There’s been a lot of hand-wringing over the spectacle of presidential candidates campaigning during the Christmas season thanks to the front-loaded primary schedule. But I like it. It provides a nice reminder of how unimportant politics really are.
Think about it. Most of these candidates insist that this is the most important election in our lifetimes. (Funny how they say that every four years.) But if you’re remotely normal, you haven’t spent two minutes in the last few days fretting over Hillary Clinton’s health-care plan or Mitt Romney’s scheme for securing the border.
You may be short on cash, but you probably haven’t set aside time to ponder Mike Huckabee’s 23 percent sales-tax proposal. If you live in Iowa or New Hampshire, you might have been moved by John McCain’s POW-at-Christmas TV ad. You might have thought about how nice Barack Obama’s family seems. Beyond that, you probably wish they’d all just shut up.
In short, the grandeur of the season diminishes all of the candidates because it reminds us of the smallness of their trade.
Washington pundits and politicians have a habit of equating America’s collective political mood with our feelings about our own lives. When Americans say the country is “on the wrong track” — as three-quarters of us now say — the pundits proclaim that Americans are in a “funk” or a “sour mood.” When approval ratings for Congress or the president are in the toilet, news reports call Americans “angry” and the climate “poisonous.” But walk along any American Main Street during Christmas week and you’ll find the atmosphere is hardly poisonous, the mood far from sour.
Obviously, dissatisfaction with the government is hugely important in political terms, and politics are significant. But Washington needs to get over itself. Very few people define their lives politically — a fact for which we should all be grateful.
Imagine if the consumer research division of McDonald’s found that a majority of Americans were dissatisfied with the golden arches or felt that the fast-food industry was on the “wrong track.” No one at Hamburger University would conclude that Americans were in a foul mood. So when voters say they’re unhappy with government, why does that mean Americans are in a bad mood?
It may rate higher than Big Macs and Happy Meals, but politics still accounts for only a fraction of our lives. In Iowa, where residents are told every day for a year that the fate of the world hangs on their vote, fewer than 1 in 10 voters will attend the caucuses. And Iowans are supposed to take “the process” extremely seriously.
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