Traverse City Record-Eagle


May 8, 2014

Phil Power: Lip service powers political machine

“Lip service: Verbal expression of agreement or allegiance, unsupported by real conviction or action; hypocritical respect.”

Sorry to say it, but our political system works on lip service.

Our parties appeal supposedly to “patriotic Americans” as a whole.

But visit any serious political operation, and you’ll see the genus “American” sliced and diced into exquisitely refined groups, each structured for focused, efficient, narrow-casted appeal.

They slice them by race (Black, White, Hispanic); by gender (male, female, LGBT, and so forth); geography (urban, suburban, rural); by income; education; ethnicity; age.

They divvy us up by ideology: Conservative; liberal; centrist; middle of the road; Tea Party; lefty; libertarian; anarchist. By habit: church-going; martial arts watching; classical (or hard rock) music listening; fly fishing; running; couch sitting and tube-skimming.

Once you know that, it’s pretty easy to look at a political TV spot and work out to which group the appeal is being made.

Which raises the question: Does all the fragmentation underlying our political discourse make it impossible today to bring people together to express their views as ordinary Americans?

We hope not. And in today’s issue of the non-partisan Center for Michigan’s online magazine Bridge ( we set out the ongoing attempt by the Center to call forth the collective views of Michigan residents. Contained in the report, “Michigan Speaks,” this process has resulted in nothing less than a citizens’ agenda for Michigan. For more than half a year, the Center has brought citizens together to take part in often lengthy “community conversations.” These consist of small (usually 10-15, but occasionally as large as 50) groups meeting in relaxed settings designed to provide a space for thoughtful and mutually respectful conversation about the issues of the day. We got feedback from 5,500 Michiganders.

Most of those have taken part in community conversations — though we solicited the views of another 1,200 in two statewide polls designed to provide statistical rigor to the findings.

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