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.”
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.