Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Tyranny of Bandwidth II

Your Representative in Congress cannot hear you. Most people are willing to live with that. After all, they have the vote. Some people, however, are sufficiently motivated that they will organize into public interest groups in order to petition the government and push a particular agenda. Other people are sufficiently wealthy and involved in business that the smallest acts of Congress and the Executive can significantly affect their interests. These people, of course, monitor and lobby continuously.

Both kinds of lobbyists will find some ways to access and influence all branches of government, government agencies, and the Public directly. When threatened, these organizations will mount massive public “education” campaigns. I’m just guessing here, but what do you think? Do these organizations put all their cards on the table? I don’t think so. Sometimes they have a hidden agenda. Sometimes they adjust their approach to avoid telling the Public everything they know. Sometimes they simplify things that should be complex and sometimes they choke the channels with bafflegab. Why do they do this?

Is it because our rightful Representative to Congress is failing to represent our interests properly? Perhaps they have, out of kindness or a sense of duty, stepped in to correct an injustice. I think that, more likely, they are trying to direct the flow of events in such a way as to benefit the political or financial needs of the groups in question.

Now, let us assume that our Rep recognizes these efforts for what they are and engages in countervailing tactics. What will the public see? Our Rep is arguing with Harry and Louise. That can’t be good. Moreover, how much air time can be allocated or attracted for an educational counter-attack? How much money is available? How long before frustration leads to an image-damaging faux pas? And how much success will be permitted before somebody starts digging up mud?

Why, given the Hobbesian nature of politics, has our country remained such a decent place? Is it just the bounty of capitalism? We keep feeding meat to the crocodile, but what happens when we run out of meat? No, I think it is more than that. We certainly owe a lot to the public spirited few who defend our rights and interests. But we also do well because all these special interests are battling each other, indirectly allowing us a little more influence. We are sort of like prey that escapes while the carnivores fight.

Our surprising level of success does not seem strongly related to the actions of Congress, because, once again, they can’t hear us. But more importantly, we can’t hear them. The deliberate noise and distortion on the channel make it almost impossible to really understand what is going on in Washington, and there is no shortage of people willing to supplement and expound on our suspicious imaginings.

5/31/2005 3:54 PM

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