Netroots & Rhode Island More Alike than Patinkin Admits

Mark Patinkin used his column, this Sunday, to draw lines of comparison between Netroots Nation and the State of Rhode Island:

… a big part of the Netroots spirit seems reflective of Rhode Island’s founding principles.

By both philosophy and nature, you’re about challenging authority.

Thinking for yourself.

Questioning the traditional establishment.

Patinkin goes on to review some of Rhode Island’s history — religious freedom, the burning of the Gaspee, early renunciation of the crown, and delayed ratification of the Constitution — which serves to suggest that Rhode Island and Netroots share some aspects of the stories that they like to tell themselves about themselves.  But the distinction between a sense of heritage and the practical reality of behavior may be another shared quality between the state and the activist group.

Put bluntly, Rhode Island’s civic structure is most acutely defined by its homogeneity.  That fact is seen in research that finds the General Assembly to be the most ideologically narrow in the country.  More importantly, it can be seen in the processes of government, as displayed quite well during the nearly twelve-hour House session approving the Finance Committee’s budget.  That there were absolutely no surprises was absolutely no surprise.

Back the focus out a little bit more, and other evidence comes into the picture.  Magistrate appointments as political favors.  High-paying State House gigs for connected young adults.  Legislative decisions pushed out to appointed boards and administrative bodies.  And that’s before we get to massive government deals for connected people in the private sector.

Rhode Islanders like to recall their rebellious forebears, but in the present, they tolerate an extremely insulated governing establishment in which knowing a guy trumps thinking for yourself.

The similarity with Netroots (which I propose knowing that I’m fully within my own perspective) is that this very circumstance is likely to be the end result of any leftward casts of “challenging authority.”  That is so because the progressive means of putting into effect the conclusions of “free thinkers” is to filter power through small groups with the strength to impose their will on others.

As long as the masses feel at liberty to form their own beliefs, they needn’t find themselves at liberty to act as if they’re free.



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