The Politics of Show Versus the Politics of Go
The deepest divide in politics isn’t between the right and the left. The greatest gap is between the politics of show and the politics of go.
The politics of show is not about getting things done; it’s about making a statement. It is the art of taking a stand without making a stand. When your politics consists of making statements, you are satisfied with noise.
But the politics that changes the world is slow, steady pressure in the right direction. That is the politics of go.
The politics of slow, steady pressure isn’t sexy. As a way to brand yourself it comes up short. If you asked the politics of go what tree it most resembles it would say moss.
The politics of slow steady pressure works like the magic of compound interest. Tiny increments of progress add up, each year brings a little more movement, the rate of change builds on itself, and, in a couple of generations, you go from prison terms for sodomy to gay marriage.
The politics of show works like fashion, fads that come and go. In the nineties a bunch of cities declared themselves nuclear-free zones. It was a politics-of-show way to display one’s objection to being nuked. I guess it worked; none of those cities has been incinerated yet. But as a movement it led nowhere. It was a political fad, as passé now as Beanie Babies.
Sometimes, the politics of go can seem to move very fast. Slow, steady pressure can cause a sudden, shocking break, when revolutionary change comes in an instant. The politics of go ended slavery. But there would have been no Civil War, no Emancipation Proclamation, no Thirteenth Amendment without the slow, steady pressure of the abolitionists. Ever so slowly they convinced people that slavery was a moral wrong. Ever so slowly the pressure built up on the South, until, in their fear and shame, they broke.
The Civil War ended the enslavement of black people in America, but it did not free them. That took another century of slow, steady political pressure from the civil rights movement.
We won’t beat global warming with the politics of show. The politics of show makes wild, end-of-the-world predictions that make you look stupid when they don’t come true. One day global warming caused Superstorm Sandy. A month later global warming caused a nationwide drought. Our snowless winter equals global warming. Or the monster snowstorm might have something to do with global warming.
The politics of go concentrates on what we know is true and applies slow, steady political pressure to change it. There is too much carbon in the air. This is not speculation it is measurement. And only slow, steady political pressure can bring those numbers down.
Right now, our nation is staggering under an endless onslaught of gun violence. After each fresh tragedy, the opponents of gun control sing the same, sad song.
Gun laws won’t work. There are too many guns out there already and the criminals will get guns anyway. They’re criminals, they will break the law because that’s what criminals do.
That argument is bogus on its face. It is an argument against the very idea of law.
Why have laws against bank robbery? Honest civilians don’t rob banks and bank robbers don’t obey laws. But we pass laws precisely because they won’t be universally obeyed. We pass them to apply slow, steady, pressure in the right direction.
That is how behavior is modified and how progress is made. But it works so gradually, sometimes we don’t notice. The advocates of gun control may never be able to point to a single circumstance where their laws saved a specific life. But if we limit magazines to ten rounds, maybe next school shooter kills ten kids, not twenty. Maybe the statistics will show one fewer American reduced to a statistic.
Slow, steady political pressure is emptying our jails of pot smokers. It is making baby steps towards universal health care; it is raising the minimum starvation wage. If we keep the same pressure, we’ll get closer to those goals. If we get cynical and apathetic and ease off the pressure, we’ll lose all we’ve gained.
There are armies of lobbyists working tirelessly to make us feel outnumbered, powerless and defeated. They don’t mind if we make statements. They can deal with the politics of show, that’s their game.
But even they can feel the hard undertow of slow, steady political pressure. And it terrifies them.