all the folks in the United States would do the few simple things they know
they ought to do, most of our big problems would take care of
presidential horse race heads into the final stretch, the usual suspects
– professional pundits and politicos – are once again lamenting
the "apathy" of the American people and predicting a record low
voter turnout for this, the 2000 edition of this country’s quadrennial
Clash of the Mediocrities.
Americans apathetic about politics? And if so, is this a bad thing?
start with a definition of politics. Disraeli called it a "career of
plundering and blundering." Orwell said it was "a mass of lies,
evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia." Jefferson considered it
"a torment." My favorite definition, as offered by Marx (Groucho,
not Karl), is "The art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere,
diagnosing it wrongly, and applying unsuitable remedies."
latter definition seems to especially fit modern politics, with its constant
"crises" that perpetually require the government to "do something"
– that something usually being passing more laws, usurping more power,
eroding more freedom, and creating more problems. In any case, if politics
and politicians are universally held in such low esteem – as the above
and other, more recent definitions would suggest – the question becomes
why should Americans care about them?
of the grandstanding and handwringing about voter apathy that one finds in
the public square of newspapers, television, and radio, the question of why
anyone should care is seldom, if ever, asked. The old saying goes that
children should be seen and not heard, and considering the behavior of our
politicians, it’s a wonder there are any adults at all left listening
simple fact of the matter is that Americans are too busy taking care of
themselves. There are bills to pay, children to raise, jobs to do, and fun to
be had. And for most of us, there are not enough hours in the day for all of
Americans are often told that "we" are the government, and that if
"we" don’t like something the government is doing,
"we" should change it. But here is a quick mental exercise. Would
you rather spend your time writing a letter to your congressman with the
knowledge that your letter will be opened by a college intern, relegated to
an undifferentiated pile, and answered with a form letter – or would
you rather shop for that new sofa, wash your SUV, play catch with your kids,
work around the house, read a good book, cook a fantastic meal, volunteer for
your favorite charity, or – heaven forbid – enjoy a fine cigar, a
cold beer, and a football game? The answer seems obvious.
borrow an economic term, the opportunity cost of paying too much attention to
politics and politicians can be quite high. As government has grown beyond
all constitutional restraint and stuck its nose into every nook and cranny of
our lives, trying to keep track of its comings and goings has become a
full-time job. Add to that the fact that politicians, bureaucrats, and other
minions of the state almost never say what they mean – or if they do,
they only mean it for as long as it takes for them to say it. It soon becomes
clear that the average American – in order not to be "apathetic"
– could remain awake 24 hours a day just trying to decipher
what’s going on in the government, much less seeking to
event, the "change" that bemoaners of apathy most often refer to
involves little more than voting for this or that candidate who promises,
categorically and unequivocally, to maybe, if the stars are aligned right,
think about casting a vote here or there for slowing the exponential growth
of government. Even if candidates for political office could be taken
seriously, how much can they do in the age of the EPA, OSHA, BATF, FDA, SEC,
IRS, DEA, FDIC, CIA, FBI, NSA, HUD, NASA, ADA, and all the other agencies
filled with unelected bureaucrats? Let’s face it: Today, most
"laws" aren’t even made by people you can vote for or
against. They are promulgated by legions of career "civil servants"
who populate the innumerable executive agencies created by previous acts of
Congress – acts that probably will never come up for serious review.
personal is the political," was the radical feminists’ battle cry
in the 1970s, and they seem to have finally gotten their wish. Today’s
government officials, elected or unelected, strive to politicize every aspect
of life, from whether and where we can smoke to the permissible size of our
toilet tanks. Meanwhile, life goes on in its myriad, intricate ways. And
while it is true that "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance,"
the price of spending our lives worrying about politics is to have no lives
suggesting that Americans pay no attention whatsoever to what their
"leaders" are doing? Not at all. Those reprobates most certainly
need watching. What I am suggesting is that life is far too short to attach
much gravity to the ridiculous edicts that continually spew forth from Washington
and our respective state and local centers of political effluvium. I am
suggesting that when Americans fail to show up for an election, it is not
necessarily because they aren’t concerned about the future of their
country. They have just wisely recognized that encouraging the same clowns
responsible for the mess their country is in is not a productive exercise.
Better to spend time pursuing happiness – whether through working,
being with family and friends, or simply enjoying a beautiful autumn day.
Bush vs. Al Gore? As Patrick Henry might say, "If this be apathy, make
the most of it!"