Monday, November 5, 2007

Leadership Under the Radar

Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, gave a speech last week that I wanted to promote.

It is a bit of a long read, so unless you are a political junkie, an environmentalist, and/or a policy wonk like me, you may find it painful or impossible to read. If you are up for reading it though, you can find it here.

The public is understandably unhappy with both of our political parties today. I know numerous Americans that care tremendously about the future of this country, but they have no confidence in the ability of any politician to make a difference. As a result, they have tuned out. Some no longer vote, most no longer really investigate politicians' records or actively listen to their rhetoric.

In short, many Americans are no longer even looking for leadership.

This is tragic because I think it is still there. Bloomberg's speech is a good example of leadership, but I had to work a bit to find it in the New York Times (i.e. it wasn't near the front page).

There is no doubt that the media is partially to blame. In today's New York Times, one of their regularly featured opinion writers wrote about "...the failure of the [presidential] candidate[s] to galvanize supporters with a vision so compelling as to be almost irresistible."

This is simply not true.

Having researched this myself over the last few months, I know that several candidates have produced very specific plans for energy, immigration and Iraq (beyond simply deciding to withdraw or stay). Of course, these plans may not be "so compelling as to be almost irresistible", but that does not mean that they are neither serious nor detailed - and realistically that is all we can ask.

For democracy to work well, we need an engaged electorate. If we continue to be apathetic - both in our research and our personal advocacy, we will get what we deserve - more of the same.


Unknown said...

I am hesitant to blame "the media" as if it's a monolithic force entirely external to and imposed from above on the American public. Media outlets are players in the capitalist game like every other company. If people like the product, then they will buy it. We get the kind of journalism that we as a society want.

Jared said...

You raise a good point, Steve. I do not disagree with your statements about the impact of capitalism on the media industry.

Building on that idea though…as a consumer of political commentary and so-called “analysis”, I have a right to complain about coverage that is misleading or incorrect – as does anyone else who is being provided an insufficient or flawed service.

To be clear, I’m not complaining that E! is showing nothing but Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson updates (and presenting them as though they were the most important news events happening on Planet Earth). As I think you would say, this is a product of capitalism. People get what they want (or more precisely are willing and able to pay for).

I am pointing out that the sources Americans look to for information on their political leaders (e.g. CNN, Fox, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times) are failing in their job to consistently provide factual and relevant information. Whether this is because they are lazy, reacting to a marketing study or just not as bright as we would hope they are - I don't know.

Is there an alternative in the market that people can go to for a better service? I guess PBS and NewsHour with Jim Lehrer is one option. You could also say that people could just watch CSPAN – but this is not reasonable. People with full time jobs other than politics need a service that accurately synthesizes current events and the actions of their leaders (or aspiring leaders). I don’t think we really have it.

I hate to launch a big streak of complaints like this and not offer a solution. There really isn’t an easy one that I can see. What I personally try to do is just sample multiple sources – WSJ and NYT for print news and MSNBC, PBS, CNN and a bit of Fox every now and then…. This seems to help a little bit – but clearly I am still frustrated!

Unknown said...

I think tabloid journalism and indifference to political news are part of the same phenomenon, though. It's not as if the populace is yearning for information on both John Edwards and Lindsay Lohan. The people get what they want on both fronts. They want updates on O. J. Simpson's legal problems. They don't want updates on Fred Thompson's ideas on domestic policy.

At the risk of sounding like a hyper-libertarian cynic and/or nihilist, I don't think it's anyone's "job" to provide factual and relevant information. That information can be hard to sell, and CNN and Fox News and MSNBC and the WSJ and the NYT cost money to run. Besides, these media outlets are companies, and their objective is to make money (and possibly push an agenda). I doubt very much that it's a product of sloth or ignorance or stupidity. I imagine it to be a fully calculated arrangement to give us just what we seem to crave, all while lapping up delicious advertising dollars.

As a practical matter, of course I would love to see an incisive, objective news outlet. But I would also like to see universal health care and flying cars and a cure for cancer. I'm not holding my breath on any of them.

Megan said...

I just re-read this post, and while I'm not necessarily into Bloomberg as much as he himself is (but who could be really?), I agree that many are looking for a viable alternative to the mainstream parties.

I couldn't agree more with the last paragraph. I was just thinking earlier today about how excited I am that there's still so much time left before the Nov. '08for me to be a member of the "engaged electorate."

My question to you is: How can I have an impact now in the primaries?

Jared said...

I've asked myself that question several times - and will continue to do so. Here is what I've come up with so far...

I think there is enough information available right now to research and decide who you feel is best suited to be the next President of the United States.

Between You Tube, Google, the candidates' websites, and publicly available information on their governing and/or legislative records - you can learn what you need to know to make your decision (assuming you know what you value most in our next leader). You just have to find and invest the time. In my mind, nothing short of totally unforeseen scandals/revelations/etc. will really add anything new to information that is available today. (I'm not saying that external events couldn’t occur that would totally shift the election - I'm saying that these people are today who they will be when your vote is cast and the info to size them up is there - after all, the election has actually been going for almost a full year now – even if most people, understandably, haven’t been tuned in).

Although I haven't come right out and said it (yet) on this blog, I've decided who I am supporting (not Bloomberg – though I respect him). And so what I am doing now is promoting that person to people that I have influence - family members, close friends, etc.

I'm certain none of this seems like an especially powerful or meaningful action.. but I'm not sure what else we can do at our stage in life. I've donated what money I can, got a few other people to as well....but I have gotten probably a full 2 dozen people I know talking about the candidate and paying attention to the campaign - something many of them were not doing before. Hopefully, some of them have or will talk to others as I did to them.

A theme that I have discussed on this blog before is the repeated frustration and resulting disengagement of many Americans from the political process. Some of them have given up looking for good leaders in the political system. This may sound naive or excruciatingly idealistic, but I think it is the job of people that haven’t given up yet (like us) to pull those people back in if and when we see "the real thing". After a lot of research and thought, I think, for the first time, I see it. IF (and this is a big IF) you decide you see it at some point, help others to see it too….

Along those lines – if you find a candidate you really believe in – ask yourself if there is anyone that you have a particularly strong and unique relationship with that is not sufficiently engaged (e.g. siblings, spouse, parents, best friend). As you know, the messenger is often way more important than the message…. so there may be minds that you can influence, engage or change (and votes you can secure) that no politician could ever get on their own…

It's a start... and perhaps the best we can do right now given our youth and lack of wealth and power! But let me know if you have other ideas :)