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Then and Now

Consider these remarks, from a Wisconsin politician:

What is it that is swelling the ranks of the dissatisfied? Is it a growing conviction in state after state, that we are fast being dominated by forces that thwart the will of the people and menace representative government?

Do you not know people who feel, as perhaps you also do, this way? Look around at years of Move On, the Tea Party, and Occupy, and see millions who (whatever their differing views) feel similarly disappointed in our politics.

The sentiments I’ve quoted are not new. They’re from progressive Republican Robert M. La Follette, who delivered them on July 4, 1897, in Mineral Point, Wisconsin.

(They’re published in a new book, Uprising, from liberal journalist John Nichols; hat tip to the Marquette Law School Faculty Blog for the reference.)

Why is it, that in our time as in La Follette’s time, people are so terribly disappointed? There are myriad reasons.

Consider, for a moment, just one: that when politics is closed, when government action is hushed and rushed, popular dissatisfaction builds. Officials will cast blame on everyone except themselves, criticizing protesters, diligent reporters, outspoken citizens, community and trade groups, etc.

The more people see of their government, the less they will worry that politics is captive of ‘forces that thwart the will of the people and menace representative government.’

They won’t worry less because they’ll see that government has not been menaced; they’ll worry less because open government will not be vulnerable to being menaced easily, and with impunity.

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