Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Difference Between Protest and Governing

There are two main groups of protestors that I'd like to focus on in America, for both serve similar purposes and balance my illustration.  The first group is the Tea Party and the second group is the Occupy Movement.

On the surface, some may see them as quite different.  They aren't.  Both have accomplished precisely what a protest is designed to do, put an idea in the public square, create a seed around which a crystal can form, a crystal that recasts the social spectrum.  In the process, each is trying to move something called the Overton Window, a concept I'll address in just a second.

The Tea Party properly got the nation to address our spend thrift and don't worry about tomorrow ways.  They also forced us to consider taxation and what those taxes go for.

The Occupy Movement on the other hand put the concept of the 98% vs. the 2% into common usage.  They helped us address the idea that the wealthy were destroying the country through their greed and by rigging the system.  They caused us to address the idea of whether the playing field was level at all.

So, what is this Overton Window I mentioned earlier?  It is the window on what we consider to be the balanced center.  In other words, the Tea Party moved it to the right, causing the country to view more conservative views as the center.  The Occupy Movement pushed back to the left toward a more liberal center.  Many historians know that Obama's domestic positions are actually slightly to the right of Richard Nixon's and the illusion that he is extreme left is an effect of the Overton Window position.

Past that point, many people misjudge protest purposes and their value, both from within these movements and from the outside.  The problem is that they expect these movements to translate directly into governance.  And therein lies the rub, the reason that we can no longer govern in any effective manner.

The art of governance is part public theater to emphasize positions.  At that point, it seems very similar to the protests mentioned above.  That better be the last similarity, or effective governance will not happen, for effective governance is actually done in the back room.  

Properly understood, we elect our legislators to start from our positions and our preferences and then go to the back room and negotiate solutions with members from across the aisle.  True, we prefer they don't compromise more of our positions than is necessary, but we want them to work it out in a timely manner, keep the economy and the railroads running, to further the cause of all Americans.

Instead, one of the protest groups elected members to continue with their protest.  The Tea Party began electing members that were not going to compromise anything in the back room.  They were going to state their protest position in the theater and then stick absolutely by it come hell or high water.

This drew similar response from the left and push back came.  But, not a lot of back room negotiations and compromise.  No, for people on the left were angry and just couldn't see the sense in it any longer.  What neither side can even consider, lest they not be reelected, is that sometimes an excellent legislative body can enter private chambers with two opposing positions and come up with a solution better than either alone entered with!

It has led us to the Fiscal Cliff.  Some are viewing through one Overton Window and some through the other.  Never the twain shall meet!  It's a shame to throw ourselves under our own bus out of this spite on both sides.

Quit protesting and start governing, dammit!


  1. In Northern Ireland that last line should read: Quit protesting and start caring.

    We all need to stop putting our own needs first and view the bigger picture.

  2. I am not an American but am watching from the sidelines as to what is going on and feeling very smug that the politicians of our two great democracies are not fundamentally different in their approach to governing. The protests here have been on corruption and safety for women, neither anything to do with economics, but both have shaken up the establishment and we enter 2013 with high hopes for change.

  3. @Grannymar

    Yes! It is a matter of working for the good of all, the care and encouragement of all, not flags or ideological positions. Solutions as a nation is what we need.

  4. @Rummuser

    Likewise, I sit on foreign shores and could never get the feeling for Indian politics that I can for those in my own country, for there is something about being part of the system from the street level that gives a gut level perspective that is not replaceable. Yet I also can see similarities in dysfunctionality at the official levels. It is as though both haven't the vision and courage to make the next step in a coordinated way to bring our great nations forward.

    Here, at least, this is a true culture war. Our problem starts with entrenched, outspoken constituents who manage to convince the leaders that they speak for the entire body politic, which they don't. The media provides them with the megaphone to magnify their inflexible demands. It is incumbent upon the elected leaders to be perceptive enough to see past that magnification as they work this through.

    Instead, they just use the media to yell back and try to shore up their election chances come next election. It is always the next election that they really have in mind.

  5. Interesting post. Compromise is not a dirty word.

  6. @blackwatertown

    Indeed it is not a dirty word! A lot of the time, the courage, honesty and humility that allows disciplined compromise are often the same qualities that can lead to a great creative, cooperative solution.


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