Does civic engagement or political involvement really make a difference? Do elected officials (at any level) listen to the average citizen or do they heed only their close advisors and/or their donor base? Is the U.S. political system driven purely by money? What is the function of a political Party? These are frequently asked questions.
Let’s briefly examine each.
First, being involved in civic life does make a difference.
Engaging in politics can mean different things to different people. It can run the spectrum from watching political news shows, studying political science, voting, becoming a candidate for office, volunteering on a political campaign, to having a career in consulting, strategy or public relations. Political activists, no matter their Party affiliation, who have been engaged for years move the needle. They have established a track record of staying engaged and elected officials usually don’t ignore them.
Second, elected officials listen to those who hold them accountable.
That starts with citizens showing up, whether it’s a town hall meeting, campaign event or a public appearance. The world is run by those that show up.
Elected officials should be delighted, elated, and ecstatic to respectfully explain a vote or position on an issue to their constituency. It is logical elected officials listen to those who help them get elected (donors/campaign advisors), but constituents who challenge elected official’s votes and positions are hard to ignore. Without accountability from an informed constituency, elected officials can become intelligently lazy, unconcerned and complacent.
Third, money is the mother’s milk of politics.
Political campaigns, at all levels, cost an incredible amount of money. Few candidates can self-fund, so they by necessity solicit donations from individuals, industry associations, and advocacy groups to pay for their campaign. Virtually every campaign contribution comes with ‘strings,’ whether the candidate recognizes it or not. Those big donors expect the candidate, when elected, to listen to them- and they do or they don’t get a second check. All donors are not corrupt and they have the right to lobby an elected official, same as other citizens. Sadly, sometimes elected officials forget they represent an entire constituency/district, not just those who donated to their campaign or voted for them.
Fourth, a political Party provides infrastructure for candidates.
Elected officials sometimes say they don’t believe their Party does anything for them. That is simply not true. The Party provides a ‘brand,’ an ‘identity’ for a candidate. If a candidate/elected official truly believes a Party doesn’t do anything for them, perhaps they should run as an Independent the next time they file for office. Having the Party label helps a candidate- it gets them the base vote.
Sadly, political Parties are often maligned and attacked by those not involved in Party politics.
Long term political Party volunteers unselfishly give of their time, talent and treasure, not because of the glamorous, alluring nature of the job. They stay involved because they care about the cause. They should be respected and commended for their faithfulness, not attacked, criticized and belittled by those who just woke up from their apathic deep sleep, decided to get involved and blame all the problems with politics on those who have been involved longer than fifteen minutes.
Vigilance is the action or state of keeping careful watch for possible damage or difficulties. The vigilant are alert and attentive for an extended period of time. John Philpot Curran said, “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.”
Sadly, the scarcity of vigilance by everyday Americans to be involved in their own government has placed them in servitude to that government.
NOTE: Steve Fair is a commentator whose analyses regularly appear in newspapers across Oklahoma. He is a longtime conservative activist and Republican Party leader.