EDITOR’S NOTE: Have a burning sensation? Consult your doctor. Have a burning question for Matt Labash? Submit it here.
Dear Matt, In the past, I’ve always tried to maintain at least a fractionally heightened level of engagement with the issues, debates and personalities leading up to a presidential election. This has been due to both genuine interest and a sense of obligation. However, even three months out, I find myself so fatigued by the demagoguery, demonization and cartoonish diversions that have enveloped American politics that I have already tuned out almost entirely. And given the near certainty that I will be unpersuaded to change my intended vote by anything that happens between now and November 6th (sorry gays, union thugs, eco-terrorists and Californians), can I in good conscience take a pass and still be in fulfillment of my civic responsibility? – George
Glad you said it, George, so I don’t have to. Though I have, in fact, taken plenty of occasions both here and elsewhere to proclaim the healing power of apathy. Which isn’t so much apathy, as willful disengagement. Not an act of rebellion, but of self-preservation. To anyone who spends any amount of time dog-paddling through the scum-slicked waters of our political culture, I’d suggest that if you don’t become a committed cynic, then you’re just not paying close enough attention.
This is not a fashionable statement to make in such an election year, of course. For as pep squad leaders on all sides pompously remind us about every 20 seconds, this is The Most Important Election of our Lifetime. Maybe it is, probably it isn’t. They said the same thing four years ago, and forty years ago. They’ll say the same next election cycle, too. Our animal brains are designed, I suppose, to respond to the most immediate threat, and not to retain a sense of proportion, filing current events in the proper place against threats past: minor historical inconveniences like World Wars, the Great Depression, and presidential assassinations.
We are, to be sure, facing some pressing issues. And I was glad to see Mitt Romney, who nobody has ever accused of possessing a surfeit of personal conviction, outsource to a vice presidential pick who reportedly has some. Agree with Paul Ryan or don’t, but he’s at least taken an honest stab at addressing entitlement reform, one of the knottiest problems of the moment. As someone who’s traditionally voted Republican when not sitting out elections entirely out of disgust, I think it’ll be refreshing to see Republicans lose on principle, rather than losing on none. (Not according to me, but to the current RealClearPolitics average of swing state polls, plus that source of smart-money wisdom, InTrade, where Obama is currently up on Romney 57.7 to 41.2 percent — though admittedly, the only constant is change.)
But even if I’m inclined to like Ryan, he’s still just a politician. And while I wouldn’t go so far as to apply H.L. Mencken’s worldview to every politician — “The only way a reporter should look at a politician is down” — neither do I believe Ryan will heal the lame, raise the dead, or whittle the entire country down to 5 percent body fat. (Michelle Obama has tried, and look around — it’s not working.)