The lack of appreciation and participation in American democracy by its citizens has been commented upon with great regularity for more than a century. Historian Michael Kammen traces this tradition wonderfully in A Machine That Would Go of Itself: The Constitution in American Culture, observing that Americans “have taken too much pride and proportionately too little interest in their frame of government.”
In People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization, Kammen wrote, “We should understand, as William James did, that Americanism is a volatile mixture of hopeful good and curable bad.” Matt Schudel’s obituary in the Washington Post credited Kammen for identifying “a fundamental and volatile duality that had defined the American character throughout history: ‘the innocence as well as the evil in our natures.’ “
Both Michael Kammen and Pogo are worth keeping in mind while watching this recent interview by Bill Moyers with Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz concerning his new report for the Roosevelt Institute outlining how best to address issues of income inequaity and restore our economy through enlightened tax reform.
Day after day, the critical issues our democracy is struggling with are addressed via commerical and public service media. How they are addressed is of vital importance as author and essayist E. B. White described when American public broadcasting was launched:
Non-commercial TV should address itself to the ideal of excellence, not the idea of acceptability — which is what keeps commercial TV from climbing the staircase. . . . It should restate and clarify the social dilemma and the political pickle. Once in a while it does, and you get a quick glimpse of its potential.
It is past time for public service media and American citizens to pay greater attention not only to to the great schism in American life critically examined by authors like Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Reich, Thomas Mann, Norman Ornstein, and Hedrick Smith, to name just a few, but also the efforts of grassroots citizens across the nation to engage their elected representatives to address the “curable bad” Michael Kammen referenced. Pogo nailed the politics in question. The problem is too little attention being paid by we the people, and too few resources made available for public media to better illuminate the political pickles we need to comprehend and confront.