Thursday, May 24, 2007
Yes, I still talk about politics
I know many of you have been wondering. Here I go...

I'm teaching a special topics class to about 32 undergraduates. The class is loosely based on my dissertation so it combines readings and discussions about citizenship, democracy and what we gain and lose in the system. The class is going pretty well and I'm having great and interesting discussions with my students. I don't often say this, but my undergraduates are actually giving me hope. Yes. Hope. From undergraduates.

I'm been pretty down on democracy lately. Even with the excitement of 08 and Obama, Edwards, and Pelosi. Even with all the discussions on blogs about the great material changes we are seeing despite our [pathetic excuse for] leaders. Even with all those things, I've been down. Sometimes I feel that maybe our problems are just too great. Too big. Too systemic. Those times? Those times make me want to move. Leave. Leave it all behind for someone else to deal with. Or for no one to deal with. Either way.

But this class. My class. My students are filled with so much hope. And it isn't blind hope. It isn't just 22 year old idealism. There is some of that. But there is more. There is reading of democratic theory and there is shock when we realize how far we've come from our ideals. But instead of defeat, they answer back with excitement. An almost giddy feeling of "the world is ours to fix." And they see potential in the greatest things. The things that I've been overlooking from my jaded, pessimistic ivory tower. I'm thankful for them.

And I'm thankful for Al Gore. Yes, I know I said I was giving him up. And I want to. I really do. Want to move on. Want to let him do his thing. But when I read articles like THIS in Time?! It is hard. And when I read THIS excerpt from his book, it is even harder. For me, Gore is the perfect blend of critical and optimistic. He is disappointed in the way America (and Americans) are going but he has faith that we'll turn it around.

Says one friend of 2000,

"He's not willing to be a victim--didn't want to call himself that, didn't want people to think of him that way. He didn't want Americans to doubt America."

And Gore writes of the decline of reason and discourse in Washington and beyond,

"It is too easy--and too partisan--to simply place the blame on the policies of President George W. Bush. We are all responsible for the decisions our country makes. We have a Congress. We have an independent judiciary. We have checks and balances. We are a nation of laws. We have free speech. We have free press. Have they all failed us? Why has America's public discourse become less focused and clear, less reasoned? Faith in the power of reason--the belief that free citizens can govern themselves wisely and fairly by resorting to logical debate on the basis of the best evidence available, instead of raw power--remains the central premise of American democracy. This premise is now under assault."

Gore places the blame on lots of different things--the shift away from print medium, the trend of senators to cater to sound bites and fundraising and Americans spending too much time watching t.v. and not enough thinking and acting. He's persuasive without chastising. Critical without being defeatist. Hopeful without ignoring the difficulty in getting back to a better public sphere. Is he idealist? Sure. Does he romanticize print and an era of old? Sure. And I love it.

Interestingly enough, he advocates the Internet as a medium that can help. He argues the Internet increases reflexive reading and deliberation in a way similar to print media. He also argues that the Internet gets lots of voices involved and helps people argue. As someone who has been touting the Internet as a way to change politics for the better (yet I haven't given up my attachment to print media and face-to-face interaction), Gore is right up my ally.

He gave voice to my concerns and my hope for the future.

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Blogger Matt said...

Al Gore has a mountain man beard, and it frightens me.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

what is your class reading?

Blogger Pumpkin said...

Yup, 2 comments in 2 minutes, but I've just found your blog and it's like a damn good book...I can't put it down.
Not living in America, I don't have the right to comment on what is going on politically, however, through the media (and chats with a friend who is studying politics at a Scottish Uni), I have to agree with how good Al Gore seems to be...i.e he doesn't 'frighten' me the way some of the politicians in the UK do.
Anyhow, I hope you don't mind, but I've fallen in love with this site and will add it to my blog as I feel that everyone should be reading 'Delightfully Dawgmatic' and if I can help, then I will.

Blogger kristen said...

Matt: watch your mouth...
Pumpkin: you're so sweet! i love that you're in love! please comment often!
Anon: My class is reading a vareity of political and rhetorical theorists. The highlights--

Participation and Democratic Theory--Carole Pateman

On Democracy--Robert Dahl

Talking to Strangers--Danielle Allen

Discourse Theory of Citizenship--Asen

Romantic Democracy/Hero as Citizen- Troy Murphy

After we read all the theory, we are covering a variety of case studies that impact demo today...blogs, civic education, reconciliation tribunals, Islamic democracy....

Fun times!

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