Broken Contract? Changing Relationships between Americans and Their Government

By Stephen C. Craig | Go to book overview

public must become more fully engaged in the political process. Let me emphasize here that I am not necessarily calling for the creation of new participatory opportunities; critics are naive to think that structural and procedural reforms such as term limits, referendum elections, easier voter registration, and publicly funded campaigns will suddenly produce a better crop of leaders than the ones we have right now (cf. Morone 1990). It is unfair to assign all blame for recent failures of our government to "the people," but I would argue that "the people" must share at least a portion of that blame -- and, more to the point, that any restoration of trust depends upon the willingness of the politically inert rank and file to take seriously both the rights and the obligations of democratic citizenship, e.g., the obligation to be well informed, to participate, to use one's vote to reward politicians who pursue the common good and punish those who do not.

Even the majority of Alachuans who shied away from direct personal involvement seemed to acknowledge (if sometimes reluctantly) the effectiveness of collective action. They wished that democratic responsiveness were more easily attained and that close supervision were not required to ensure that leaders are technically competent and committed to fulfilling their fiduciary obligations -- but they were not totally oblivious to the centrality of their own role as citizens. In his scathing account of Washington pork-barrel politics, Brian Kelly ( 1992, p. 255) concluded that taxpayer dollars will continue to be wasted "until the simple part of the problem is addressed. Namely, the voters have to say it's time for a change. Ultimately, the blame and the responsibility for the system belong on all of us. . . . Or, in the famous words of Joseph de Maistre, 'Every country has the government it deserves.' " So, too, with any hopes of putting to an end the various other types of elite behavior that have caused Americans to lose faith in their governmental leaders and institutions: Nothing is likely to change until the public decides that enough is enough. If and when it does, the necessary participatory structures are already in place.


NOTES

An earlier version of this chapter was presented at the 1993 Annual Meetings of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, Illinois.

1.
Such sentiment did not lead at once to dramatic turnover either in Congress or in the states, though some voters apparently did find ways to translate their dissatisfaction into electoral action; for example, the average vote for both Democratic and Republican incumbent House members dropped off in 1090 to its lowest level since the Watergate election of 1974 ( Jacobson 1993, p. 161).
2.
These data, from a postelection survey conducted by William R. Hamilton and Staff of Washington, D.C., were made available by the Florida Institute for Research on Elections, Department of Political Science, University of Florida. Of those saying either that leaders were less trustworthy and honest or that little had changed in recent years (14 percent of the total), 55 percent blamed the leaders of both major political parties (versus less than 10 percent each for business, religious, or Democratic and Republican leaders in particular).

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