How Politics in America Operates

How Politics in America Operates

I’ve written about my Speech Communications class, one of the two I’m taking this semester as I dip my toe into college life after my 35 year hiatus.

But, I’ve been hesitant to write about the other one – Minnesota State and Local Government. Not because it is boring – no, in fact it’s fascinating!pchase1 Not because there’s nothing to say about it either. With a professor who channels John Housman’s Professor Kingsfield in Paper Chase, and ADHD classmates that do everything from sharpen their pencils during a lecture, to leave class to take a phone call, there’s plenty to write about.

The reason I have been hesitant, is that while I leave each class with pages and pages of notes, and enough thoughts questions and topics to keep Downtown Dad in conversations for years, I also leave feeling angry and disappointed.

  • Angry at politicians with self centered agendas that have misled the American people by taking advantage of their admittedly brilliant grasp of how our government works.
  • Disappointed in the American people, myself included, for not making it a priority to learn just as much or more than the politicians have about these policies and procedures that protect us and affect every aspect of our daily lives.

OK… I’ll put away the soapbox now…

I want to write about what I’m learning in the same high level, non partisan way it is delivered in my textbook and by my Professor. But, it is hard to talk about politics without getting passionate. Probably because opinions on the subject are so different.

Perhaps the most useful and enlightening thing I’ve learned so far has been that there is a way to systematically look at the policy differences among the 50 states by studying each one’s rankings on various quantitative policy indicators.

…OK – that sentence was hard to understand, even for me and I wrote it! Simply put, there is apparently a method to the  madness  way American politics operates!

There is a table on page 4 of my textbook called Policy Liberalism Index. It measures each state’s overall stance or policy on 4 issues where liberals and conservatives differ greatly, then ranks them.  The four issues are:

  • Gun control –  ranked from strictest to loosest
  • Abortion laws – ranked from most facilitative to most restrictive
  • Conditions under which needy families can receive temporary assistance
  • The extent to which the tax burden falls on the top 5 percent as compared to the lowest 40 percent

Turns out, a particular state is not necessarily liberal or conservative (blue or red) overall in every category.  We are learning (between pencil sharpenings, cell phone interruptions, and bushy eybrowed glares) that you can understand why a state has its particular policies or laws on these 4 issues, based on the overall economics of the state, it’s ethnic makeup, the predominate religion, and its geography or natural resources. Basically, who lives there, how they make their money, where they go to church and what grows or doesn’t grow there.

Once you can wrap your head around that concept, it gets even more complex when you learn that the US, in addition to dividing itself into a couple of political parties, has also three major subcultures based on which historic ethnic, or religious group populated the state in their westward migratory pattern.  These subcultures are

  • Individualists, who believe that the marketplace is what keeps the economy thriving and government has a limited role which is primarily to keep the marketplace running smoothly. Bureaucrats are bad, Politics is a necessary evil, corruption is inevitable.
  • Moralists, who believe in the commonwealth, and that government’s role is to advance the public interest, that it is a positive force, revolving around issues. Politics is important to all citizens and it is the citizens’ duty to be informed and vote.
  • Traditionalists are ambivalent toward both the marketplace and the commonwealth, instead believing that the purpose of government is to maintain social and economic hierarchy. Politicians are elite and have resources.  Ordinary citizens are not expected to participate in political affairs or even to vote.

(Fill in your own example of which congressman, senator, president fits each category – I’m trying to keep it high level here)

These two theories explain a lot don’t they? And yet, nothing is black and white. Nothing is right or wrong. So really, this doesn’t explain anything at all.  Or does it?





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