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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.)
As stated before, I’m generally predisposed toward Republicans. Not because I like them, particularly. Nor am I the kind of partisan purist who refuses to believe that Republicans, on balance, aren’t just as cliché-spouting, power-hungry and demagogic as Democrats. Because they are. (Well, maybe not this year. ) What tilts the balance for me is that all things being equal, Republican dysfunction is preferable to Democratic dysfunction because while both teams repeatedly demonstrate their ability to bung things up, Republicans typically take less of your money while doing so. In that sense — I try to take my temperamental conservatism seriously. Except for my public library system, my road paving crews, and my military, I retain not a hatred, but a natural distrust of most government, not just the side I voted against. Call that nihilism if you’d like. I call it assessing the evidence. If you find a political savior, give him my best. But in four decades on this earth, I’ve yet to make one’s acquaintance.
So to answer your question — is it civically responsible to have no interest in every hiccup, half-truth, and outrage of the day from the belching fire hose of endless, tiresome and often pointless campaign blather? Of course it is. On November 6, hold your nose and vote your conscience, such as it is. But feel free to skip the pre-game show. Unless you’re some swing-state halfwit, your mind isn’t going to be changed. And in all likelihood, you’re not changing anyone else’s. Better for you to go on about your business, leading a full, productive, largely politics-free life in the months before Election Day, instead of being that guy sitting in his own filth in his family room, crushing cheese puffs underfoot while screaming like a howler monkey at MSNBC. Your vote is going to have just as much carry as his. (Which if you live in my politically lopsided state, Maryland, is to say not much.) But you’ll be happier, saner, and won’t smell as badly. Your blood pressure will be lower. And perhaps most important of all, you won’t have to endure Touré.
Matt Labash is a senior writer with the Weekly Standard magazine. His book, “Fly Fishing With Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys,” is now available in paperback from Simon and Schuster. Have a question for Matt Labash? Submit it here.