Reader’s Forum — Frank Fear

The Politics Industry Gets 5-Stars

Frank Fear

As a Progressive Independent, I found ‘hope’ in The Politics Industry. Well-conceived and expressed, it’s a book written for the American public. “Innovators” is the term Everett Rogers used to categorize folks like Gehl and Porter.

Rogers, a trailblazer in the field called the adoption/diffusion of innovations, concluded that Innovators need Early Adopters to move things along on the road to change. I’d hazard a guess that lots of you reading this piece are Early Adopters. If so, you may have done what I did: nodded your head as you read the book, and made notations as you came across a passage that stood out. You may have recommended the book to a friend.

I thought a lot about The Politics Industry and Innovators/Early Adopters today. As I did, I thought about two other groups of people that factor heavily into the mix of political innovation and reform. First, there are activists. They are the ones who run with new ideas, take leadership, and do the heavy lifting. Second, there are advocates. Advocates don’t necessarily do a lot of the work. Still, they believe in and support the work, aiding it in some way, such as contributing money and endorsing the idea with family and friends. Any activist will tell you that advocates are the lifeblood of change. In the scheme of change, activists are small in number, but advocates can (and need to) proliferate.

The points I’ve made here have nothing to do exclusively with political innovation and change. My observations have to do with any type of innovation and change. There are relatively few activists, and there is a core of advocates that activists seek to grow over time. But, in truth, it’s also important to point out that as activists and advocates do their thing, the majority of people (to use a term a colleague of mine uses a lot) ‘are on the sidelines.’

Sound tough? It is. And there’s even more. It’s doubly difficult when 1) what you seek to change is an industry with buyers and sellers, a robust market system, and ‘losers’ if the industry were to become somehow attenuated, and 2) the change you propose conflicts with some dimension of personal identity.

Gehl and Porter make a strong case for politics as an industry—and a private industry at that. I agree with their assessment wholeheartedly. But, mind you, the assertion carries considerable weight when it comes to change because industry resistance to change is economic and political. Just think about the billions of dollars pouring into political coffers this cycle, and how that money is being spent—on employees, advertisements, etc. Consider how media companies, like FOX and MSNBC, are tied so strongly to what goes on in America’s politics today. Make that … what the political parties are doing in America’s politics today. And think about how the major political parties team up to oppose political innovation and reform when any proposal impinges on their party-centered preference. “Don’t mess with the industry!”

On the personal identity dimension, I asked: “How many of my Facebook friends might read The Politics Industry?” “How many of those would agree with its content?” “And how many in that sub-set would take action?” I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I’ll speculate that the answers to all three questions are ‘not many.’ Why? What Gehl and Porter write about isn’t seen as a problem for those who are invested heavily in party politics. Being an invested party affiliate isn’t just a political preference and a voting choice. It’s a prominent feature of personal identity—waving the flag, defending the castle, winning elections, and doing what needs to be done to keep the party vibrant and in power. What I learned long ago is that it’s tough duty to talk change when that change involves personal identity.

None of what I’ve written is intended to detract from what Gehl and Porter have written or offer. Hardly. It’s an important book that gives me (as I wrote in the intro) ‘hope.’ The challenge is making the hill climb to change. In some respects, the climb is made easier by the fact that so many Americans tell Gallup that they are party-unaffiliated (40% in the Aug-Sept national poll).

But we need more than that. We need everyday Americans, not just the innovators and activists, to see the problematic nature of an American electoral system that’s profoundly party-centered. With that in mind, I was drawn to a statement shared on Facebook by Carrie Ann Rathbun Hawks (a friend and associate) in response to the first Presidential debate:

Can we eliminate the political parties, please? So many of our problems would go away at every level of government. It might even get back to ‘We the people’ instead of ‘We the Republicans’ or ‘We the Democrats.’ Shameful!”

Hope. Carrie gives me hope that what Gehl and Porter recommend can happen. But, as the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg said: “Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you,” (italics added). For Innovators and activists, that’s the nut to be cracked.

Frank A. Fear is professor emeritus, Michigan State University, where he served as a faculty member for thirty years and worked in various administrative positions for nearly twenty years. Frank also writes about issues that intersect sport and society.


Politics for the People Zoom Call
With Author Katherine Gehl
Sunday, October 18th
7pm ET
If you have not registered yet, Click here to RSVP!


Founder of the Politics for the People free educational series and book club for independent voters. Chair of the New York County Independence Party.

Leave a Reply