Post-Election Reflection: “The Public” Is Way Deeper Than “Public Opinion”

It’s the day after the big vote here in Whatcom County, where many of us are breathing a sigh of relief that the 4 candidates for County Council most likely to Not support a coal export terminal, most likely to get our County back into compliance with state laws on growth management, and most likely to reverse a new policy on slaughterhouses…have apparently won.

However, I was not entirely pleased with some of the negative campaigning that occurred in the last couple of weeks from both sides.  I’m also not entirely pleased that these supposedly non-partisan races have become so clearly partisan, and it appears that voters tended to either vote for all of the Democrat endorsed candidates or all of the Republican endorsed candidates.

I hope we can move past the negative and divisive campaign season, and work together for the benefit of all.  It is important to remember that elected candidates are expected to work for all of their constituents, not just the ones who voted for them. If not, we could see a dramatic swing back the other way in the next election cycle.

It is in this spirit that I recommend the following article by David King, and posted at Tom Atlee’s blog, Random Communications from the Evolutionary Edge.

“The Public” is way deeper than “public opinion” 

One of the realities that bedevils voting is that, in an adversarial and two-party system, partisan messages and media comments suggest very limited (bi-polar) choices. People who see nuances, or prefer collaboration, or are seeking a ‘third way’, or reject confrontation are actively discouraged from voting. In an adversarial and two-party system, the only (apparently) valid reasons for voting are: (1) to elect the good guy; or, (2) to make sure the bad guy doesn’t win. Anything else is described as a wasted vote or worse, an undermining of the ‘strategic’ (blocking) vote.

In terms of citizen engagement, we have a problem in that the sense of “the public” is very weak and is being undermined, constantly. The public is not merely an aggregation of individuals, nor is it a temporary or specific or instrumental phenomenon, nor is it detached from its surroundings, nor is it a contractual relationship. The public is greater than the sum of its parts. Something transcendent transforms an aggregation of individuals into “the public” in a time and place. The public is enduring, organic, and embedded in its ecology. The public is relational: it is covenantal (for better or for worse, through sickness and in health, until death do us part).

I would argue that both politicians and conventional media have reasons for wanting to dissolve “the public” and replace it with “public opinion”, which is temporary, specific and instrumental, and detached from its surroundings…

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Related: Election Results – November 2013 at Northwest Citizen


4 comments on “Post-Election Reflection: “The Public” Is Way Deeper Than “Public Opinion”

  1. sweeneyblog says:

    While it would be fantastic if we could leave our local elections non-partisan, the complete failure of the conservative movement in Whatcom county to compromise has left little options for such genial relations. What can you do when half the council does not believe they should follow State Law?

    Of the negative campaign ads I saw, most of them were based around issues (Slaughterhouses, Domestic Violence prevention, food bank cuts), real votes that the county had taken, not personality issues. That is what we want our elections to be decided upon, and with a dwindling press, these issues need to be raised and discussed.

  2. davidm58 says:

    Hi Riley,
    Thanks for your comment! I think we both agree that it would be fantastic if local elections could remain non-partisan. I was emphasizing that ideal, where you have brought in the more practical perspective. Obviously, running as a slate of candidates endorsed by the Democratic party, and set apart from the Tea Party was a wise move from a tactical standpoint – it was apparently effective.

    I agree also that most of the ads from the Democrats were based around real and important issues, which needed to be discussed (I discussed some of them here on this blog). However, I also felt that some of these issues as presented on the mailers were couched in a total package that was a bit over the top.

    I participated in this to some degree myself. I had second thoughts after posting Zone 9 From Outer Space, but I told myself I was just trying to bring in some humor to lighten things up, not trying to be mean spirited.

    It’s all on a spectrum I guess, but notice how Browne’s pumpkin patch ad led to an even more extreme response from the Knutzen camp, with the fake website. Jung called this “enantiadromia” – “the superabundance of any force inevitably produces its opposite.” That’s the kind of thing I think we should try to minimize.

    And all of this was just a prelude to wanting to bring some attention to the wisdom of David King, who writes: “They [the public] may discover that they can disagree and remain in right relationship. They may learn ways of coming together that don’t involve the politician or the editor. They may discover that issues are complex, inter-related, of enduring significance. They may decide that they want more sophisticated responses than politicians and editors are prepared to give them.”

  3. Kath says:

    I recently saw an interesting interview with David Chomsky who posited that actually there’s just one party in the US (which he calls the “business party”), because eventually it doesn’t matter much who you vote. The politicians do their jobs not in favor of the people but of their financiers, and since it’s allowed to financially support political parties, it’s easy to imagine that the biggest political influence is concentrated among those with the biggest financial ressources.

    In Germany, unfortunately, the situation isn’t much different currently. At the surface, it appears we have a multiparty democracy, but the parties in the German parliament (with exception of the left-wing party) have behaved as a single bloc party in many important regards, particularly the German policy towards Europe which imposes strict austerity on the other countries and has terribly destabilized their economies and welfare systems, resulting in radical right-wing drifts across the European Union. The gigantic bailout fund (which has been installed in a perfectly anti-democratic manner, btw) just serves to save the banks and the shareholders’ assets while the countries are bleeding out, it’s a shame. I’ll stop writing here because otherwise it will make me sick. 😀

  4. davidm58 says:

    I think it does matter how we vote, but you have a great point about “the business party.” People tend to think that the really important elections are the big ones for President, Senate, and Congress. However, I think a strong case can be made that it’s the very local politics where we can make the biggest difference, and where there is more direct effect on our lives – that these might be most important – and more opportunities to work between and around “the business party.”

    You might appreciate the Rob Hopkins post on Austerity.

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