According to author David Sirota, there is a real, palpable aura of political change in the wind in America.
Sirota spent two years traveling across America, taking note of the growing emergence of grassroots populism on the left and the right of the political spectrum.
Sirota says Americans are fed up with the lack of political progress on fundamental issues such as health care, energy, transportation, the environment, the climate and immigration.
Sirota is gaining national acclaim for his new book, "The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington" (Crown Publishers/Random House Inc.). The book recently debuted at No. 20 on the New York Times Nonfiction Best Sellers List.
As the past president of the Milwaukee Press Club, I invited Sirota (who is on a book tour) to share his insights recently on a panel with (left-leaning) Keith Schmitz of Common Ground Inc. and Grassroots Northshore and (right-leaning) Chris Kliesmet, founder of the CRG (Citizens For Responsible Government) Network.
They engaged in a free-wheeling, honest, candid, civil and courteous discussion of political discourse in this country, without engaging in partisan finger-pointing, bickering, yelling and name-calling. Imagine how refreshing that was in this era of squawk radio.
According to Sirota, populist revolts arise when tipping points are reached that call for overwhelming changes to the powers that be. With the Great Depression and Prohibition providing the backdrops, Franklin Delano Roosevelt rode such an uprising into the presidency in 1932, Sirota said.
America rose again in 1976 to cleanse the White House after Watergate, but four years later, that need for change was tapped by Ronald Reagan, who fundamentally altered the direction of the country.
Sirota believes America is reaching another historical turning point.
You can pick a reason. Maybe it’s simply because of $4 gasoline, regardless of whom is to blame. Maybe it’s two wars, with no end in sight. Maybe it’s record national debt. Maybe it’s the subprime housing crisis and skyrocketing foreclosures. Maybe it’s troubling 401k and IRA quarterly statements. Maybe it’s Guantanamo. Maybe it’s illegal wiretapping. Maybe it’s health care.
In the past few weeks, Sirota has been interviewed on CNN, MSNBC, PBS and National Public Radio, among others.
He also survived a recent interview on The Colbert Report at Comedy Central (see the video at http://www.comedycentral.com/videos/index.jhtml?videoId=168708).
In a review, The Washington Post wrote, "‘The Uprising’ is a hard book to dislike or dismiss. Sirota reports cleverly and in pleasing detail about a complex world of political conflict that the journalistic throng obsessed with presidential candidates and their handlers seldom notices. He may not have the Establishment quaking in its Guccis, but his always energetic, often ironic reporting certainly made the quest worthwhile."
If there is one thing that could endanger such an uprising, it may be cynicism. I’m talking about the kind of cynicism that may arise when the 527 special interest groups on both the left and the right begin to plaster the airwaves with sleazy commercials about the other side.
You know the kind of commercials I’m talking about. They usually end with something like, "Tell (insert opposing candidate’s name here) that America (insert cause here) …"
Those commercials are farcical, at best. They have no interest in persuading you to actually call the other candidate. They are intended to define the other candidate in negative, and often untrue, terms.
They skirt the campaign finance reform laws by stopping short of expressly advocating for a specific candidate. They don’t even have to disclose who is funding them.
Ironically, the 527 commercials are the vestiges of the original McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms.
Here’s hoping that the American public continues its unprecedented interest in presidential politics this year and is able to see through, or at least above, the manure of the 527 ads.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of Small Business Times.