I’m like you. Well, I’m not exactly like you, but we’re pretty similar. We’re in our twenties (for now) and we like to think of ourselves as politically informed and we spend a lot of time on the internet. And as such, a few times a day, I check my favorite, non-partisan political sites (Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire, Politico, Buzzfeed, nah right) for the latest political memes. Wait, I mean “news.” And after years of clicking on every link about new poll numbers to see who was up and who was down, who was winning the narrative wars, whose “gaffe” had ended their career, I’m realizing that the way that I (and probably you) follow politics may not be healthy.
The first sign that you’re only superficially interested politics is that, while you know all about the latest gossip, you don’t actually know about the policy. Like, you may know the Republicans are waging a so-called ‘War on Women’, but do you know what that means in the terms of the policy that’s being debated (well, let’s not call it “debate,” because that implies that there’s an exchange of ideas, but let’s call it argued”)? So, you may know that some lady you never heard of called Ann Romney unqualified to talk about working women because she was a housewife and you may know that there was a hearing in the House of Representatives on women’s health (read: birth control) where only men were called to testify. But you probably don’t know the obscure piece of legal language in the Affordable Care act that was actually at issue. And if you do, please don’t be a dick about in the comments, because there are plenty issues where you only know the rhetoric, not the reality and I know you get what I’m saying. We read the political headlines like they’re the scores of playoff games and expect the rundowns of top news to be as exciting as the plays of the day on SportsCenter.
So, all the politics I read about, from the gossip about “What really went on in the debt-deal negotiations” to the “think-pieces” about the meaning of Romney keeping his dog in a cage on the roof of his car during a family road trip, it amounts to following a baseball team. And I guess I’m just an avid fan, rooting for my team, invested to the point where I read daily box scores and know which draft picks are on which minor league farm clubs (translation, I pay attention to the state, regional and congressional politics). And when I get into arguments about my team versus your team, or how much more awesome our team is than those other idiots team, I’m really just regurgitating the opinions of the writers/commentators I watch/listen to. A la, sports fans who will quote sportswriters verbatim.
Here’s why I’m thinking I may want to hold on to my current, admittedly unhealthy-for-the-sake-of-our-democracy feelings about politics: the alternative is pure, adulterated soul-crushing cynicism. I’ll go ahead and admit that I voted for Obama, and plan to vote for him again. My mom and dad are both Jewish academics (sociology and education, respectively) who protested in the sixties (my dad was at Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington – #cred) and they listened to more NPR than they did music, so I was clearly raised to root for the team I root for. That said, I sincerely hope there people who read yr an adult who disagree with my politics, because getting your shit together should be non-partisan.
Anyways, I digress. Being the hopeful Democrat that I am, a couple months ago, I paid $100 to attend a low-cost fundraiser where the President was going to be speaking. I’d never seen a sitting President speak, and I do think he’d make a far better leader of our democracy than any other viable alternative, so it seemed pretty reasonable. While I waited two hours to get inside, I listed to NPR podcasts of Marketplace (the apple doesn’t fall to far from the tree). In this podcast, an economist was explaining that the President and government have very little to do with “job creation”, that even the most interventionist policy has only the most cursory effect on the job market and that the economy as a whole is mostly out of the President (or anyone’s control). Then, when I got into the fundraiser, after listening to Chris Cornell play a solo acoustic set for twenty of the shittiest minutes of my life (he played “Redemption Song” AND “Imagine”!!!!), Obama came out to meet his adoring crowd. The first 15 minutes of his stump speech were all about how many jobs HIS administration had created and how few jobs his opponents’ policies would have created.
There was a part of me that wanted to call bullshit, and tell myself not to buy into the narrative that was being pitched. I mean, I’m already hyper-aware of the concept of political narrative, as most serious political commentary discusses it constantly. I guess if you have to fill 24-hours of news, you’re going to get meta. But this was the first time rhetorical narrative-building had been used on me IN PERSON. And I was hyper-aware if it. But then I realized that would completely ruin me for cheering for the home team, or celebrating when they won. So I put I turned off my critical thinking cap and cheered along with the other 1000 people. Because the alternative to the superficial way of following politics is just way less fun.
Henry Goldman is founder of yr an adult: he’s dying to get into a discussion of policy on twitter, so hit him up.