A Move in Political Cynicism or Politics as Usual?

For the first time in Florida’s history, there is a non-binding Constitutional Amendment on the ballot. The referendum, which is backed by Republican Jeff Atwater, calls on the federal government to balance the budget without raising taxes. The referendum, which requires a simply majority to pass, reads:

“In order to stop the uncontrolled growth of our national debt and prevent excessive borrowing by the Federal Government, which threatens our economy and national security, should the United States Constitution be amended to require a balanced federal budget without raising taxes?”

The referendum has been attacked for political pandering (Atwater is up for reelection this November) and has been called a cynical attempt to mobilize a particular segment of the voting population. However, isn’t this really politics as usual?

In her book, Activism Inc., Dana Fisher criticizes the progressive movement and political institutions for treating citizens as consumers of political sound bytes. Rather than trying to engage individuals in democratic politics, they simply try to mobilize them at election time so that they can win a given race. Clearly, this mode of thinking about we, the people, has spread.

Rather than political debate, we are treated to attack ads, name calling and ever-increasing political incivility. Compromise, which is the stuff democracy is made of, is for wimps and politicians are publicly flayed for even sticking a tentative finger across the aisle. As Murray Edelman noted decades ago, politics is a spectacle and democracy gets lost in the mix. What we have now is a horse race and we all place bets.

What can we do as citizens? I tell me students that it is our job to have a working knowledge of what is happening in the world and to get really informed on those issues that we care deeply. I stress that getting informed does NOT mean only listening to those with whom you agree, but intentionally exposing yourself to diverse points of view and interrogating your beliefs. This process makes us critical thinkers and engaged citizens rather than the spectators we are assumed to be.

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About Double take Sociology

I am a professor of sociology at Florida State University. I research (and write about) social movements, mass media and politics. My new book is "Abortion Politics, Mass Media, and Social Movements in America" (2015, Cambridge University Press). Be sure to visit my website at www.DeanaRohlinger.com!
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