Lobbying June 3, 2008

I’ve spent today lobbying Congress. Strange experience.

I was part of a group of scientists and economists involved with The Union of Concerned Scientists, delivering U.S. Scientists and Economists’ Call for Swift and Deep Cuts in Greenhouse Gas Emissions to the offices of Senators and Representatives, and meeting with their staff.

I don’t know how much good it will do; the present bill (Lieberman-Warner) being debated in the Senate will almost certainly not pass with the required supermajority. Our legislative system in the US seems designed for stalling, and things seem bound to get bogged down in the usual short-term fights between interest groups.

It’s impressive how responsive Congresspeople are to constituent pressures and local business concerns. If you can mobilize a large number of people to make demands, keep pressure on Congress to respond to these demands, and can deliver votes to punish or reward Congress in elections, things can happen. But on an issue such as climate change, our public education has not been as successful as it needed to have been. Congress appears reactive; you need to build up pressure from the outside. But for many Americans, climate change isn’t a front-burner issue, even though we’re all facing a strong likelihood of serious trouble down the road.

This reiterates why the influence of Christian conservatives in past couple of decades is no surprise. They’ve been mobilized in the right way. Indeed, they’ve been the most significant grassroots democratic movement on the American scene.

Yet, even with this responsiveness to mobilized constituencies, I hesitate to say that democracy is in a healthy state in this country. If we think of democracy as popular participation in decisions that affect us all, and especially democracy as a deliberative process, all is not good. The mobilized constituencies that we get do not often fit that picture of people who deliberate and participate. Unfortunately, we have an electorate that is overworked and zoned out on TV (and does, in fact, let their vote be strongly influenced by mindless TV advertising and propaganda) and religion. Which may be just fine for those who enjoy the most power and wealth. Sigh.

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