Over on the porch:
The act of “engaging” with national politics has come to resemble more and more the act of watching The West Wing, as political media – from MSNBC to POLITICO – focuses in on the internal dramas of the Beltway kings’ courts. After you have watched all the episodes where Josh Lyman wheels and deals his way to another win, you can turn on the real news and watch talking heads discuss how Mitch McConnell’s or Valerie Jarrett’s next move might give their team a win, too. It’s no surprise that political statistician Nate Silver joined ESPN last year: his meteoric rise over the past elections was the final keystone in the complete ESPNification – with its wins and losses, points and scorecards – of American political journalism.
Viewing hundreds of millions of Americans who are not Washington insiders as useful only for votes and campaign donations is not an idiosyncrasy of Jim Messina and his fictional counterparts on The West Wing— it’s endemic to Beltway politicos. As Theda Skocpol pointed out in her wonderful book Democracy Diminished, we have moved from a “membership democracy” to a “management democracy” in the past century. A once-thriving national network of participatory federated societies – which involved routine local activities in small town chapters which cascaded bottom-up into member-driven state conventions and influential national offices – gave way to a politics where we send our checks in to D.C. managers, who engage in democracy for us. The West Wing will be a perfect historical artifact of this age of political management.
Go read the piece, it’s great.