Here are two conflicting ideas that both have some appeal to me:
1) Our political system is too manipulative. The techniques of persuasion have become too effective. Instead of just sending out a mass mailing, we design several messages and test them each with a random sample of the target audience to measure its impact. Instead of sending organizers out into a neighborhood to talk to people, we give them pre-tested scripts to recite. Persuasive political advertisements are slick, scary, and produced for particular niche audiences. As a result, there is not enough listening going on, not enough two-way conversation. Real needs and good ideas cannot bubble up from below. Communication is also too strategic–not designed to explore and address problems, but to get people to do what the organizers want. Finally, the techniques of effective communication are for sale, so they tend to benefit organized groups and interests with money rather than diffuse or poorly funded interests.
2) We should prize eloquence as a skill and virtue of political participation. We teach people to express themselves effectively in writing and speech because that is part of being a good citizen. Americans need a “public voice” that can persuade others who are different from themselves on matters of common concern, not just a “private voice” that works among friends and family. As Francis Bacon said, “it is eloquence that prevaileth in an active life.” Modern techniques (such as randomly testing messages) are natural refinements of traditional methods for assessing the impact of speech on audiences. They are not especially threatening, nor are they always effective; sometimes, people prefer spontaneity. When speech is free, some will be better at it than others. If their persuasiveness can be bought, that is nothing new. Protagoras sold his services as an orator in ancient Athens.