the barn a long time ago. But then it seems to turn out that many of these mass shootings are done by people who acquired their guns relatively recently.  Common sense suggests certifiably crazy people ought not to have access to weapons.  But the gun lobby's policy is to fight any attempt to limit access to guns - any kind of guns.

I've read a report that a majority of the membership of the NRA actually approves of reasonable limitations on acquiring guns, including certain background checks and registration.  But the lobbying organizations seem controlled by a faction that believes any restrictions will lead to more restrictions and ultimately to some attempt to outlaw guns entirely.  Certainly there is a large group of citizens who hope that is exactly what happens.

I read an article recently that a bill to deny guns to those on the security watch list (and the no fly list) has stalled in Congress for the past five years.  Even an attempt to pass simple legislation to cut off sales of guns to those who are suspected of being terrorists can't pass.

How is that possible?

The gun lobbies are among the most powerful lobbying organizations in the country.  And what makes them so powerful?  Two things:  First, they have built an enormous, stable constituent group that provides them two things:  1) money and funds; and 2) a grassroots support group for whom the right to bear arms (and own whatever kind of guns they want) is a sacrosanct, line in the sand, issue and a large portion of those people will vote for or against someone running for elected office on that issue alone - and it doesn't matter whether the politician is for or against any other issue that may or may not be important to the pro gun voter.  And this group is fairly disciplined.  Second, they are sophisticated lobbyists who know that affecting government policy is a long haul game.

But don't take my word for it.  If you want to understand how politics works, and how policy is affected by citizens with a viewpoint, such as the gun lobby, check out this article (The Real Nature of Politics and Politicians)  by Mike Rothfeld, a political consultant who apparently is affiliated with the National Association for Gun Rights (not the NRA, but with a similar agenda).   Mr. Rothfeld gives a very concise and I think very accurate tutorial on lobbying.  Whether you disagree with his position isn't the issue.  He's playing the system by its own rules, for something he believes in.  I find no fault with that at all.    I accept the Constitutional right to bear arms, even though I completely disagree with the gun lobbyists policy positions regarding reasonable regulations.

But to understand the gun lobby's political strategy, consider his article's opening statements:

"Politics is the adjudication of power.  It is the process by which people everywhere determine who rules whom. 
In America, through a brilliant system of rewards and punishments, checks and balances, and diffusion of authority, we have acquired a habit and history of politics mostly without violence and excessive corruption. 
The good news for you and me is that the system works. 
The bad news is it is hard, and sometimes unpleasant work, for us to succeed in enacting policy. 
There is absolutely no reason for you to spend your time, talent, and money in politics except for this:  If you do not, laws will be written and regulations enforced by folks with little or no interest in your well-being."

He goes on to dispel the widespread, and erroneous assumption, that public opinion and education, are the keys to political victory, as well as dismissing access to politicians as real power:

A "common mistake is to believe that the key to victory is education. 
The “education is the key to political victory” theory claims that if we educate people as to the problem and the solution, then the elected officials will fall in line. 
It is important to understand the two reasons why the education theory of politics is a mistake. 
First, the theory assumes no opposing “education” effort.  This is rarely the case. 
The second, and more important, reason the “education is the key” theory fails lies in the nature of politics and politicians."

And in describing politicians and their behavior he concludes:

"Access is calling a politician and having him take your call.  He listens to what you want, and may or may not do it.  It is what most grassroots leaders end up settling for. 
Power is the ability to tell a politician what you want, and either get it or deliver substantial pain (maybe even get a new politician) at the next election.  
No matter what, you will make it harder for the politician to win re-election, costing him extra time and money.
If the politician loses, every other elected official will fear you and your group.
If the politician wins, he (and other politicians) will remember the extra pain you caused him.  And he will know you may do it again or worse.  When you return to continue fighting for what you believe in, you will find him and his colleagues more willing … and surprisingly, sometimes more gracious (though do not count on the latter; personal pleasantness is cheap coin).

And finally this:
"As the late Everett Dirksen said, “When I feel the heat, I see the light.

I've said as much repeatedly.  When a vote is problematic: Forget your stories - they don't really matter.  Sorry.  Forget your value.  It doesn't really matter. Sorry.  The righteousness of one's cause may provide "cover" that a politician can use to justify their vote, but it only sometimes will get the vote you want in the first place.  Our victories in the arts, such as they have been, have come about because there was basically no reason for the "yea" voters not to support us.  But we all know that our victories have been small; not anywhere near what we need or want. And we are often on the defensive in response to attacks.  As often as not, the arts have been the lighting rod for right wing political groups who use opposition to the arts for other reasons - including inciting their base and in their fundraising..  We simply don't have the political will to amass the power that Mr. Rothfeld describes.

I urge you to read Mr. Rothfeld's article.  It isn't that long.  I think you will find it an eye-opener.  It's very specific, practical political advice.  If people want some kind of reasonable gun restrictions, or if the nonprofit arts want more funding and specific legislation passed, this article intelligently sets forth the way the game is played.  You may not like it, or him, or his beliefs, but his advice to his constituents and to anyone who has an agenda is, in my opinion, spot on.  And the fact that gun rights, as his and other groups define them, are so important to them, that they are willing to engage the system as it is, make the necessary sacrifices, and do what is necessary to increase their chances of winning -  is their right. That's how our system works.  And as Mr. Rothfeld notes:  the system does work.

As to gun regulations, one can only hope sanity prevails at some point.  But don't count on it.  The political system is stacked against such a result.  As to the arts, maybe someday we too will be able to amass real political power.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

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