Politicians are cowards
Almost a year before the 2016 election, Devin Nunes spoke with The New Yorker about then-House Speaker John Boehner’s ouster.
Nunes told the author that one of the biggest changes he’s seen since his arrival in 2002 is the rise of online media outlets and for-profit groups that spread bad or even false information:
I used to spend ninety per cent of my constituent response time on people who call, e-mail, or send a letter, such as, ‘I really like this bill, H.R. 123,’ and they really believe in it because they heard about it through one of the groups that they belong to, but their view was based on actual legislation. Ten per cent were about ‘Chemtrails from airplanes are poisoning me’ to every other conspiracy theory that’s out there. And that has essentially flipped on its head.
Today, the calls and emails are 90 percent about the bad information and conspiracy theories, and only a small percentage are about things that are actually true.
Of course today, we know Nunes as the point man from the House Intelligence Committee who keeps trying to push the lie that it was Hillary Clinton who actually colluded with Russia. Nunes is also a global warming denier even as Fresno, the largest city in his California district, experienced a record consecutive days with highs that topped 100 degrees.
Nunes is now one of the leaders in disinformation.
Because Fox News and other right-wing conspiracy media outlets have made him famous. His fame has brought in $7.4 million in campaign donations, the most of any California Republican. This is also three to seven times any previous amount he’s raised.
So … conspiracy away!
In three years Nunes went from Freedom Party critic to one of the lead conspiracy theorists in Congress. Along the way, he threw out every principle he once might have had.
He’s not a leader. He’s a Fox News puppet.
Devin Nunes calls his own paper, The Sacramento Bee, ‘fake news’
It’s important to understand that this is not just true for Nunes, but for most politicians
The mistake we often make, however, is seeing Democratic politicians differently. They’re not conspiracy theorists like Nunes. But they also don’t tend to be leaders like we want them to be. They have to get elected, too. So they will do what it takes to get elected. They will champion causes that are hot-button issues in the media. They will talk about what they think they can talk about in order to win. If an issue is going to hurt them politically, they may avoid it.
The simple model for what they’re doing looks like this:
Social change -> political change -> policy change
Social change is cultural change. It is what is popular in the public mind. Political change is winning elections. And policy change is when politicians write legislation.
Politicians will do what those who get them elected want.
If we look at someone saying this on the Democratic side, it looks like Barack Obama in 2009 talking about health care. Obama took a page out of President Franklin Roosevelt’s playbook. FDR once met with a group of activists who wanted support for new, bold legislation. After listening to their arguments, he then said, “You’ve convinced me. Now go out and make me do it.”
What he meant by “make me do it” was to accomplish the social change necessary to keep representatives in power long enough to effect the policy change.
If you want something done in our country, you have to have representatives in government to do it. To accomplish this, you have to change social norms.
Why the Republican Party has abandoned reality
The things corporate special interests want are not popular in America.
They want to
- Pay people less and get them to work more
- Eliminate benefits like health care
- Keep all the profits for themselves (privatize the profit)
- Shift any of the costs and risks onto everyone else (socialize the risks)
They don’t care at all about whether or not people lead decent lives. All that matters are the returns they can deliver in quarterly reports.
If they have to buy government to do this, so be it.
If what they want isn’t popular, they’re going to look for ways to get politicians elected without having to talk about these issues. Toward this end, they have purchased media bullhorns and they’ve developed a story about good and evil to tell people.
We all know this story.
If you are a conservative, you are a good defender of capitalism. If you are a liberal, you are an evil socialist who is trying to destroy the country.
Whether or not this is true does not matter to them. What matters is whether they can get politicians elected.
This is why the Republican Party has detached from reality. Corporate special interest legislation is not popular with people, so corporate special interests have to create a different reality: one in which corruption is good (today we call it “business friendly” or “free” markets) and one in which democracy is bad (people should not interfere with corruption).
What this means for your conversations
Many people I know don’t like to hear that politicians are cowards. They want politicians to be activists who are leading the push for change.
I find it comforting to understand politicians because if we understand politicians, we have a better chance of actually creating change.
If we expect politicians to be activists, we will always be disappointed. Why? Because by and large they can’t lead the activist charge. If they do, they get unelected.
Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean we don’t need activists. We absolutely need people creating social change. We need to make it possible for politicians to support something and stay elected.
We need both movements and politicians.
If you do this right, you can even get politicians to support conspiracy theories
That’s a joke. I don’t want them to support conspiracy theories.
The point I’m trying to make is that if people get involved and push and vote, things will change.
It will happen.
What this means practically
It means that you and I have to do certain things repeatedly.
When elections aren’t happening, we must:
- Work to change our culture
- Push for better ideas
- Put as much pressure as you can on your elected politicians (no matter what party they’re in)
- Get involved with an activist group
- Reach out to people, especially people who might be different from you, and find out what interests them
- Make as many connections as possible—build your networks
- Vote for the most liberal politician who can win (this might not be who makes you feel good)
- Support candidates
- Contribute to their campaigns
- Get involved in party politics
- Encourage others to vote and get involved
- Do this up and down the ticket
- Help people understand how politics works and how change happens
During general elections
- Repeat the same steps as for the primaries
Corporate special interests are going to try to convince you that change isn’t possible. They will try to discourage you. They will spread fear and they will do whatever they can to keep people from voting.
Demographics are changing in favor of the Democratic Party. On issue after issue, the Democratic Party is on the side of the American people.
All we have to do is make enough politicians pay the price for abandoning reality.
David Akadjian is the author of The Little Book of Revolution: A Distributive Strategy for Democracy (also available as an ebook).