Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Does Politics Really Matter?

When I was younger, I thought that politics -- and by "politics" I mean the Democrat/Republican dance by which our country supposedly is governed -- really mattered. I voraciously read The Washington Post, tuned into the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour every night, and watched all the politico talking head shows on Sunday morning. I did this in the hopes of understanding all that was going on in our nation's capital and what those goings-on meant for the rest of us, because I was convinced that it was all so important.

When I moved to Washington in 1993, disillusionment with the political process set in very quickly. After seeing the goings-on in this town from a much closer vantage point, I soon concluded that most of what was happening in Washington had very little direct impact on the ordinary American. The president, the senators, and the congressmen seemed to be more like little kids who had divided into teams on the playground to throw things at each other than responsible statesmen concerned with governing our country reasonably. The conservatives kept getting more conservative, the liberals kept getting more liberal, and the fights between them kept getting more ridiculous. Let them do what they want, I thought -- life will go on just about the same as it would've anyway for most of the rest of us. After reaching that conclusion, I tuned out politics for a long, long time.

With the 2008 presidential election rapidly approaching, I find that I have changed my mind on the importance of politics yet again. I still think that much of the time the output of the political machine isn't important, or is important only at the margins, in shaping the course of our lives. However, I think that there are times when politics does matter; and when it matters, it matters A LOT!!! Our current president, for example, has done a miraculously good job of gutting our civil liberties, turning what had been a brightening fiscal situation on its head, and getting us into a completely unnecessary war that has encouraged anti-American constituencies around the world to hate us even more actively than they did before. Idiocy, incompetence, and hubris are never good in isolation, and having all those traits combined in a president who actually succeeds in pushing his policy agenda has proved disastrous. As much as it pains me to say it, George W. Bush has made a difference, and it has not been a good one.

As I sit here today, I am hoping really hard that our next president will be Barack Obama, and that he will succeed at counteracting the damage done by Bush. Americans have so much goodness as a people -- on the whole, people in this country tend to be generous, caring, fun-loving, and freedom-loving. The negative and divisive policies of the Bush administration unfortunately have leveraged some of our less-appealing national traits at the expense of these good qualities. Our country is so ready for an administration that makes room for concepts like peace, hope, liberty, generosity, and respect. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had a president who inspired us all, Democrat and Republican alike, to embrace what is good about ourselves and our heritage again; if we had a president who could help us collectively to be our best selves? I am hoping that Obama will do just that. I am hoping, in short, that Obama will make a difference.

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