Today, a friend asked me why I never seem to want to talk about national politics. Anyone who knows me is aware of my willingness to discuss politics in general, and state and local politics in particular. So why do I avoid talking about national politics?
I thought about it for a while, and replied that national politics didn’t feel like real politics to me — it was more like watching a reality show. The kind of politics I like is about people; about understanding their needs and about representing their interests. It’s about listening; not about showing off.
A reality show is different from a documentary; the focus is on drama and personal conflict, rather than on education. In a similar fashion, a national political campaign today is different from a local grass-roots political campaign; the focus is on drama and personal conflict (not to mention name-calling), rather than on getting to know all the residents of a district and understanding their needs.
To be fair, a certain amouat of hyperbole and name-calling has always been a part of national political campaigns since the founding of this country. For example, Abraham Lincoln was called a “gorilla”, an “idiot”, and a “coward” during the 1864 campaign. But we used also to have a tradition of statesmanship. In 1944, FDR and Wendell Wilkie seriously discussed forming a national unity government, on the premise that uniting to win the war was more important than partisan politics. We also used to have a tradition of putting the interests of the country above the interests of getting elected. A good case can be made that George H. W. Bush was denied reelection in 1992 because of his decision to support new taxes that he felt the country needed.
When I look at the kind of national political campaign we have as 2016 approaches, I am reminded of the stages of my reaction when I discovered that there was a reality show called “Dating Naked.” My first reaction was: “this has to be a joke.”
Then I realized it was serious, and I wept for the country.