Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Meditation on Politics, Part 1: Hating Politics

This is a post I've been putting off writing since practically when I started this blog.

I've been putting it off because I don't know exactly what I want to say. I've been putting it off because what I want to say covers such sprawling territory I don't know where to start. I've been putting it off because I know so painfully well how much I don't know.

But I've come to the point where I can't not start saying something.

This is likely to be pretty raw -- in the sense of not being more than very lightly edited. As a writer I often massage my message before I unveil it. That's been less true of this blog, and I think it will be even less true of this post or series of posts.

So. To begin.

I've come to hate politics. I engage in what's going on just enough to do my job as a journalist, some of which involves writing about the media. But otherwise I keep myself at an ever-increasing distance. When NPR comes on in the morning at 5 a.m., I shut it off, and DairyStateMom is kind to indulge me. (Of course, she will get to hear the same cycle during her 1-hour commute to The Big City a couple of hours later, but still -- I appreciate her accommodation even so.)

I do occasionally get sucked in during the day to certain political news items, whether on the NY Times or Washington Post websites or on more specialized sites, blogs, etc. Sometimes I post a link on Facebook to some matter that I find especially trenchant, but I'm fairly restrained about that, too.

But for the most part, I tend to push away from my mind much contemplation about what's been going on politically.

I am constrained from direct activism on account of my journalistic work. I'm a freelancer, so that is arguably more of a personal choice. (I could, after all, choose to freelance in areas that don't overlap politics.) But because of the topics I tend to write about -- maybe even want to write about, it could be argued -- I feel it more appropriate to keep arm's length. (Two exceptions: In 2004 I put up a Kerry sign on my lawn; in 2006 I would wear a discreet button opposing the state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage -- but never to interviews.)

That seemingly necessary detachment may contribute somewhat to my aversion to politics these days, because to some extent that aversion is driven by a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness. If I worked in another field, perhaps I might find myself throwing myself into some volunteer political activism, so that I might be able to say to myself, "I'm doing all I can to help bring about the outcomes I prefer / stop the outcomes I fear..."

As I have on other subjects, I find it most helpful to start with autobiography.

I grew up in a politically engaged home. I often say my parents were Stevenson Democrats (as in Adlai -- the guy who ran against Eisenhower in 1952 and '56), but it would be just as accurate to say they were Roosevelt Democrats, too. It's probably pretty safe to bet they never voted for a Republican in my lifetime, but that didn't keep my father from paying close attention to the other side. I recall listening to the Republican convention on the radio with my father in 1964, and hearing Clare Booth Luce ("Mrs. Luce," my father said, telling me who was speaking) giving what must have been an endorsement speech for Barry Goldwater. (My clearest memory from that time is when she referred to him as "the wave of the future," and my father recoiled, recognizing the title of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's book that saw Fascism as inevitable and counseled submission to it. I was in 3rd Grade that year. That fall My Weekly Reader had an article about the election with big side-by-side head shots of LBJ and Goldwater on the cover. A friend of mine drew pictures of devil's horns on Goldwater and a halo and wings on Johnson, and I followed suit. There may have been kids who did the opposite; I cannot recall with certainty.

In 1968 I went to bed on election night not knowing for sure who had won the presidency; it was the first question I asked my mother when I awoke the next day. Of course, we weren't happy.

In 1972, a junior in high school, I volunteered for the McGovern campaign. I have three specific memories from that time: A Saturday morning spent calling voters to identify their preference ("You gotta be kidding!" said one woman when I asked if she planned to vote for McGovern in the election, before slamming down the phone); a trek through some neighborhood in my [very Republican] rural southeastern Pennsylvania community to hand out fliers; and a depressed election night at local HQ watching the returns on a black and white TV (as I snuck sips of beer from the refreshments cooler). I wrote a morose, rambling and probably not very coherent memoir of the evening -- the very next day, if memory serves -- and showed it to my English teacher (whose politics were very definitely not left of center).

That junior year was fateful in certain ways. From 8th grade through 10th grade, I had gone, instead of to the local public school, to a Quaker school in Delaware. For 11th grade -- for reasons that were, I believe, mostly financial (certainly not academic ones) -- I was sent back to the public school, with the promise that I could return to the Quaker school in my senior year (which I did).

As it happened, that junior year back in the local public school re-united me with a childhood friend, whom I will call The Card-carrying Anarchist (The CCA for short). And that's where I will resume my story next time.

PS: On February 26, 2011, I went through and edited the titles of this series slightly.


  1. I've come to loathe politics as well, but I just can't seem to permanently leave it alone.

    I'll do pretty well avoiding the conversations and articles and stuff, then something happens and I get sucked back in.

    I have opinions, pretty strong ones, but I try not to talk about them much because I don't like what it turns me into, and I don't like what it turns the person I'm talking into.

    And I don't think I have all the facts about any of it. I have the information that they want me to have and the dirt that they spread about each other, but I really don't think I have the truth about anything that any of them do or promise to do.

    Maybe I'll just get all my information from WikiLeaks. :)

  2. I suspect journalists were much happier when newspapers announced their politics, sometimes in their name.

  3. Amen brotha!

    I leapt out of bed this morning and raced to the polls, filled with glee. Why? Excitement over the candidates? Hardly! Because today, election day, means the end of a month of excoriating, viscious, hateful, 24/7 advertising -- on tv, radio, newspapers, mail stuffers and on and on and on. Everywhere you turned were ads about how horrifying the other candidates were, nowhere a candidate telling you what they were FOR, what they wanted to DO, what they believe IN.

    This year produced the most vile ad I think that I've ever seen in my life. About 10 years ago a girl went missing in my state. It was one of those cases the whole state mourns, a vigil the whole state takes up. Like Polly Klass in CA back in the 90s. To this day you say this girl's name and everyone knows who you're talking about, everyone stops for a moment, shakes their heads. Well, this election year, the incumbent for Attorney General somehow or another convinced this girl's mother to do an ad about how supportive the AG was to her and how the AG fought for tougher legislation on child kidnappers, etc. Got this girl's mother to pimp out the specter of her dead daughter . . . for a campaign ad.

    I nearly turned in my card and quit the human race right there and then.

    I know I make for a bad UU when I say this, but I hate politics and ignore it on a regular basis. I keep telling myself that if I do that, I let the players win. But it's hard to stay on the playground with them.

    Thanks for the post, DSD

    P.S. Cool reading list!


Comments on this blog are moderated retroactively. Comments will be published immediately, but spam, slander, abuse personally directed at other commenters or at third parties, or comments that hijack the thread will be removed without further discussion, explanation or apology. Comments that I am unable to read (for whatever reason) will be deleted.

Comments that challenge the viewpoints expressed here within the bounds of civility and good manners are welcome. Blogger limits comments to 4,096 characters.