Get Off My Lawn

The phrase get off my lawn used to suggest grumpy old men, fist shaking, fleeing children and probably screaming. It applied to very few people.

Now “get off my lawn” applies to nearly everyone when the subject is politics. Grumpy. Fist shaking. Screaming. Fleeing bystanders.

This might not be a good thing.

There once was a difference between

  • Politics: sort of a winning and losing kind of thing that involved raising money, arm twisting voters, getting elected and gaining power; and
  • Governing: sort of a thoughtful activity that involved actually solving problems and running a country in a more or less organized and beneficial kind of a way.

These are actually two entirely different skills that were once found in enough of the same people to staff a functioning government.

In recent decades, the number of people who possess both political and governing skills has become smaller and smaller as the pendulum has swung away from those who might be thoughtful effective “governing” types and toward those with the sales and fund raising skills to get themselves elected.

Again, this might not be a good thing.

Insider Warning One

Ron Faucheux, a polling guy who sends out daily emails mostly about opinion surveys, began a recent missive with an op-ed called “Too Much Politics in a Divided Nation.” It began, “It’s amazing how politics has seeped into everybody’s lives.”

Conceptually I agree but I would be tempted to replace the passive “politics has seeped into everybody’s lives” with something denoting more intent like “politics has been forcibly injected into everybody’s lives while they were pinned to the ground kicking and screaming.”

Being an opinion analyst, Faucheux cites some polls contrasting the feelings of Democrats and Republicans.

  • 86 percent of Republicans and a scant 8 percent of Democrats are optimistic about the direction of the country
  • 82 percent of Republicans and just 28 percent of Democrats are optimistic about their family’s financial situation
  • A whopping 88 percent of Republicans and only 39 percent of Democrats are optimistic about their personal happiness

I will leave out Faucheux’s Trump-related questions though the differences between Democrats and Republicans are equally stark.

Ask your favorite statistician whether such results occur in nature. His answer will be: optimism and pessimism have far less correlation to political parties than that… unless the optimism and pessimism are “forcibly injected” into our lives by the politicians themselves.

Faucheux concludes, “Politics works best when citizens are engaged, not consumed. Turning every disagreement into a partisan death match ensures that our public institutions will never be trusted and common ground will never be found.”

“It won’t be easy to turn this ship around,” he concludes.

Insider Warning Two

Arthur Brooks is the head of the American Enterprise Institute, a business oriented and right-leaning (as distinct from right-wing) think tank. He wrote an op-ed called “Depressed by politics? Just let go.”

He began, “If you study and write about happiness as I do, you become attuned to patterns. For instance, when I walk into a workplace, I can usually tell, based on my first few conversations, if the environment is happy or not. And in the past couple of years, I have noticed a happiness pattern that relates to politics. Namely, the people most in the know tend to be unhappier than those who pay less attention.”

I don’t use words like “external locus of control” because I don’t know how to use them properly, but Arthur Brooks does.

“An external locus of control brings unhappiness. Three social psychologists … compared people who associated their destinies with luck and outside forces with those who believed they were more in control of their lives. They conclude that an external locus is correlated with worse academic achievement, more stress and higher levels of depression.”

“To be sure, an external locus of control is not necessarily inaccurate. If someone is directly affected by a political action (having her immigration status changed or losing her health insurance, for example), her attention will naturally be occupied by events outside her control. However, the external locus of control can also be based on an illusion that something affects us — meaning that the resulting unhappiness is unnecessary.”

“We all have political opinions — some of them strongly held. But much of what actually happens in politics is far beyond our individual influence. That doesn’t mean it is intrinsically unimportant, but let’s be honest: Many of us consume political news and commentary in a compulsive, concupiscent [wow, I learned a new word that means lustful or filled with sexual desire] sort of way, voluntarily subjecting ourselves to gratuitous information and stimuli, particularly on social media.”

