Our Democracy Is Failing And It’s All Your Fault — So, Buy My Book

I’m thinking that one way to hawk my new LuLu book, “Why You Are Not Entitled To Your Opinion,” might be to start going about and making speeches.

Last night I was the special speaker at the Northridge Kiwanis Club — guest of my high school teachers, Larry O’Donnell and Mary Jo Withrow, and my high school neighbor, and friend, Vaughn Beams. Northridge Kiwanis meets every Thursday at the Airport Hotel Restaurant. The same people have been meeting together for years, sometimes as few as three or four people show up and sometimes more than twenty. It’s a great group of people.

As I drove from Kettering to the airport, I was thinking of the advice that it is good to start a speech with a joke. The last joke I heard, a very old joke recently revived by my brother-in-law, I was thinking might work. The joke starts, “A man comes home from church choir practice with two black eyes.” It’s sort of a “how do you explain the unexplainable” sort of story and I was thinking this story might be a good introduction to my question: Why is our country getting black eyes, why are we suffering from man-made, unnecessary disasters?

My goal in meeting with the Northridge Kiwanis was to work on developing a presentation promoting DaytonOS. I feel that DaytonOS has great potential, but, I know if DaytonOS is ever to take off, I need get on the ball and start talking to people and groups who might be interested in helping. Service clubs often invite speakers to their meetings, and, my thought is that eventually I might have the opportunity to explain DaytonOS to some interested service clubs throughout the county.

Larry asked about the title of my speech. I didn’t have a good answer. I’m now thinking a possible title might be, “When Democracy Fails.” Maybe something more pointed might be better, like, “Our Democracy Is Failing And It’s All Your Fault.” Or maybe I could take Dennis Kucinich’s cue and entitle my speech, “Wake up America. Wake up America. Wake up America.”

An evangelical approach, I’m thinking, as a speech structure might be best. After raising the tension in the room to a new sense of urgency about the dangerously degraded state of our democracy, after raising a sense of conviction that each of us has failed our democracy, I then would offer an avenue for salvation. My message: Get involved in DaytonOS.

Sorry to say, I pooped out on the joke about the choir member with black eyes. I couldn’t quite muster enough gumption to tell it. Now, I have speaker’s remorse.

After Larry’s nice introduction, I gave everyone a paper with four questions. The first question: “Lincoln spoke of assuring that a government of the people, by the people and for the people should not perish from the earth. On a scale of zero to 100, to what degree do we have a government of the people, by the people and for the people?”

The average of the answers to that question was 40%. The numbers ranged from 20% to 60%. I said 30%.

These numbers inspired a good conversation. The point I emphasized was that even if the most positive of these numbers — 60% — is the most accurate, our democracy, compared to its potential has a lot of room for improvement. On most scales, a score of 60% is failing or near failing.

I’m wondering what a Gallup poll might show about how Montgomery County citizens, in general, rate the effectiveness of their democracy. I’m wondering what the trained objectivity of an anthropologist might show. The evidence to me seems pretty overwhelming that ours is a weak and failing democracy, but it would be nice to have a 200 page, well footnoted report, to help make the case.

The fact that our democracy is weak has exacted a big price from all of us. We are all missing out on what could have been.  I told the group about a famous book I saw in college.  It was written in 1967 by Herman Kahn and Norbert Weiner, “The Year 2000.” (I need to reread this book. Amazon has used copies for $2.99.) Kahn predicted that by the year 2000 things would be wonderful. Prosperity would be widespread. People would be earning a good living and would be working many fewer hours doing so. Everyone would have gobs of leisure time.

In 1967 when Kahn’s book was written, auto workers were doing great. There were a lot of good jobs. Unions were strong. The book correctly predicted that great leaps in productivity would create enormous new wealth, but its assumption that this wealth would be fairly distributed was flat wrong. I recently quoted Robert Reich: “In 1980 the top earning 1% of Americans took home 9% of the nation’s total income — but in 2007, the top 1% took home over 22% of all income.” (I need to find how the top 1% fared in 1967.)

The world in the year 2000 turn out quite differently than what Kahn predicted. I’m theorizing that Kahn’s predictions were very wrong because he failed to foresee the tragic failure of our democracy.  He failed to foresee the fact that in election after election our democracy would bring to power governments hostile to the interests of average people, indifferent to the common good.

Because our democracy failed to protect and advance the common good, the last forty years, for great portions of our citizenry, have brought big disappointments. We now could be enjoying the world envisaged by Kahn, but, because our democracy failed, we have settled for so much less. As a nation, we arrive at the year 2009 in a frightful state. We face the prospect of great disasters — all unnecessary, all man-made. Obama writes, in the preface to his budget, that our financial mess was “neither the result of a normal turn of the business cycle nor an accident of history.” Obama blames the crisis on “irresponsibility.” He doesn’t go far enough. He needs to connect the dots. He needs to be clear that the plague of irresponsible behavior arose because our democracy failed, because our government became the government of special interests, not the government of the people.  (I recently posted, President Obama Must Make This Wake-Up Call To Action: Our System Of Democracy Has Failed Us.)

