Why Worry About Politics?
Yet another sweltering summer afternoon here in Philadelphia. My son is swimming with some friends, the garden is amply watered to keep it from turning prematurely brown, and I’m hunkered down in the dark comfort of my wood-paneled den.
The blessings of air conditioning are not to be underestimated on days like this. I’ve made myself a mint julep (it’s a mint julep kind of afternoon) and “To Catch a Thief” is playing on the home screen. The incomparable Grace Kelly has just asked Cary Grant whether he’d like a leg or a breast. (They were about to feast on chicken.)
In short, I’m enjoying these midsummer doldrums. They discourage mental and physical exertion, which is fine with me. I even found myself wondering why we trouble ourselves with politics when the world offers such ample opportunities to lose ourselves in the textures, colors, flavors and fragrances of everyday life.
After all, how different would our lives really be if we never thought about politics — other than the fact that we’d never think about politics? We’d still enjoy the same music, foods and drinks, people, scenery and books (or e-readers) that we do now. Sure, we might notice that our retirement portfolios have been crumbling steadily, and that we have less to spend on electronic gadgets or new shoes. We might wonder how Spanish gained status as America’s unofficial second language. But on the whole, our lives wouldn’t seem much different.
I’ve even taken the trouble to list a few of the things we’d never worry about if we distanced ourselves from politics:
- Obama’s presidential mojo (or lack thereof)
- Sarah Palin’s latent presidential ambitions
- Overheated Tea Party activists who want their country back
- Special-interest lobbyists buying our elected representatives
- Obsessive partisanship in Congress (and everywhere else in U.S. politics)
- The Amazing Colossal Federal Deficit
- Islamists on the march
- The New Black Panther spokesman who wants to kill “crackers” and their babies
- Millions of Americans out of work
- Our ever-shrinking middle class
- Obscene Wall Street bonuses
- Inadequate Wall Street reform
- Illegal immigrants streaming across the border
- The federal government taking no action on illegal immigrants
- The controversial Arizona illegal immigrant law
- Obama’s lawsuit against Arizona over its illegal immigrant law
- Leftists boycotting Arizona over its illegal immigrant law
- Having to wonder if our government is still “of the people, by the people, for the people”
I can’t help but conclude that our lives would be a whole lot more pleasant and conducive to good health if we banished politics from our thoughts. But that’s part of the problem, and I think it’s more of a problem for moderates than for the folks on the fringes.
You see, extremist ideologues don’t care if their lives are difficult and unpleasant. They’re driven by the need to see their agendas prevail. The heat of summer doesn’t stop them; neither does the urge to relax and enjoy simple human comforts. That’s where the extremists enjoy a clear advantage over the rest of us. Fanatics never need to kick off their shoes.
I’m not implying that we moderates should renounce our mellow civilized pleasures for the sake of political action. But we need to be aware that while we’re enjoying our comfortable (and comforting) private pursuits, the extremists are out there marching, lobbying, rallying, reading, debating, networking, maneuvering and generally making a nuisance of themselves to promote their partisan causes.
Zealotry is contrary to our natures, and we should be thankful that we’re not walking pamphlets like so many of our competitors on the fringes of political life. But maybe we’re a little too relaxed. After all, it’s the extremists who still make the loudest noise, garner all the press coverage and eventually get what they want.
In a nation where moderates outnumber both conservatives and liberals, that’s just plain wrong.