It’s hard to find anything to write about the day after the President’s State of the Union address. All news channels are clogged with politics… debating the merits, the gaps in the speech, clamoring for attention to one policy idea, disparaging another as “class warfare” or “untruths.” President Obama was the first candidate my mother had voted for since John F. Kennedy, she was so disengaged from politics. And I, as a recent college grad at the time, couldn’t understand her lack luster excitement over a black… no – mixed race! – man running for the White House.
And now, four years later, I understand all too well. Politics is more and more like a game of Monopoly – the more you play, the more you wish you hadn’t started, and after 7 hours of going around in circles, you realize that, besides the thrill of paper money and “buying” property, it’s really quite a boring concept. And so the pundits continue to debate the debt ceiling and who should pay more or less taxes in this jumble of buzz words like “economic recovery” and “job creators” and “growth” which actually are code for no meaning at all… at least to the average citizen.
Because we all are self-interested and the average citizen actually doesn’t care much about the rate of unemployment (be it 8.5% via Obama or 18% via Cain), he wants to know if he can find a job, and keep the one he has, and if possible, get a little health insurance and some sick and vacation days on the side. The average citizen wants to make sure she can walk down the street at night without being harassed, she can move into a new apartment without worrying about whether it is infected with vermin, she can go on for further education or buy a car without putting her entire financial future in a high-stakes Wall Street trading game. What the citizen in New York City wants is likely very different from those in Utah, in northern Minnesota, in Houston, Texas. And yet in Washington they claim to speak for all.
What we as individuals want is certainly related to the conversations in Washington, although the tone and the specifics are very different. These individual needs rarely get spoken about, these are the issues of state and local governments, of community boards and neighborhood associations, of local political action committees and city council and school board meetings. Where is the attention to such local politics, where real change can come far more easily than at the contentious and corporation-swayed federal level? Where is the state of our city, our neighborhood address that gets us engaged in the small acts of governance that affects our number of vacation days, the amount of time we have to wait for emergency medical care, the number of streetlights on our corners, the amount of affordable healthy food in our stores…. our daily existence?
But of course the politicians in Washington are far more powerful than us. So we watch them speak with our own mouths closed. But why?