The two leading stories on the nightly news for the past week have been the Occupy Wall Street protests and the Republican primary race, a contrast so vivid that the reports could be coming from two different planets.
First, we see thousands of citizens so frustrated and angry with economic inequality in the U.S. that they have organized to protest in hundreds of cities around the country. Then we see a group of contenders for president agree that the only economic problem we have is that wealth and influence are not sufficiently concentrated at the top.
In 2008, Barack Obama's campaign ran circles around John McCain's with its deft use of social media, empowering supporters to become active participants. Four years before, Howard Dean shocked everyone into understanding that the Internet could be more than a novelty and could actually generate money and votes. Looking back even further, Bill Clinton and the Democratic National Committee bought a wave of television advertising starting in 1995, beginning the campaign before he even had an opponent.
When Republicans won sweeping victories at the federal and state levels in 2010, they no doubt realized their position was a fragile one. The economy goes up and down, policies can be popular or unpopular, and the public's will is fickle. To stay in power, there's no substitute for rigging the game, which they set out to do by passing laws through state legislatures that make it more difficult for people who are likely to vote for Democrats to cast votes at all.
(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Judith Odyssey sets up her weekly medication, in Hartford, Maine. Odyssey, who has congestive heart problems, fibromyalgia, asthma, and arthritis, gets $674 a month in Social Security.
On January 31, 1940, the United States government cut a check for $22.54 to a 65-year-old woman from Rutland, Vermont, named Ida May Fuller. Ms. Fuller, who had spent most of her career as a legal secretary, was the first American to receive a monthly Social Security check.
As much as we bemoan our polarized politics, dislike for one's political opponents is one of the most powerful engines that drives political participation. It isn't necessarily wrong to be mad or think that the other side is nuts -- all of us do, at some point or another. But that belief can lead partisans to some places that don't do them any favors when it comes to making their case to the public.