One of the problems with living in a democratic nation is that you are occasionally required to care about politics. In totalitarian regimes, you never have to think about it. The government does your voting for you, and as long as you don’t actively oppose whoever wins, they don’t murder you. Less time thinking about politics, more time to watch TV, that’s what I say.
But that’s not how it works in America. This country is run by The People (note: The People, the populace, not People, the magazine), which means The People have to care about what’s happening. Or they at least have to pretend to care so those around them will think they’re good Americans. Of course, if you express the wrong opinion, some people will think you’re a bad American anyway, so sometimes there’s no winning.
We are currently in a period, much to my personal dismay, in which political apathy is not an option. You will care about politics, or you will be perceived by your fellows as a slacker American. It’s an election year, after all, plus we have this quasi-war of dubious popularity on which everyone must state his position, and now there’s this rabble-rousing movie “Fahrenheit 9/11” that has roused, among other rabble, even movie geeks, who now fancy themselves civic-minded political commentators (albeit weaker and pastier than most) (and that’s saying something).
My problem with political discussions is that anyone passionate enough to engage in them seriously is usually also so passionate that they refuse to consider opposing arguments. They don’t really want to “discuss” politics; they want to preach about them, and to convert the listener. And of course the listener, being similarly passionate, is either already converted, or else he’s trying to convert the preacher to HIS side. Everyone wants to talk, but no one wants to listen. It’s like hanging out with actors.
As a decidedly moderate individual (in regards to politics, anyway; where it concerns Oreos, I am fanatical), I am bemused as I watch these discussions take place in person or in Internet forums. Political conversations between myself and like-minded (i.e., dumb) individuals are usually quite tame and misinformed, and it isn’t long before we grow tired of the subject and start discussing Spider-Man instead. But the hardcore political people are something else. They have conversations that are astonishing in their brutality and stubbornness. They generally go like this:
LIBERAL: Everything that every conservative commentator says is a complete lie! They just MAKE STUFF UP!
CONSERVATIVE: You think WE lie?! What about the liberals?! THEY’RE the ones who lie!
LIBERAL: Oh yeah? What about THIS lie you guys told? [Cites some lie.]
CONSERVATIVE: That wasn’t a lie! That was the truth. (Or: We never said that!) You wanna hear a lie, how about THIS one, that the liberals told! [Cites some lie.]
LIBERAL: We never said that! (Or: That wasn’t a lie! That was the truth.)
CONSERVATIVE & LIBERAL: The only reason you think the way you do is that you’re uninformed. If you knew the truth, you’d agree with me.
LIBERAL: You’re an idiot!
CONSERVATIVE: No, YOU’RE an idiot!
And so on. Basically, each side is so convinced his group is right that he assumes anything the other side says is automatically false. Why? Because it’s the other side saying it. Since Al Gore is not the president, liberals say he should have won and Bush stole the election, while conservatives say Bush won it fair and square. If Gore had wound up in the White House after the 2000 election brouhaha, the arguments would be running exactly the other direction now: liberals defending him, and conservatives saying he stole it.
If it had been liberal commentators who said we should invade Iraq, the liberals would have no problem with it. But since it was conservatives who said it, it’s WRONG! Likewise, conservatives would have no problem with, um, whatever ideas the liberals have had lately, if it weren’t for the fact that it was liberals who came up with them. Whatever they are, I mean.
I have to assume this is more or less what the Founding Fathers intended when they slapped together this great nation of ours. Not the narrow-mindedness — though if they didn’t intend that, they might have expected it — but the impassioned discussions and strongly held convictions. We see it even in the Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson in 1776: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness — though if we listened to that blasted conservative John Adams, no man would be able to pursue Happiness unless he had a Government license for Happiness-Pursuit tucked away in his Satchel.”
For people like me, who follow current events but have little interest in politics, who believe it scarcely matters who the president is as long as we have food to eat and places to live, who think Rush Limbaugh is a bombastic fathead and Al Franken is one of the least funny people alive — for us, these are trying times. Try to tell anyone in 2004 that you aren’t interested in political discourse, and they’ll say it’s because you just haven’t found the correct side to be on yet. But in fact, I have looked at all the issues, both sides, read the commentators — and I still don’t care. I have my opinions on who should be allowed to marry whom or abort what or invade where, and I’ll vote for whoever seems to agree with me the most. But I’m not going to expend all my breath and energy ripping apart the ones who disagree, because what good does that do? Any ripping-apart I do will be in the direction of people who occupy two parking spaces at once, or the people who live above me whose only method of communication is screaming. Politics are small potatoes compared to real life.
To those who have been wondering and/or asking about my political position: There you have it. I am in the middle. I once made a joke about John Kerry, and I got an e-mail from a reader who was "disappointed" to discover, via that joke, that I was a Republican, when surely all my commentary theretofore had been that of a Democrat, like him. I pointed out that making fun of John Kerry, and how he looks like an evil clown, does not necessarily make me a Republican. The reader was much relieved to learn this, and went back to assuming I was a Democrat, even though I hadn't actually said that. I actually hadn't said one way or the other. And I'm still not. I don't care enough about politics to even tell you which party I belong to. If I did tell you, you would start assuming things about me, and a lot of those assumptions would be wrong.