Why politics doesn’t matter much anymore

Sam Smith

It is the assumption of politicians, media, voters (and even me on sunny days) that the problem of politics is one caused by conflicting ideologies and policies that can neither defeat the opposition nor find common ground.

Lately, however, I find myself increasingly of the view that politics itself is disappearing and that our conventional play by play doesn’t really describe what is happening.

The causes for this shift is several fold. For example, as far back as the advent of television, politics started disintegrating in a number of ways:

· It became dependent not on constituents and communities but on contributors who could pay for TV advertising.

· A politician’s record of service and positions was replaced by the politician’s brand. For example, Barack Obama was elected in no small part because he was black, with virtually no attention paid to his failure to have pursued significant policies that favored this constituency. If Hillary Clinton is elected it will be in no small part because of her feminine brand rather than because of what she actually has done. Or consider that a heavily branded icon of fiscal responsibility, Ronald Reagan, actually increased the debt by a higher percentage than Bill Clinton.

· Corruption has shifted from demanding, in the manner of a feudal system, services to a constituency or community in return for power to requiring loyalty to corporate and similar contributors disconnected from any constituency other than themselves.

If you try to discuss political theory or ideology in such a context, it becomes surprisingly irrelevant. You end up with a politics of fictional image, false intent, and one with recent contributions obfuscating traditional principles.

The only question that ends up really mattering is who gave how much to whom and for what? And who best looks the part?

Now add to this the massive shift in the training, background and practice of those in power, whether elected or appointed. Where politics once favored the socially intelligent, it now is overwhelmed by the influence of business management, legal doctrine and academic (rather than pragmatic) economics.

The effects of this change are much underrated. For example, government is not a corporation, but if a corporate model is used for it, then voters become treated like consumers or employees rather than citizens, power is increasingly restricted to the upper levels, and success is defined by those who have the most financial effect on the system and on the livelihood of those on the top.

Furthermore, reliance on the views of economists who are overwhelming devoted to serving the upper echelons obscures such obvious sources of wisdom as history and pragmatic experience, and denigrates policies that favor the many rather than the few.

As for the law, it is a specialty once devoted to giving safe form to substance determined by others, but is now overwhelmingly defining the basic nature of that substance. Not unlike letting your dentist determine your life style.

These factors get virtually no media or political attention and so we find ourselves with programs like Obamacare and Common Core that are historically unprecedented in their confusion, risk and indecipherable consequences.

This is not, however, for any political or ideological reason. It is the product of systemic dysfunction that has overwhelmed so much of what we do these days.

Obama’s role in this is noteworthy only because he is the first president to move dramatically beyond politics. He is the first president fully embedded in the new dysfunctional culture that has assumed control.

There have been, of course, plenty of matters in which his responsibility has been non-existent or minimal. For example, he was not the cause of the Iraq or Afghanistan invasion, two of the most expensive and unnecessary military actions in our history. Or the futile domestic war on drugs. Or the fact that a country that calls itself the best in the world is letting its postal service fall apart. Or Atlanta’s chaotic malfunction during a minor snow storm.

These do not reflect politics, they are not ideology. This is cultural collapse.

If you think metaphorically of Barack Obama and John Boehner as addicted parents, it becomes a little clearer. They are addicted – but instead of to drugs – to conflicting cults, almost political versions of Scientology. Neither cult makes much sense but they have the power to lead the debate and so just like those living in dysfunctional families, we continue with Afghanistan, Common Core, the war on drugs, and insurance companies controlling our medical services.

This is not politics; it is disorder.

The way out is hard, but it begins by distancing oneself from the madness, just as a young adult might move to another town to get away from it all. It doesn’t guarantee success but it reintroduces the potential of sanity.

We may be living in these other towns right now and just not realize it. The more we see the systemic dysfunction at the top of our society as something for which we are not responsible, need not to be loyal to, and can only replace and not repair, then what we do at a smaller level and in concert with other abused citizens becomes ever more important.

We can declare a free America in the space around us – either geographical, organizational or intellectual – easing ourselves out of being victims of cultural collapse and becoming the nascent builders of a second democratic republic that may recover our land from the terrorists who have bombed the American soul.

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