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Sun

31

Dec

2006

SLEEPING GIANT - In Delusional Democracy, Joel S. Hirschhorn speaks truth to a malfunctioning republ
Sunday, 31 December 2006 20:05

Book Review by Maryann Mann

The Wall Street Journal is no bastion to anti-capitalist sentiment – a notion borrowed from Michael Mann’s devastating cinematic media critique, “The Insider”. Nor do editorial boards at the Wall Street Journal and establishment newspapers alike typically encourage, let alone fortify, civic grievances challenging the contemporary state and structure of the American republic itself. But times, they are a-changing. Peggy Noonan, staunch Republican and speechwriter to both presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, recently penned a piece of commentary attributed to the Wall Street Journal noting that America is primed for a new political party. Her opening remarks were blunt. And bold. And went something like this: “Something's happening. I have a feeling we're at some new beginning, that a big breakup's coming, and that though it isn't and will not be immediately apparent, we'll someday look back on this era as the time when a shift began.”

To compare the political makeup of Peggy Noonan and academic Joel S. Hirschhorn, Ph D., requires a formidable exercise in bridge gap creativity. In outright comparison one would be hard pressed to find the embodiment of two more opposite political philosophies. In this case however, these two former Washington insiders share a similar perspective. Both Noonan and Hirschhorn believe the American people are tearing at the fabric of our two-party political duopoly; salivating for a viable alternative to the status quo.

And it is here, essentially, where conservative pundit and progressive professor draw the line.

Picking up where Noonan left off, Hirschhorn’s incendiary new book, Delusional Democracy: Fixing the Government without Overthrowing the Government, surges democratic obsession into a newly practicable and enthralling high gear.



A former professor with the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a senior Congressional staffer with the Office of Technology Assessment, Hirschhorn made one of his most lasting impressions as Director of Environment, Energy and Natural Resources with the National Governor’s Office; one of Washington D.C.’s most respected public policy organizations. As a bipartisan agency, NGA is designed to affect a collective, unified voice in public policy on behalf of the nation’s governors. Placing a primary focus upon the study of urban sprawl and land use Hirschhorn produced a host of analyses, most notably in collaboration with NGA cohort Paul Souza in a critique known as: “New Community Design to the Rescue”. Produced in 2001, the report examines environmental impacts of urban expansion, suggesting a host of enlightening and innovative alternatives to the developmental paradigm of “sprawl”, which has subjugated real estate over the last half of the twentieth century – a seemingly fashionable and ultimately vexing quandary America meets with great consequence today. The Hirschhorn/Souza analysis culminated in what has since become the most disseminated NGA report in its entire ninety three year old history. Hirschhorn soon followed with his first book, Sprawl Kills: How Blandburbs Steal Your Time, Health and Money, a devastating take on the current housing market and the need for alternatives to urban development.

Although, according to Hirschhorn, a discontented electorate – to which Noonan also referred – and misappropriated usage of land are only symptoms in a more severe ailment beleaguering the cultural health of our nation’s very future. America is plagued with a malfunctioning democracy. Tattered and maligned by corporate special interests, disorder in Washington is spurred on by a deluded American public at the mercy of defective political parties. In his second outing, Delusional Democracy, Hirschhorn’s position is simple: America is pregnant with an idea whose time has come. It is here. And now. Noonan referred to the beginning of a shift. Hirschhorn believes the shift is well underway.

Separated into ten chapters, divided into two parts, Hirschhorn offers an exhaustive account of how the collusion of filtered media, corporate lobbyists and wealthy politicians merge power and influence in order to marginalize a naturally dissident public. Opening with a series of fundamental questions, Hirschhorn asks: “What is the quality of our [American] democracy?” Particularly, “what is wrong with our representative government?”” Hirschhorn’s answer is emphatic, believing democracy to be undercut by corrosive political and economic influences unhelpful – in fact, harmful – to the well being of a participatory American people.

