CRISIS OF FAITH

Posted in Rants on June 9th, 2014 by Ed

For as long as I can remember I've loved politics.

When I was in the first grade, my best friend and I would spend recess having "summits" on the playground. We bickered over who got to be Reagan and who had to be Gorbachev and eventually agreed to flip for it, freeing up considerably more time to hash out reductions in strategic nuclear weapons.

In October of 1984 my dad took me to the old Chicago Stadium, since demolished, to see a Ronald Reagan campaign rally shortly before the November election. It was, to a six year old, just about the coolest thing I could imagine. Reagan made his entrance atop a wailing fire truck, a fact that was sufficient to persuade me that being president was a goddamn cool job. In 1988 we waited outside in subzero weather for five hours to shake hands with George H. W. Bush.

By middle school and junior high I had the Senate and most of the relevant people in the House committed to memory; I can still tell you who was in the Senate in the late 80s and early 90s with useless accuracy. I watched the news for fun, mostly CNN despite its raging Liberal Bias. Whatever was happening in Congress or in the elections, I would tell anyone who would listen about it in great detail.

Finally I got to college where I could major in political science and spend every day talking about politics in great detail with like-minded people. It turned out that the other students didn't seem to care quite as much, or often at all, but at least the professors and grad students were usually willing to shoot the shit. That helped. But by the late 90s, something had started to change. The strategy of the Republican Party after the "revolution" of 1994 became to disassemble or otherwise ruin the government when in power and to be mindlessly obstructionist when in the minority. Oddly enough, government became less interesting when it wasn't doing anything. Or, after 2000, when everything it did was driven by ideology rather than reality.

Still, I loved politics. I started this blog mostly to talk about it, although never focusing on it exclusively. I used to write up quite a bit of armchair analysis of the elections; in particular there is a lot of election content in 2004, 2006, and 2008. It tapered off in the next two elections and now here we are halfway through 2014 and I haven't given the midterm elections a moment's thought.

I spent a good deal of time thinking about this while on vacation and it became apparent that, if I'm being honest, my name is Ed and I don't think I care about politics anymore.

The GOP has become a cargo cult of extremists, the white Christian American version of the Taliban. The Democrats, when in power, offer some improvements around the margins but on economic and defense issues essentially tow the same one-party line with a softer message. And more importantly, 90% of the time, nothing is happening. Elections have become bizarre spectacles that cost billions and take place in the intellectual sewer. And ultimately the GOP ends up doing better than it deserves because millions of people like you and I – people who occasionally read stuff and have better things to do than take a debate between Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid seriously – just give up. The GOP base, however, never gives up.

Yes, I'm being somewhat lazy and taking the easy way out. It's facile to say "These people are all the same, who cares who wins" because of course we know that there are instances in which it will matter. It is on some level important; I still vote and I still teach it well (teaching political science, unless you're a hack, involves very little of the day-to-day of politics). It just isn't interesting anymore. And I don't feel bad about that, because the process has changed more than I have. As the old school Republicans say, I didn't walk away from the Party; it walked away from me. Look at the ways in which doing business in the House and Senate have changed, or how the Supreme Court has changed, or how the media coverage of all things political has changed, and I feel justified in saying, yeah, this is stupid.

Maybe it will come back to me at some point. Maybe it won't. Maybe this was the plan all along, to make the political process so unbearably awful and uninteresting that people would stop paying attention to it altogether and the moneyed class could get away with literally anything. If that was the plan, then I feel the same way I feel when I realize an advertising jingle is stuck in my head: I'm mostly annoyed that such a cheap trick worked on me.