To them, politics is a complete and utter waste of time. It is, they believe, rich middle-aged white men using their influence to their personal gain, not for the gain of the people.
To them, they see only the dark secrets: corruption, incompetence, imaturity, ideology, ineffectiveness, score-settling, sexual escapades, broken campaign promises, lies. They see George W. Bush’s pre-emptive war, Anthony Weiner’s selfies, and the calvacade of gubernatorial extremes: Rick Perry’s secession talk in Texas, Mark Sanford’s Argentinian romp in South Carolina, Rod Blagojevich’s jail cell in Illinois, Robert Bentley’s crusade against the federal government in Alabama.
They see the Tea Party’s lunatic fringe, the Democrats’ writing off of a large swath of the electorate, the Republicans’ overwhelming desire to wipe a black president from U.S. history. They see Sarah Palin get too close to the White House. They see the blue dress chapter of Bill Clinton’s legacy.
They see death, civilian and military, from wars and conflicts too many to name: Kosovo, Vietnam, Bosnia, Grenada, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, some justified militarily, others not.
So they check out, if they ever checked in. In their world, politics is as useful as a pacifist in a bar fight. They pay it no attention.
By “them” I mean political agnostics who, by and large, could care less who’s president, who’s in Congress or who’s the governor. They’re neither Republican nor Democrat. They don’t read about politics, they don’t watch the president’s televised speeches, they have no idea which congressional district they live in.
They don’t care.
I don’t blame them.
Politics is hard to enjoy. For non-wonks, it’s non-alcoholic beer, an acquired taste. It’s also the old flame you can’t shake, no matter how many times she stabs you in the back. For the non-believers, every time they start to care, the inevitable happens: incessant partisan bickering and governmental stupidity.
For them, no amount of attention paid will alter reality. So they move on, to their families, their jobs, their friends, their hobbies, their vices, to things they can control.
Washington’s current woe — shut down in a fit of political gamesmanship — does nothing but drive our agnostics deeper into their apolitical world. For them, it’s simply more of the same. If anything, they laugh at the hilarity that is the most powerful nation on the planet shutting down its federal government because political parties are arguing about the legality of providing affordable health insurance to its citizens. Really?
So, this infantile behavior has laid off more than three-quarters of a million workers, closed national parks and museums, shuttered federal agencies and opened a sieve through which lost money is pouring by the hour. Really?
Across the nation, they see Washington lawmakers and political wingnuts continue a moronic crusade against a black president whom they claim, in no particular order, is a Kenyan, a Muslim, an usurper, a socialist and a fraud. Really?
In Alabama, they see the state Legislature declare figurative war against Latinos with a damnable immigration law that’s universally seen as mean-spirited and inhumane. That Alabama has no border with Mexico and one of the nation’s smallest Latino populations didn’t deter lawmakers from their deed. Really?
In Montgomery, they see a federal investigation in vote-buying on a pro-gambling bill in the Legislature, the state’s last Democratic governor in prison on charges of corruption, and the state Constitution having to be re-written to remove racist language — in 2013, no less. Really?
In Anniston — local politics can stink, too — they see a recently departed City Council nearly bring down an entire town with boorish behavior, demagoguery and unfounded claims of racism. Really?
So why should they care, they believe.
Nonetheless, politics matters, despite our friends’ agnosticism. Elections determine lawmakers, who determine policies, which affect our lives. Whether the draft, or taxes, or laws, or assistance programs, or military action, or the protection of civil rights, or the funding of public education, politicians’ control is octopus-like, reaching out in all directions. There are viable reasons — sound, undeniable reasons — to care about the politics under which we live.
I don’t blame those who think otherwise, who’ve checked out. This week, I feel a twinge of comradeship with them. Thank God for fall, for football, for baseball’s playoffs, for all things gloriously unimportant.
Phillip Tutor — firstname.lastname@example.org — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.