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Joe Costello: What 21st-Century Democracy Looks Like

In a wide-ranging interview, Costello says that in order to regenerate American politics, the people must be involved in decision-making and rethink value systems.
 
 
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Many a right-winger, and sadly, even some self-styled liberals, accuse those on the left of not loving America. Blogger and organizer Joe Costello loves America, and he loves it so much that he is willing to shout from the rooftops to wake us up to its awesome heritage and formidable potential – the potential that is being stolen away by a rapacious financial industry and its pocketed politicians.

Costello has been involved in communications, energy and political economy for three decades. He was communications director for Jerry Brown's innovative 1992 presidential campaign and was a senior adviser for Howard Dean's effort in 2004. He has compiled his riffs on our economy and political systems in new book,  OF, BY, FOR: The New Politics of Money, Debt & Democracy, in which he calls for the American people to reclaim their rights and responsibilities.”

AlterNet caught up with Costello to find out more about what that means and how he envisions the quest for 21st century democracy.

Lynn Parramore. How did you come to be so fascinated by democracy and its workings?

Joe Costello: Interesting question. I have always had a very egalitarian view of people, which is very American, or archaic American maybe. Over time, I've met a lot of people in all aspects of life, including a lot of the wealthy and powerful, or those considered as bright intellects. It confirmed my view there are not great differences between people. Sure, some can run a little higher, jump a little farther. But the differences are not that great -- certainly not as great as our culture of the last three decades has pushed in order to justify the growing inequality in our society. The commonality of the human experience unites us much much greater than any differences divide.

The other thing is that I went into politics very young, Ted Kennedy's run against Carter in 1980. That was the last gasp of the New Deal coalition. Then throughout the '80s, being very involved in electoral politics, I watched that old coalition fall apart. It was freeing in the sense you could start looking what happened, how things had come to that point and gotten there in the first place. It made me think about where it might go, without a lot of fetters. I found as I looked through history, as Larry Goodwyn says in his excellent book The Populist Moment, Americans have a lot less democracy than they're led to believe, and then further as Gore Vidal says, self-government is an historical anomaly.

Finally, over the last couple decades as all the new, call it quantum or information technology evolved, I concluded that democracy, or distributed order, is in fact necessary for the stability of the system. For example, we're having important lessons regarding that with the financial system right now.

People should have power over their lives, not imposed by large centralized forces. It's a lot more interesting that way. John Lydon put it best a few years back, saying he didn't want large impersonal forces fucking up his life -- he was completely capable of that himself, thank you very much. That's a good and humorous democratic ethic.

LP: In one sentence, what do you find most disturbing about the America you see before you?

JC: The corruption and dysfunction of our politics -- and they are related.

LP: Why do you call for a “reformation” and not “revolution” in confronting the evils we face?

JC: There's a romanticism about revolution, particularly on the left. Most don't necessarily accomplish what they set to do, because by definition revolutions are ephemeral.

 
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