I’ve been reading, thinking about community a lot lately. Its not talked about much, but the decline in what Robert Putnam called “social capital” is one of the most damaging cultural trends in the United States. Basically, neighbors don’t trust each other, communities don’t have the connections that bridge gaps between rich and poor.
Now, Democrats are looking this is the eye:
Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean has commissioned confidential polling and analysis that suggest candidates in 2006 and 2008 should frame their policies — and attacks on Republicans — around the context of community.
It seems to be the emerging message from a party that has been bereft of one.
…“When we work together, when rely on one another, when we care about one another, we remove the fear of sharing,” Vilsack said. “I believe the current administration and its polices is eroding the sense of community . This country’s two great things — the self-reliant individual supported by community — is what made the American dream … possible.”
…Equating the GOP agenda for Social Security, public-school vouchers and Medicare with “social Darwinism,” Obama said the key to the nation’s success is striking a balance between individual and collective responsibility .
“It has to do with individuals,” he said, “but it also has to do with community.”
It seems we already have a head start on talking to voters who retain a sense of community. After the election last year, a lot was made of the Republicans winning the “fastest growing communities.” While these place where indeed growing very fast and yes, did go for Bush, there wasn’t much discussion on whether it was because they were growing so fast they would probably end up voting for any Republican over any Democrat.
Eric at the Cascadia Scorecard points to a general relation between lack of social capital and voting for bush. But basically, fast growing and sprawling communities, because a good portion of the people living there just moved there, lack the community ties that older, more established communities have.
While we’re reaching people that already have ties to their community, we need to reach out to places where community is not so strong. We need to talk about filling the need.
(On a side note, I’ve felt for a few years a sense of unfulfilled promise after 9/11, that we didn’t do something as a nation that we should have. I’ve had a hard time putting my finger on it until I started reading about social capital, community, etc. We missed a chance to reinforce what a lot of people were feeling, that we really are all in this together. Not just winning “a war on terror,” but everything. George W. Bush squandered a chance to call on Americans to have a greater responsibility for their communities.)