- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If NPR station manager Caryn Mathes had her way, the upcoming midterm elections would be meaningless. And if President Obama’s pre-election analysis of his party’s troubles is correct, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be irrelevant. For America’s ruling class, the scariest day of the year isn’t Halloween, but Tuesday - the day we all dress up as American citizens and cast our ballots.

In response to recent calls for NPR’s federal funding to be cut or eliminated, Ms. Mathes, general manager of WAMU-FM in Washington, argued, “I would hope that it reinforces how important it is for funding sources to be fire-walled from editorial decisions. Whatever government funding a station gets needs to be protected from the vicissitudes of emotion and passion over a particular issue.”

Why should NPR be “fire-walled” against any political accountability? What if our politics is fundamentally shaped by the irrational “vicissitudes of emotion and passion” emanating from an unenlightened citizenry? What if, in other words, Mr. Obama is right? “Part of the reason,” he says, “that our politics seems so tough right now and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared. And the country’s scared.” In such a case, it could hardly be right to force NPR stations to supply their own funding like just any other radio station.

“Fire-wall” logic does not end when the last dollar of public-radio funding is secure. According to this ruling-class reasoning, the problem with politics - especially elections - is that it involves underevolved people whose fears disrupt the march of progress. Too bad we can’t all be like the president, who himself seems to have avoided the “hard-wired” reaction to reject “facts and science and argument” when afraid - or perhaps has managed to avoid fear altogether.

Why not, then, protect everyone’s federal subsidies, tax breaks and special privileges from the messy “vicissitudes” of political life? Why should any good program be repealed or have its adoption delayed by those who reject “facts and science and argument”? Irrationality cannot reasonably stand in the way of such obviously good things as national health care, green jobs programs and public-employee union protections. If the president and Ms. Mathes are right, the American people have no justifiable claim to participate in politics, much less shape its direction.

The ruling-class view of the American electorate stands directly opposed to the first principle of our government: “that all men are created equal.” As political equals, American citizens together choose their representatives and hold them accountable for the measures they enact. New men bring new measures - perhaps even changes to the budget of NPR. This is the essence of self-government. Now, if that old-fashioned notion still strikes you as vaguely attractive, it may be that you have some more evolving to do, but, this year at least, you can be consoled by the fact that you certainly are not alone. Many others like you, moved by passion and logic, are rightly inclined to believe in such other dusty American principles as “no taxation without representation.”

And don’t let our current rulers fool you about the superiority of their arguments. Once upon a time, the American people were not led by people who believed themselves “hard-wired” differently from the citizenry. These men, like you, understood the value of science - the science of politics. Our founding statesmen did not assume the self-evident goodness of their every intention or design but labored to persuade the American people, appealing to the common reason of their equals with seriousness and respect. Why? Because they knew that whatever authority they exercised, their fellow citizens had a right to pursue happiness and to be treated as those who are responsible for themselves rather than as cogs in another man’s machine.

When you cast your ballot today, ask yourself whether the person seeking your vote is hard-wired more like Barack Obama or George Washington. Your answer to this question - and your choice thereafter - will go a long way to determining whether a government of, by and for the people is simply an artifact of the past or a prospect for the future.

David Corbin is an associate professor of politics and Matthew Parks the assistant provost at the King’s College in New York City. They are the co-authors of the forthcoming “Keeping Our Republic: Principles for a Political Reformation” (Resource Publications).

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