The fourth question on the paper, I gave to the Kiwanis club attendees, got personal and asked each person to rate themselves.  The question asked: On a scale of zero to 100, to what degree do you, personally, understand what is actually happening in government, to what degree do you understand the issues and challenges that government needs to address?

Here, the average of the answers was 30%. Quite an admission. Connect the dots: We have met the enemy and it is us. We are all sinners. I encouraged my listeners to confess and made my own confession that, although I live five blocks from the Kettering Government Center, I don’t know beans about what goes on in that place. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as we each told of our shortcomings as citizens.

Well, it wasn’t quite that way. But it was a nice evening and when I asked for my food bill, I was told that the club picked up the tab. Wow. My first perk as author.  And one person even offered to buy my book. I didn’t have any.  These books are going fast.  I’m already through my second edition (5 copies each addition).  I need to order more from Lulu.  The idea is that for each new order I’ll correct more errors and other changes and declare a new edition.  Maybe I’ll make a new cover and new title:  “Our Democracy Is Failing And It’s All Your Fault. So, Buy This Book.”

I didn’t quite make it to my grand conclusion last night. My time was up and then some, and the place to wherever we were headed was still on the horizon.  But I’ve been trying to envisage myself in front of a meeting of people I don’t know.  My whole point in making such an endeavor would be to promote DaytonOS, so, right now, I thinking the conclusion to my presentation might be some improved version of this:

“In conclusion, We are in trouble because our democracy is failing and even worse trouble will certainly befall us, unless we can get our democracy to work. We cannot have an effective democracy without an informed and engaged citizenry. We cannot have an effective democracy without meaningful community.  Help DaytonOS become a transformative educative community.  Join DaytonOS.  Become a leader. Donate money. Buy this book. (Profits go to DaytonOS.)  Thanks for having me.  And yes, I accept checks.”
Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

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One Response to Our Democracy Is Failing And It’s All Your Fault — So, Buy My Book

  1. Stan Hirtle says:

    What I find interesting about this post is that Mike Bock answers his own question. It starts off about why democracy has failed us and ends up trying to sell his book. That part may be tongue somewhat in cheek, but it points to the fact that capitalism has no integrity because everyone is out to make money. (Bock is arguably a “non-profit” funding his cause rather than himself.) That is partially why the economy is in a state of free fall.

    Bock points out that the sixties were an optimistic time. It is arguable that optimism leads to disorder, much as Obama’s hope and optimism campaign generates unhinged reactions on some conservative websites. Anyway back in the late sixties people, including the authors cited, expected the wellbeing of the postwar period would continue indefinitely. Many hoped that those who had been excluded in the past, African Americans and the poor and women among others, could be brought in. In fact at this time capital became mobile in a world recovering from World War II, the white working class discovered there wasn’t enough to go around, deindustrialization began, factory jobs started to disappear, unions began to be busted and conservative backlash occurred. And as Bock points out, the rewards of American productivity began going in increased concentrations to the wealthiest, and everyone else started to finance their lifestyle consumption by borrowing and getting into debt. The government became unresponsive and out of control of anyone other than the wealthy. It deregulated the financial industry, allowing them to invent toxic mortgage products and even more toxic Ponzi scheme derivatives of the mortgage products, essentially poisoning the financial system and creating the downturn of uncertain severety and duration that we are in now.

    The AIG bonuses are striking in the way they demonstrate how much powerful wealthy private figures can get away with. We can contrast it with how little public figures can get away with, politically incorrect statements, breaches of monogamy, problems with the tax codes.

    The difference between public government and private government becomes less significant as private government gets more powerful and public government becomes more dependent on private wealth to function. When Bock talks about failure of democracy, that is one of the failures. Not understanding what is going on, another staple of the financial crisis and bailout, is another. Without the power to make meaningful change, the public can only react emotionally to media circuses.

    We obviousy need institutional changes to make democracy work, probably including more engagement than most people are willing to make. Part of it is that people will not waste their time unless it seems that positive change is possible. Obama stirred some of that up, but has now moved on to running an administration and not to building a democracy. I am not convinced how much of a part internet sites like this one can play and more accurately, what else is needed. This site has more interesting stuff than gets taken advantage of. It might be better if people who don’t accept comments on this site would do so, or else the whole thing fragments and you don’t get a critical mass of ideas. You also do not necessary get a productive fertilization of ideas. Obama’s effort at bipartisan solving of the economic crisis has to date been singularly unproductive, resulting mostly in screaming talking heads making ideologically incompatible demands as they get ready for the next campaign. A level of civility and positive working together has been missing from the culture. This may require institutions of community that do not presently exist and that the internet does not particularly build.

    More important is what happens afterwards. A movement centering around electing better leaders, Obama nationally and perhaps someone locally like Harris, may not make all that much difference to improving things once those leaders get in. How does the internet deal with the power of contributions, the revolving door between business and government, just the time and understanding about how the system works? There are community organizers out there trying to build organizations in the tradition of Alinsky, with mixed results, in part because they demand more than many want to offer.

    Anyway maybe some of Bock’s Northridge friends will get on and say what they think.

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