Partly, this failure has to do with the focus-group format, which is designed for quick takes, declarations, pronouncements: anything, in other words, but what it purports to be. In the hour and a half we sit here, we do four four-to-six-minute segments, each keyed to a single issue -- the speech, security, bipartisanship and, appropriately enough, the efficacy of focus groups, which everyone seems to think of as an expression of democracy. Democracy, however, is a process that takes time. With a focus group, the best you can hope for is to shout out a couple of sentences, and some people never utter a word at all.
None of this is exactly unexpected; what I wasn’t counting on is how depressed, shocked and isolated I feel. I listen as we fall into that same old us-and-them rhetoric, and I find myself thinking, This is not my America. But do I even have an America anymore? For the last two months, I‘ve felt unheard, disregarded, as if there was something wrong with me. Reasonable people tell me I’m naive, idealistic, that I should stop worrying about peace and tolerance and start thinking about security. What ever happened to dissent, I want to know, what ever happened to discussion and debate? Sitting here, I realize, with a visceral awareness, that it has been reduced to soundbites, focus groups, that this is the new forum for democracy. And I realize one other thing also: My fellow Americans scare the hell out of me.