Social Science: This passage is adapted from a book titled How Courts Govern America by Richard Neely (copyright 1981 by Richard Neely)

 

Government is a technical undertaking, like the

building of rocketships or the organizing of railroad

yards.  Except possibly on the local level, the issues

which attract public notice usually involve raising

[5] money (taxes), spending money (public works), foreign

wars (preventing them or arguing for fighting easy

ones), education, public morals, crime in the streets,

and, most important of all, the economy.  When times

are bad, or there is a nationwide strike or disaster,

[10] interest in the economy becomes all-consuming.

 However, the daily toiling of countless millions of civil

servants in areas such as occupational health and

safety, motor vehicle regulation, or control of navigable

waterways escapes public notice almost completely.

 

[15] Furthermore, even with regard to high-visibility

issues, significant communication between the electorate

and public officials is extremely circumscribed.

 Most serious political communication is limited to

forty-five seconds on the network evening news.  In

[20] days gone by, when the only entertainment in town on a

Wednesday night was to go to the county courthouse to

listen to a prominent politician give a theatrical tirade

against Herbert Hoover, an eloquent speaker could pack

the courthouse and have five thousand people lined up

[25] to the railroad tracks listening to the booming loudspeakers.

 

The political orator of yesteryear has been

replaced by a flickering image on the tube unlocking

the secrets of the government universe in forty-five-

[30] second licks.  Gone forever are Lincoln-Douglas type

debates on courthouse steps.  Newspapers take up the

slack a little, but very little.  Most of what one says to

a local newspaper (maybe not the New York Times)

gets filtered through the mind of an inexperienced

[35] twenty-three-year-old journalism school graduate.  Try

sometime to explain the intricacies of a program

budget, which basically involves solving a grand equation

composed of numerous simultaneous differential

functions, to a reporter whose journalism school curriculum

[40] did not include advanced algebra, to say

nothing of calculus.

 

But the electorate is as interested in the whys and

wherefores of most technical, nonemotional political

issues as I am in putting ships in bottles: they do not

[45] particularly care.  Process and personalities, the way

decisions are made and by whom, the level of

perquisites, extramarital sexual relations, and , in high

offices, personal gossip dominate the public mind,

while interest in the substance of technical decisions is

[50] minimal.  Reporters focus on what sells papers or gets a

stations high Nielsen rating; neither newspapers nor television

stations intend to lose their primary value as entertainment.

 Since the populace at large is more than willing

to delegate evaluation of the technical aspects of government

[55] to somebody else, it inevitably follows that

voting is a negative exercise, not a positive one.  Angry

voters turn the rascals out and, in the triumph of hope

over experience, let new rascals in.  What voters are

unable to do — because they themselves do not understand

[60] the technical questions — is tell the rascals how to

do their jobs.

 

Serious coverage of goings-on in government is

deterred by the fact that government is so technical that

even career civil servants cannot explain what is happening.

 [65] In 1978 I attended a seminar on federal estate

and gift tax, where the Internal Revenue Service

lawyers responsible for this area frankly confessed that

they did not understand the Tax Reform Act of 1976.

 Intricate technical issues such as taxation, arms control,

[70] and nuclear power are difficult to understand for professionals,

to say nothing of the most diligent layman.

 

That anything gets done is by a political body at all

is to be applauded as a miracle rather than accepted as a

matter of course.  When we recognize that in the federal

[75] government, with its millions of employees, there are

but five hundred and thirty-seven elected officials, put

into office to carry out the “will” of a people who for

the most part know little and care less about the technical

functioning of their government, the absurdity of

[80] the notion of rapid democratic responsiveness becomes

clear.  The widely held tenet of democratic faith that

elected officials, as opposed to bureaucrats or the judiciary,

are popularly selected and democratically

responsive is largely a myth which gives a useful legitimacy

[85] to a system.  In fact, however, far from democratic

control, the two most important forces in political life

are indifference and its direct byproduct, inertia.