I read this piece written by Michael Cohen in Newsweek today and I thought it was a nice, albeit general, summation of the current state of American politics. Using the special election in Massachusetts as a starting point, Cohen writes that America has become “ungovernable” due to the ineptitude and nihilism of the Republicans, the cowardice of the Democrats, the ignorance of the populace, and the media’s complicity in all of it. The following passage sums it up nicely:
Making the situation worse is that political news coverage, rather than explaining the gulf between voter expectations and political reality, often panders to the electorate’s misguided notions. Partisans are allowed to spew talking points decrying government spending and rising deficits without being forced to explain how they would rein it in. Politicians call for bipartisan compromise without acknowledging their own role in exacerbating partisan tensions. Voters complain that Washington must do more to help the economy but in the same breath decry government’s expanding role or misstate basic facts about their government and are given a virtual free pass by reporters who take “customer is always right” attitude toward the electorate.
I credit this article for my sudden realization that politics has become nothing more than reality TV for nerds (like me). Those of us who follow the train-wreck toss out names like Pelosi, Reid, Nelson, and McConnell around the “water-cooler” or party like we would the names of the latest contestants on Survivor or American Idol. And I do not think we should pretend that it is different because we are dealing with our governance, and thus it is more “real” and serious. Politicians have become pseudo-celebrities themselves, much like many of their reality TV counterparts. It will not be long, I am sure, until we see some Congressman from New Jersey mixing it up with The Situation (in case you were wandering what this post’s title was referring to, there you go). And if they keep it up, politicians will soon rival celebrities in the lustrious sex tape arena.
The 24/7 news cycle exacerbates this. Whether it is on TV, radio or the internet, political junkies can get their fix anytime and anywhere. Reality TV has E!, Entertainment Tonight, and US Weekly; Politics has Fox News, The Situation Room and Newsweek. I bring this up, since it is probably fairly obvious to most, only to assert that politics, and governance as a whole I suppose, has become a game. It is treated as such by the media, and certainly by those in office.
And we are complicit, too. We’re like American Idol judges. Some of us are fairly informed and supportive of the government and some of our politicians (these people are played by Randy Jackson, maybe?), some of us are naively patriotic and/or think America and/or Obama can do no wrong (Tea Party folk, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and some Obama supporters as played by Paula – Yes, I know she is no longer on the show, but cut me some slack), and some are just abusive and/or offer nothing in the way of substance or solutions (Congressional Republicans, more Tea Party folk, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and some Obama supporters as played by Simon). Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list.
The point is that politicians only care about not getting voted off(obvious, I know). But it has reached a more critical stage. One party (GOP) has essentially decided not to do anything and have that be their platform for governance. Really? And even more remarkable, this resonates with many people in this country. People complain about jobs, about the debt (both national and their own), about health care even, and in the same breath denounce any attempt by our government to address these issues in any serious way. It is a joke. Actually, I should repeat that it is a game. The politicians know it and Fox News certainly knows it. The media (if their bottom line revolves around ratings and revenue, what incentive do they have not to sensationalize the news?) refuses to call out our political leaders on their various hypocrisies and doublespeak, and in turn helps breed lazy voters who do not care about being or who are not well-informed. This then helps create some of our lazy (intellectually, politically – do not know if they are actually lazy) politicians who have no incentive to change the status quo for fear of being voted off the island.
I am sure there are people in office, or seeking it, who are well-intentioned and unafraid to challenge the status quo. I thought Obama would be one of them. So far, he has disappointed to some degree in that regard. I think he deserves a lot of credit for even tackling an issue as serious as health care reform, especially given the results for previous presidents who did the same. But I think Obama’s tumultuous first year, culminating with the election in MA and the Citizens United ruling, will be just what he, and those of us not content with the status quo, need to get our asses in gear and stop taking “No” for an answer.
I am really looking forward to his SOTU on Wednesday to see if strikes a more resilient, defiant, and aggressive tone. I would love for him to call us all out on our bullshit and hold us responsible for helping create the mess he now has to preside over. Time to rally the troops, Mr. President.
I am not mad or nearly as cynical as this post might make me out to be. I intended it to be a funny post but I got carried away somewhere around the midway point. Apologies.