View Mobile Site

A ‘followership’ crisis

Posted: December 2, 2011 11:41 a.m.
Updated: December 5, 2011 5:00 a.m.

When somebody complains about how politicians are a bunch of corrupt, lazy, no-account bums, Rep. Barney Frank has been known to reply with a wry grin: "Y'know, the public is no bargain, either."

That's what I'm going to miss about the Massachusetts Democrat who has announced he's not running for re-election. Now, he says, he'll be able to tell people how he really feels. When, I wonder, has he ever not?

Regarding the shortcomings of us, the voting public, he makes a timely point. Seldom have Americans had so many beefs and so little inclination to compromise, as a couple of insightful essays from right and left perspectives reveal in a recent New York magazine.

From the right, David Frum, a conservative blogger and former George W. Bush speechwriter, laments in "When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality?" that the Grand Old Party's tea party-backed presidential candidates have embraced an ideology based more on fantasy than facts.

To hear the Republican presidential candidates, for example, you would never guess that taxe rates are lowest since the Truman administration, corporations are reporting record high profits, and government has been shrunk by 500,000 public sector jobs, Frum writes.

Conservative constituencies see themselves as aggrieved victims of American government, he writes. "The reality is, however, that the big winners in the American fiscal system are the rich, the old, the rural and veterans -- typically conservative constituencies."

As a result, he says, any serious budget cutting must inevitably target programs that conservative voters like: Medicare for current beneficiaries, farm subsidies, veterans' benefits and "big tax loopholes like the mortgage-interest deduction and employer-provided health benefits."

Instead of addressing tough questions like these, the GOP's recent parade of frontrunners from the party's far-right Anybody-But-Mitt-Romney wing offers more entertainment than enlightenment, Frum says, "each time they reveal that they know nothing about public affairs and have never attempted to learn."

Embarrassments like Herman Cain's gaffe on Libya or Rick Perry's brain freeze on which departments he wants to eliminate "are not only indicators of bad leadership," Frum observes. "They are indicators of a crisis of followership. The tea party never demanded knowledge or concern for governance, and so of course it never got them."

Yet, a similar, if longer-standing "crisis of followership" afflicts President Barack Obama's party, too, staff writer Jonathan Chait points out in a companion New York piece titled "When Did Liberals Become So Unreasonable?"

Even before Obama's swearing-in, left-progressives like MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, Salon's Glenn Greenwald and MoveOn's Justin Ruben began criticizing his compromises with the right. Sometimes they were justified, in my view. Even as he was running for office, for example, I thought he was giving away too much on his signature health care issue.

But Chait sees a deeper discontent in the left as he recounts remarkably similar gripes about every Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, who didn't quite get away unscathed, either. "Liberals are dissatisfied with Obama because liberals, on the whole, are incapable of feeling satisfied with a Democratic president," Chait concludes. "They can be happy with the idea of a Democratic president -- indeed, dancing-in-the-streets delirious -- but not with the real thing."

Indeed, there's a lot of dissatisfaction on both sides these days. The GOP's angry tea party mood could pass, many predict, after a nominee is named. So could current divisions on the left, Team Obama certainly hopes.

Yet there are some, like Frum, who believe we may have entered a new and hard-to-predict era. Fiscal austerity and economic stagnation have brought a new gloom to the party's base, particularly working-class whites. Their anger is further enflamed by conservative media. Nobody in broadcasting ever went broke, it seems, by playing to public anger, fears, resentments and suspicions. But it's not good for democracy.

Candidates use such alienation and discontent to boost votes, but the underlying economic problems are not going away soon. The nation looks for strong leadership, it is often said, but our system also needs followers who will pick leaders who are worth following.

Interested in viewing premium content?

A subscription is required before viewing this article and other premium content.

Already a registered member and have a subscription?

If you have already purchased a subscription, please log in to view the full article.

Are you registered, but do not have a subscription?

If you are a registed user and would like to purchase a subscription, log in to view a list of available subscriptions.

Interested in becoming a registered member and purchasing a subscription?

Join our community today by registering for a FREE account. Once you have registered for a FREE account, click SUBSCRIBE NOW to purchase access to premium content.

Membership Benefits

  • Instant access to creating Blogs, Photo Albums, and Event listings.
  • Email alerts with the latest news.
  • Access to commenting on articles.

Contents of this site are © Copyright 2014 Chronicle Independent All rights reserved. Privacy policy and Terms of service

Powered by
Morris Technology
Please wait ...