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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Guest Blog: Reflections on Small Thinking and the Big Picture

6a00d834519ed469e20133f55d5d45970b-800wi This is a guest blog by Stuart Heady, a freelance writer and political activist who lives in Albuquerque.

I spent several weeks in Austin, doing errands around my brother’s dying in Christopher House, the 15-bed facility run by Hospice Austin. Looking at the city in which it had been exactly 30 years ago that I began an intensive involvement in politics -- but being apart from it -- was a circumstance that afforded me a chance to reflect. Standing outside the conventional way of looking at things is very needed right now. Increasingly, as the 21st century unfolds, conventional thinking will be problematic. Generally, we don’t have time for deep and global reflection, so one must use such moments to look at the big picture and the long term when one can. 

Given our present circumstance in the US and in the world, what can we see from a long term view?

I think our problems stem from our politics not being big enough. Since the ‘70s, the entire public debate has been taken over by thinking shaped by marketing concepts that came about in the founding of Madison Avenue. That which is outside this framework is outside politics. When you really track back through the past decades, it's easy to see that. 

The ability of talk radio hosts to have outsized influence has to do with smallness. They imply that the future is scary and we ought to seek comfort in the past, possibly in a vision of the way things were in the ‘50s. The reason this can work at all is that the overall debate that is influenced by the media in general is about the bits and pieces that can fit into media formats. The larger the issues, the more they are externalities. Corporate big business avoids thinking in terms of externalities, things that are not relevant to the quarterly balance sheet, but which are precisely what citizens ought to be most vitally interested in.

The counter to this entire environment is in an embrace of concepts about the future that require facing facts and digging in to do something to construct working alternatives. A lot of that work has been going on outside politics for the past thirty years. 

The Republican Party has become a wholly owned subsidiary of backward looking interests that see message marketing in its most cynical light. Thus, lowest common denominator appeals to fears and prejudices have become more than dominant. This leaves the Democratic Party no choice but to intensify as a Party of realists who can see the long-term big picture and can talk about it with cut-to-the-bone honesty. That is the ultimate antidote to artful lying, denial and evasion. 

Out here on the West Side, there are tens of thousands of rooftops that weren’t here thirty years ago. What I remember from back then, in Austin, was that these people surprised everyone when they became voters. They had moved in from places that were examples of the way not to do things, and they didn’t want bad policy to continue in their new home.

This means that a new approach to reaching out is required. Typically, databases are drawn from voter histories, already defined voting behavior. Newcomers may not have a defined history for some years and thus may be beyond the scope of list building. 

This leads to two immediate suggestions. One is to develop a program for including newcomers in the conversation about the future of society, and the Democratic Party. Another is to develop a discussion about core strategy that is inclusive and not exclusive. 

It is true that a lot of times at meetings there is a lot of wasted time, as those with the most eagerness to speak may not be the most wise. This can make one want to remove core strategy discussions from the hurly burly. However, the disparity between the way many people perceive the political process and the way they feel reality to be, is precisely what needs to be addressed.

The dichotomy in our elections may become, more and more, a question about that disparity. The recent elections in both New Mexico and Texas seems to me to indicate that purely existential, vague and unintellectual anger and anxiety can be a winning platform if there is not an alternative that seems to be grounded in a compelling, big-picture realism.

This is a guest blog by Stuart Heady. To submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page.

To see a collection of guest blogs posted on Democracy for New Mexico, visit our archive.

February 23, 2011 at 07:19 PM in Democratic Party, Guest Blogger, Local Politics, Right Wing | Permalink


We are nowhere near where the GOP is in terms of messaging, communications and persuasion and it shows in the fact they often win the arguments with the public. We don't get clear, powerful messages out there in the media where it counts.

Posted by: Wardchair | Feb 24, 2011 4:16:17 PM

It is very tough when most Democratic politicians are serving the same corporate interests as the Republicans. It is especially hard when the media is owned by same corporations. There is no way that Liberals are going to ever command the excessive funding required to run candidates of principle.
We need campaign reform, not campaign finance reform. Until that happens, this nation will continue to be a mockery of Democracy. We can't even govern ourselves anymore.

Posted by: qofdisks | Feb 25, 2011 12:12:13 AM

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