ones I think are the mass-media politics which have made it possible for politicians, candidates and interest groups to mobilize this passive audience of viewers quite effectively for different reasons, whether it is voting in vain or it is supporting a cause or not supporting a cause. One effect of this is that it leaves the voters quite passive. Politicians didn't invent this system. It grew up out of the technology. And it is now being augmented in various ways.

Another factor is the decline of the political parties as representative institutions. Another is the dominance of big private money, not just in contributions to candidates, but in shaping the issues that are the main debate of public life. Nor do I think you can let citizens-at-large off the hook. Certainly, some people declined to vote out of a sense of contentment, but I think it is widely unrealistic to believe that our declining electorate is a symptom that everybody thinks everything is okay. We know that is not true.

On the other hand, electoral turnout rises on hope, generally. History demonstrates that. People come into the public arena believing that it is about them and their presence there will make a difference in their lives. So where do you begin to rebuild that? This sounds romantic, but I think it begins not in Washington and probably not in state capitals, but on the ground among citizens themselves, re-establishing their own connections through various kinds of organizations. I'm quite open to whatever those organizations might look like. There are a lot of them active around the country trying to do this very thing. And particularly in inner cities, it is a tough, tough struggle. But I think until that happens, the institutions will continue to be pushed around and drawn to large forces of money and power and citizens will continue to atrophy in their connection.

Now there is one other big element underlying all this, and that is that American prosperity, as described in the broadest terms, is not there any more. At least not in the terms we knew it 25 years ago. For many years, people have denied that, but I think we are now at a point where most people, not just poor people, not just the working class, but the broad middle class now has at least a sense that this is something that is different. And this, right now, drives people out from participating in the public arena, frankly because they don't see government doing much that has any relevance to that anxiety or to their losses.

I guess my hope and belief is that we will reach a point of critical mass where once enough citizens are mobilized in myriad ways to demand responses. At that point, you may begin to see political leaders -- politicians, candidates, government officials -- breaking out of the orthodox assumptions, the sort of satisfied status quo, and responding with new ideas, and that can regenerate politics. We are not there yet, that is for sure.

GT: You've talked about electronic media, particularly radio and television, empowering ordinary citizens, providing access and information they did not have before, connecting them with distant events and authorities. Yet you've also pointed out that the content of such things as talk shows is hardly focused on what could be called substantive issues. Now, with the emergence of computer networks, particularly the Internet, has your assessment changed?

Greider: Let me give you two, perhaps rather contradictory answers to that. I am fundamentally an optimist about human nature and new technologies. I think that we have to remind ourselves that we are all new to this age and we don't know how to deal with it. We don't know how to be sophisticated about it. We don't know how to absorb the

Blake Harris  |  Editor