I’m moving my site to a new host today—so that I can install new software to defeat various forms of spam. Once the process is complete, everything (including this blog’s address) will be exactly the same, from a visitor’s perspective. However, during the process, the site may be “down” for a time. Since anything I post today may disappear in the transition, I’m not going to write a substantive contribution. I should be able to post safely tomorrow.
On p. 29 of Trends 2005, a report from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, there is a fascinating chart. (Go directly to the pdf.) Luis Lugo and his colleagues have estimated the importance of various demographic factors in predicting whether an individual voted Democratic or Republican in 2004. They found that church attendance was as important as race; almost twice as important as living in a union household; 2.5 times more important than the urban/rural split; between three and four times more important than income, age, gender, or region (North vs. South); and 5.6 times more important than education. The impact of race was “almost entirely a function” of the Democratic leanings of African American voters; but “the relationship between church attendance and vote choice is seen across the full range of the population.” The impact of church attendance was about one fifth greater in 2004 than in 2000. Gender became less important.
If John McCain runs strongly for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and the Democrats also find a genuine reformer, then we could be poised for one of those periodical reform moments that I described in The New Progressive Era. In years like 1912 (and to a lesser extent, 1974-6), Americans have supported reforms in the public interest or for the common good.
By the way, there is nothing wrong with sticking up for your own interests or those of your group. In fact, we need disadvantaged people to advocate on their own behalf. However, democracy tends to neglect goods that really are in everyone’s interests, because such goods are not especially important to any particular group. Public goods don’t have PACs. Examples include a balanced budget, competitive elections and high turnout, freedom of information, and the rule of law. Fortunately, when American governments do serious damage to these goods over many years, reform movements sometimes arise that emphasize changes in the political process to promote good government and democracy.
Although John McCain has some beliefs and commitments with which I personally disagree, he stands for a robust version of procedural reform, including tighter regulation of campaign finance, more fiscal responsibility, tax simplification, federalism, and less “corporate welfare.” If he is smart, McCain can tie his version of reform to genuine conservative values while appealing to diverse Americans with arguments about the public interest.
Ideally, a major Democratic candidate would vie with McCain for the reform mantle, but with a slightly more “progressive” twist. While fiscal responsibility and federalism do serve the common good, a Democratic reformer could put more emphasis on deliberate efforts to empower ordinary people politically. In fact, the full list of needed procedural reforms is quite long, and it would be great if both campaigns scrambled to claim them:
McCain is obviously the Republican reform candidate, the Teddy Roosevelt of our time. It’s less clear who represents the Democrats’ strongest reformer, the Woodrow Wilson of 2008. Senator Feingold has reform credentials and enough personal integrity, but I’m not sure at this point that he has a chance for the presidential nomination. Several other potential candidates (especially governors) could develop a robust reform agenda if they started now.
I am proud to announce the debut of the Journal of Public Deliberation, a peer-reviewed, free, online, “open access” publication that will include scholarly articles and essays aimed at practitioners. I serve on the editorial board and have spent considerable time over the last six months reviewing articles and discussing matters of editorial policy. The first issue contains five articles:
Wayne Booth (in The Company We Keep, 1998) observed that most people, including most sophisticated literary critics, evaluate literature ethically, asking whether particular stories are good for us to read and how we should react to them. Yet literary theory since the 1940s has usually been hostile to ethical evaluation. I’ve just come across an article by Noel Carroll from 2000 (“Art and Ethical Criticism: An Overview of Recent Directions for Research,” Ethics, 110, pp. 350-387) that begins with a similar observation: “Of course, despite the effective moratorium on ethical criticism in philosophical theories of art, the ethical evaluation of art flourished. … Indeed, with regard to topics like racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on, it may even be the case today that the ethical discussion of art is the dominant approach on offer by most humanistic critics, both academics and literati alike.”
At the core of Carroll’s article are three theoretical objections to ethical criticism, and his response to each. I would paraphrase them as follows: