The tyranny of the minority explained by W.B. Yeats


by David Safier

From William Butler Yeats' most anthologized poem, The Second Coming:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

About 90% of the country wants universal background checks on gun sales, but a Senate vote could only muster a slim majority, not enough to override the Republicans' neverending filibuster.

J Street, an organization that advocates for a two state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian stalemate –it acts as a progressive Jewish alternative to the more conservative AIPAC — notes a another similar disconnect between public opinion and policy.

Polling shows that a strong majority of Americans as well as American Jews support a two-state solution to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Surveys in the region continue to record that majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians also support a two-state deal, as they have for years.

J Street explains the disconnect on these and other issues:

Political scientists have boiled this down to a truism – the intensity of the few beats the moderation of the many.

I'm not fond of columnist David Brooks, but he got it right a few days ago when he said the gun crazies will use a vote for background checks as reason to vote against a legislator while people who favor regulation will put a No vote into the mix with other issues. That means, for a member of Congress in a tight district, there's a political cost that comes with voting for gun regulation legislation but little cost in voting No.

I want to be optimistic here. "The best" — maybe I should say "the majority" so as not to sound smug — seem to be waking up. We're not letting a setback on gun regulation make us go away. The same wakeup call seems to be starting with immigration reform legislation. If "The best" don't wake up, Yeats has a warning for us at the end of the poem, where he wonders what The Second Coming might look like:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?