July 13. In “Boiling the Frog,” New York Times Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman today compares America to the proverbial frog that lacks the ability to hop out of a gradually heating pot. So what’s making life hot for the American frog? Krugman says it’s inaction on two critical issues: a second stimulus plan to prevent potentially crippling unemployment and climate change. The government gridlock on these issues scares Mr. Krugman, who in frustration concludes:
So if we can’t get action to head off disaster now, what would it take? I don’t know the answer. And that’s why I keep thinking about boiling frogs.
Obviously, not all Americans agree with the liberal Mr. Krugman on these vexed issues. Yet the solution to the dilemma of government gridlock that scares him is not hard to see. It’s puzzling why smart liberals like Mr. Krugman have been so blind to it. To wake him up a bit, I cranked out and submitted the following (oddly, it never appeared in the comments to the column.)
Mr. Krugman, with all respect, the answer to your dilemma has been staring all Americans in the face for years: it has to do with the television and computer screens that mirror the nation to itself. The solution to your problem – rooted in our polarizing, ideologically divisive political media – is a non-partisan, issue centered, problem-solving CIVIC MEDIA whose ongoing interactive public forums give ALL Americans an informed voice in the government decisions that affect their lives. This media exists to make citizens and government responsive and accountable to each other in shaping the nation’s future: solving its problems, resolving its conflicts and maximizing its opportunities. Its ongoing political dialogs at local state and national levels bring out the best in us, not the worst.
For years all of the interactive communications technologies needed to create a dialogic civic media have abundantly been in place in America. One format – the game show format of voter-driven reality TV – is particularly appealing in a civic media context. Why? Because its weekly votes mimic and, in their sequence, actually refine and articulate the great voter-driven game of democracy.
Just think of what a vital civic media, produced with integrity, could do for the nation. Imagine an ongoing three month contest of ideas starring 16 four-member teams of representative and telegenic ordinary Americans who have been charged to compete AND co-operate with each other in an intensive search, broadcast each Sunday night on network TV and 25/7 on the Internet, for the best solution to your problem of climate change. Imagine these 16 teams being able to interview anyone, anywhere with a view to creating “60 Minutes”-style segments that advance their solutions to this issue. Now imagine millions of Americans linking up with these teams and then voting their preferences each week, as on American Idol. Finally, imagine the excitement and media buzz as millions of Americans, in schools, colleges, business, homes and government offices nationwide cast their votes for a single winning team and best solution.
Interactive public forums like this would at long last give America the decision-making process it needs in order to function in an age of information. The winning solutions of these forums would of course be advisory to government and not binding. Market (citizen) demand for interactive media experiences they provide is enormous. So what’s keeping mainstream media like the New York Times and CBS TV from creating them? Do these managers and conduits of public opinion fear that ordinary Americans lack the interest, capacity or desire to participate in an intelligent decision making process? Are they afraid that American people, given all the information needed to make sensible decisions on the economic and environmental issues you speak of, will make stupid choices, or choices that do not serve the interests of the powers that be?
The implementation of a civic media is critical to America’s future. At issue is the Jeffersonian principle of government “of, by, and for the people.” Should you, your paper and your readers therefore not be giving it careful thought?
When it comes to frogs, I submit that the heat that’s about to boil the American frog comes less from the economic and environmental dangers you speak of and more from the reluctance of the powers that be to give all Americans an informed voice in the decisions that effect their lives. The real danger, as you say, is the nation’s inability to make decisions, and in our democracy, civic media is the appropriate response to this danger