“So what is the solution? First, find a way to bring politics more into your sphere of influence so it no longer qualifies as an external locus of control. Simply clicking through angry political Facebook posts by people with whom you already agree will most likely worsen your mood and help no one. Instead, get involved in a tangible way — volunteering, donating money or even running for office. This transforms you from victim of political circumstance to problem solver.”

“Second, pay less attention to politics as entertainment.”

“Will that make you a more boring person? No. Trust me here — you will be less boring to others. But more important, you will become happier.”

Cui Bono?

 Here we have two card-carrying beltway insiders whose livelihoods depend on all of our interest in politics and governing telling us to take a breath.

Why is this necessary?

Who benefits from this swing of the pendulum?

The two political parties have turned almost entirely into fund raising machines.

With so few competitive races elected officials pursue partisan purity to avoid the possibility of primary opponents.

Newspapers, and television fear for their financial lives – quite rightly – and they show far greater interest in serving up the desired portions of red meat to their existing customers than in pointing out the benefits of solving anything.

Advocacy groups exist to fight. From them no issue is ever permitted to be solved. Most of us would like to put a check mark next any number of issues if only to make them go away, but the check mark we might favor puts the advocates for both sides of the issue out of business.

An entire populace shouting of “get off my lawn” benefits all of these groups and every other inside-the-beltway swamp-dweller.

Redirecting the get off my lawn rage away from the intentional Democrat-Republican stalemate and toward all of the insiders who benefit from keeping us angry would be a good start to turning the ship around.

 

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Haven Pell

At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Without hesitation, Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

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4 comments

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  • I speak with our company’s clients all the time , focused on their capital spending plans and how we can help. Since November 2016 I get the same response over and over. Business is good, they are optimistic, they plan on increasing their capital investments in plant and equipment to drive costs down and expand capacity, and they are counting on a federal corporate income tax rate cut. Half the time that message is literally whispered , but it’s a continuous drum beat. That is very good news for my business because we are tied to industrial cap ex project execution. I never discuss politics with my clients. Some of them are democrats and some of them are republicans and their party affiliation doesn’t matter to me. I do care greatly about the money, and the overall sentiment and perceived business climate is very favorable . Without being prompted by me in these types of discussions some of our clients mention Donald Trump , roll their eyes and shake their heads in seeming disbelief, but they all seem to be encouraged about the future and they are willing to spend more capital than they had been spending.

  • If fear of an external “locus of control” makes people unhappy, then I submit that the Democratic Party is in the business of selling unhappiness. Get control of your own destiny and be happy! Otherwise, apply for food stamps, disability or whatever, and waste away your life wallowing in self pity and “victimhood,” and don’t forget to vote Democratic to keep the gravy train chugging along.

    What needs to happen is for the government to not only get off our lawns, but to get out of our lives, not for us to ignore their meddling idiocy in the meantime. Trump “talked the talk” but has yet to “walk the walk,” so stay tuned.

    See how easy that was? All your political doubts resolved! Just let go! I will admit that since Trump’s election I have found that advice much easier to follow in my own life, probably because I no longer fear some massive new government intervention being foisted on us while we sleep. I may fear other things, but then we have Chuck and Nancy working tirelessly to save the day from radical decisions like the Gorsuch nomination! How are we supposed to take these people seriously? Better, why do we take these people seriously? The whole mess is a carnival side show.

  • The differences between the parties are quite real. Taxes, regulations, health care, immigration, trade, foreign policy, the works. Trump is actually trying to effect real changes in all these categories. The odd thing is, he may end up suffering more resistance from his own party than from the Democrats, as we have recently seen re health care.

    His policies defy traditional party category. I happen to think some of them are quite good, if well executed. But who will be for him, and who against him? Money will matter. Money paid to various re-election campaigns will make a huge difference. Special interests? Bet on it. Bet the farm.

    What would happen if we took all the money out of political campaigns? Would representatives then be more interested in actual governing in the interests of
    the people, without the growing tendency to act like a Big Brother, or are they so
    far gone they are no longer capable of effective, sensible governance?