It's exciting to see American democracy reborn thanks to modern communications technologies. Sites like Daily Kos are at long last breaking network TV’s decades-long stranglehold on America's political decision-making process. Americans are still far from having a truly informed voice in the political decisions that affect their lives, but we're closer to this goal today than we were 10 years ago.
I want to help realize this goal via a non-partisan, issue-centered, decision-making civic media that makes citizens and government responsive and accountable to each other in solving the problems AND maximizing the opportunities that will shape the nation’s future. My sites:
Archive of 1990’s civic media work in Chicago. Focus: gangs and drugs
America’s Choice treatment for politically-themed reality TV
Seeding Civic Media civic media formats
Weathering the Storm on the global finance crisis
This morning I stumbled on some thoughts on political dynasties I'd written a couple years ago. They got me thinking. In America, political dynasty usually brings to mind families (Roosevelts, Kennedies, Bushes, Clintons) but not Yale and Harvard, the two dynastic universities that paved the way to the White House for these families: all of them.
I hold degrees from both universities and so I've long wondered the inattention of academic historians and political pundits to how Yale and Harvard have advanced the dynastic trend in American presidential politics.
The piece below is about Yale. (I have yet to write about Harvard, whose Law School gave us President Obama.) It appearedin early 2007 as a comment to a Featured Article in the Wall Street Journal by Michael Barone. Barone is the primary author of the authoritative Almanac of American Politics, which is revised each year. His article more or less celebrates the dominance of American politics by dynasties (Bushes and Clintons) as providers of societal stability and continuity. Here's a representative quote:
We need as much knowledge of our presidential candidates as we can get and, if we get some of it by knowing their families as closely as we know the families of recent occupants of the White House, so be it. As Bagehot put it, "The best reason why Monarchy is a strong government is, that it is an intelligible government. The mass of mankind understand it, and they hardly anywhere in the world understand any other."
What got under my skin was Barone's vapid historical references to a vague "drift towards royalism" in American politics. The man was clearly dancing around the central fact, staring him in the face, that the White House had been (would be) occupied without interruption for TWO FULL DECADES (1989-2009) by Yale graduates. How on earth could the ultra-informed Michael Barone, of all people, fail to comment in this historic trend, completely unprecedented in our nation's history as it was?
Barone's silence or evasiveness bothered me all the more because my father, Richard B Sewall, taught English at Yale for 42 years, and I had earned a Masters in teaching there. I know Yale.
If any of this is of interest, my writings on the dangers of the Yale Succession of American presidents are here, here, here and especially here.
I see civic media as the only healthy alternative to the corrosive and depleting effects of political dynasty and its first cousin, nepotism. Yale and Harvard need to wake up to this fact. Fat chance, you say. Re-invent or watch the nation fall apart, I say.
At any rate, I suspect I'll never make the case for civic media any better than it's made in last two paragraphs of this piece.
AN AMERICAN WHITEWASH: MICHAEL BARONE'S MEANDERING RETURN TO ROYALISM
Michael Barone avoids the key facts and loses touch with political realty in his assessment of the Bush/Clinton presidential dynasties. Surely the author of the respected Almanac of American Politics knows that these dynasties are less familial than educational in origin, and that both spring from the same educational institution, Yale University, where the neo-liberal Clinton dynasty of the Yale Law School (where Bill met Hillary) co-exists with the neo-conservative Bush dynasty of Skull & Bones, the politically active Yale secret society whose members include Democrat John Kerry. (2004 Presidential contenders Joe Lieberman and Howard Dean were Yale undergraduates as well, but not Bonesmen.)
Instead of examining the impact on American politics of these twin neo-dynasties, Barone wanders off to Indonesia, India and the Philippines on the way to concluding that "it's hard in a very large democracy for voters to judge a potential leader." These comparisons aren't merely unflattering, they are red herrings, for Barone uses them to suppress the information and inquiry that make sound judgment possible.
In doing so, he is in good company. "Too secret to talk about" is the catch-phrase that Yale Bonesmen John Kerry and George W. Bush (a third generation Bonesman, after his father George H W and grandfather Prescott) both used in order to evade reporters' questions about the secret society thruought the 2004 presidential campaign.
"Too secret to talk about" also explains the silence of the press at Yale and elsewhere on the unsavory role that 300 years of Ivy League venerability have played in shielding Yale's presidential offspring from scrutiny or accountability for the billions upon billions they have raised and spent on the political attack ads that have paved their way to the White House at the cost of polarizing the nation, alienating voters and corrupting American government. To the contrary, Yale University has consistently blessed the succession of Yale presidents that has occupied the White House without interruption for the past 19 years.
Given these hard political realities, it would make sense for a media-savvy pundit like Barone to call for a media alternative to political attack ads: a non-ideological, issue-centered, problem-solving media committed to making citizens and government responsive and accountable to each other in shaping the nation's future. Instead, Barone looks backward in time to justify his half-hearted, head-in-the-sand endorsement of political royalism. He cites Walter Bagehot's 19th century condescension that "the best reason why Monarchy is a strong government is, that it is an intelligible government. The mass of mankind understands it, and they hardly anywhere in the world understand any other".
This Victorian recipe for civic ignorance is at odds with 21st century political reality. Americans, while understandably fed up and confused by nearly five decades of attack ads, are not mindless. The 2006 mid-term Congressional elections were a considered and historic rejection of the attack-ad driven Bush/Clinton royalism that has become a threat to democracy at home and abroad. Bottom line, voters rejected the attack-ad politics that their Yale-trained presidents have imposed on them.
What Americans want now, if anyone is listening, is for the media to give them an informed voice in the political decisions that affect their lives. They want a prime-time civic media that will unite the nation instead of dividing it. And when America's political leaders, in desperation, finally decide to act in accordance with their stump-speech professions of trust and faith in the wisdom of the American people, this civic media, I submit, is exactly what America will get.
Posted by: Steve Sewall | February 3, 2007 4:20 PM