Peggy Noonan offered another point in her column to which Hirschhorn’s theme is also in agreement. A major misconception in contemporary American politics is that its representative duopoly – the Republicans and Democrats – is unworkably polarized; in fact, quite the opposite. Both parties are arguably more similar than ever before. So then, what of this? If, at its core, the electorate is naturally dissident, why hasn’t the voice of dissidence affected the ears of politicians on a national level? Where is the public outrage of this private discontent?

Hirschhorn’s response is multifaceted. According to the author, corporate media and the business community, which does its political biding through Washington lobbies, together comprise an economic will which politicians choose not to ignore. Without appropriate lobby reform or clean fundraising for elections, politicians are infiltrated by the pocket books of the business community at large. Content abiding by the will of private enterprise, which effectively purchases elections and silences public outcry, the result is that the American people become spectators to a government following its own agenda. This is accomplished through diversion and propaganda. Consequently, as Hirschhorn sees it, “Psychological inertia among millions of strongly discontented Americans is [then] rooted in a mindset that cannot foresee a successful Second American Revolution.”

Hirschhorn also divides dissenters into two camps: those who are active and those which are passive. According to Hirschhorn, a nationally effective, collective influence is necessitated by igniting individual power. Adopting a vocabulary consisting of phrases like “status quo busting”, “false patriots” and “active and passive dissenters” Hirschhorn believes the solution to overcoming corporate influence in our nation’s politics lies in awakening “passive dissenters out of their slumbering acquiescence to [take on] a corrupt government, declining democracy and cruel economy.”

Whereas at times the author’s passion overwhelms intellectual clarity resorting to phrases such as “fake democracy” and slipshod compound words – “demopublicans” – Delusional Democracy is equipped with devastating critiques, predicated upon a succession of disturbing details and maddening specificity which Hirschhorn’s resume readily provides. The idea is galling that on any typical day in Congress one can find twenty to forty corporate fundraisers competing for political attention in Washington. Or the fact that, for a time, the League of Women Voters administered presidential debates until they became open to considerable third party candidates. According to Hirschhorn, the League was then subject to a coup (of sorts) in 1988 by the campaigns of George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, which entered into a discreet debate agreement, backed by the authority of both Republican and Democratic National Committees, forcing the League to withdraw.

Delusional Democracy is overwrought with information, often frustrating the reader with pleas for footnotes. Chapter Eight, for example, provides a wonderful array of prominent historical voices which have supported procedures in line with direct democracy. A lack of footnotes squanders the readers’ enthusiasm to follow up. Hirschhorn also runs into periodical clarification issues, which, while few and far between, do cause the reader to stumble. “A national poll in 2000 revealed that by a margin of 68 percent to 19 percent, voters supported full public [campaign] financing.” Which national poll?

These are minor hiccups. Hirschhorn’s overriding proclamation to slumbering American patriots – whether left or right of center – to organize and fight the status quo endows Delusional Democracy with a profound and revolutionary voice. The author hits his high points in explaining the effects of, what Hirschhorn calls, cognitive dissonance, the effect of which “produces tenacious status quo bias beliefs that block new, more truthful and valuable replacement beliefs”. These replacement beliefs – among other things – call for election reform and a serious reconsideration of the effectiveness of the Electoral College. Hirschhorn also makes a devastating case for media reform in the television coverage of third party candidates, and the necessity of a third political party itself.

Standing on the shoulders of muckraking giants – the likes of David Graham Phillips and Upton Sinclair – Delusional Democracy brings Joel Hirschhorn’s voice to bright and shining light. In a substantive call for democratic reform, Hirschhorn joins a league of contemporary muckrakers who see the potentialities of the future both here and now. The Second American Revolution is here. It’s simply underground. To Hirschhorn it’s loud and clear, the purpose of his passage is a guide to shaking passive dissenters wholly and fully awake.

Peggy Noonan too. 

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