Reality Catching Up to the Political Class
Official Washington is always a decade or two behind the American people. That was true in 1963 when Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his dream for a better America and it’s true today.
The 1963 March on Washington came 16 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball. Robinson did more than make news; he won the Rookie of the Year award in 1947, the MVP award two years later and entered the Hall of Fame in 1962. By then, black ballplayers were part of every major league team.
Another big moment took place in 1955 when Rosa Parks courageously refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala. Many other events, big and small, changed the nation’s attitudes on racial issues in the decades leading up to King’s most famous speech. But it had little impact on official Washington until the march forced the politicians to pay attention.
In retrospect, the most amazing thing about that day was the tone of King’s speech. He could have angrily denounced America for its racial practices. Instead, he lifted up a compelling vision of a nation where people would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. King claimed the timeless values of the Declaration of Independence were a legacy passed on to all Americans, black and white.
The march was a wake-up call that forced politicians to belatedly recognize that America had changed. The Civil Rights legislation that followed was merely ratifying a consensus that had already been reached by the American people.
Today, the politicians are again far behind. The new reality is captured in Nicco Mele’s book, “The End of Big”.
“The devices and connectivity so essential to modern life put unprecedented power in the hands of every individual — a radical redistribution of power that our traditional institutions don’t and perhaps can’t understand,” he writes.
In America, power is decentralizing and individuals are being empowered. While the trend has been building for decades, the politicians are just starting to recognize it.
One big reality check came earlier this year over a very modest trimming of the budget known as the sequester. In D.C., many expected the American people would rise up in revolt when the so-called “cuts” took effect. Instead, no one noticed. Outside of those who work for the government, there was hardly any impact.
For those in power, that was a terrible glimpse into the reality of how irrelevant much of what they do has become. For most Americans, it was a baby step in the right direction.
That growing political irrelevance was highlighted in a recent Atlantic magazine article by Ron Fournier. As a man immersed in the political class culture, he was concerned with what he saw in a study of the Millennial Generation — young people today are eager to serve their country, but they don’t think politics and government is the way to do that.
“They are more likely to be social entrepreneurs, working outside government to create innovative and measurably successful solutions to the nation’s problems,” the article said.
The notion that problems can be solved outside of Washington is the last thing politicians want to hear. But it’s the path our nation is following.