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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Politics As Usual

It’s that time when we are bombarded with commercials telling TV viewers about all of the horrible things politicians do. Ironically, these ads are paid for by other politicians, most of whom have surprisingly little to say about their own deeds. The phone also rings a lot more than usual these days. Sadly, it’s not because I’m getting more popular. Election day is coming, and apparently a lot of people want my vote. They have no idea how much they’re wasting time on me.

I’ve never been very motivated politically, but I recently became even less so. A rare jaunt into political discussion crystallized my distaste for such topics. A comment posted on the Daily News’ “Attytood” blog by Will Bunch sparked almost 200 more comments from wannabe politicos with nothing but party speak to spew.

My post responded to Bunch’s criticism of President Bush’s immediate response upon being told that a plane had struck one of the Twin Towers. “On the second anniversary of 9/11, in 2003, I wrote a story in the Daily News that, among other things, mentioned that Bush had spent at least five minutes reading "The Pet Goat" in that Sarasota classroom. It was an indisputable fact, and yet I received hundreds of emails from readers, many asking if I would be fired for reporting such a simple and inconvenient truth. When Michael Moore showed the actual footage in "Fahrenheit 911" months later, much of the nation was shocked to learn for the first time what really happened that day.”

I had been on Bunch’s blog before, so I wasn’t totally unprepared for what ensued when I posted the first comment: “Would it have been better to usher the President out in a mad rush, which would have been for show only, and traumatize a bunch of kids? Moore's film was nothing but a bunch of cheap shots. The President deserves plenty of criticism, but not for this.”

Within 90 minutes I was being bashed by people who clearly thought they were privy to my inner-most thoughts. Another check two hours later showed little change in the fervor of the comments referring to me in less than glowing terms. While my biggest disappointment was, and still is, that I’ve never generated such passion on my own blog, I noticed something far more distressing.

I was amazed at the number of people convinced they now knew my world view. My favorite was Jennifer, who wrote: ". . . sorry, you can't have it both ways. Either these Republicans are the only ones who are tough enough to "protect" us, or they're softies who are more worried about "traumatizing" a classroom of kids. They can't be both."

The funny thing was, as I pointed out, that I never said a word about Republicans in my first post. I was genuinely stunned that the discussion had broken down strictly along party lines. But the more I thought about it, my shock turned to utter disgust.

I’ve always known that even the rare uncorrupt politician was all about his or her party affiliation. It’s their life-blood, the money train. But to see those in the real world who present themselves as politically involved, something I once considered a quality worth attaining, in need of their registration card to know what to think about a completely non-political event, sheds light on how little hope there is to reform our joke of a political system.

After almost 200 comments were posted on Bunch’s article, I e-mailed the link to a couple of “politically aware” friends to say look how off-based this got. While one piled on citing my supposed lack of logic (shockingly, the friend is a D), the other cited some history: According to him, another D and more of a historian than I’ll ever be, Stalin (not a great person, but certainly a strong leader) could not speak or move for hours after he heard of Germany's invasion of the USSR, and Douglas MacArthur retreated to his bedroom and began reading his Bible when news of Pearl Harbor reached him in the Philippines. (I assume he’s right because I’ve learned not to question him on such matters.)

Armed with this knowledge, or at least what a buddy told me, I still want to know . . . what the hell would've changed had he bolted from the room? In my opinion, nothing.

But that’s not really my point. Bush’s immediate response generates such heated debate because it makes wannabee politicos feel more involved than ever. They can see it all unfold right before their eyes on tape, and sink their teeth into judging every morsel of Bush’s reaction on equal footing with the suits on Meet the Press. They can grab it all with one hand, truly grasp all of it, and say, “This is why Bush . . .”

Don’t ask what the other hand is grabbing.

The thought that Bush had just been told about one of the most horrific attacks our nation has ever experienced, and that maybe his immediate reaction in front of a classroom of young children really doesn’t say anything about him, never gets considered. The Ds rip him, and the Rs defend him.

I used to wonder where “politically aware” people found the time to form their passionate arguments on issues I had only a basic knowledge of. To truly understand why we went to Iraq, the debate on stem-cell research, and other hot-button issues must take hours upon hours of keeping up on the news, I thought. Sure I have an opinion on these issues, but in my heart of hearts I doubted I had the depth of knowledge of those with passionate arguments.

Wrong! I only needed to check my registration card and memorize a few party lines to join the discussion. Let’s see . . . Democrat bad; Republican good. Or is it Republican bad?

So, as election day nears, I’ll admit that I’ll likely take a pass, mostly because in my home state Ed Rendell’s only competition for governor is a former wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and I know very little about the local races. I’m guessing Rendell can win without me and I refuse to pull a lever for the party. I only wish more people admitted they weren’t informed enough and would shut up.

At least TV commercials will be a little less annoying and the phone will stop ringing so much in a few weeks.

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