Friday, October 8

Meaty Grace Redeux

Priotities being what they are, I feel compelled to report that I have gotten more e-mails, more IMs, and more posts on various discussion pages and web rings about my BBQ posting this past week than any other single blog during the past three years! >

Que Sera Sera Citizenship>

Politics is important. But it is not all-important. That is not just a modern phenomenon. It has always been a fact of life. Many who live and die by the electoral sword will certainly be shocked to discover that most of the grand-glorious headline-making events in the political realm today will go down in the annals of time as mere backdrops to the real drama of everyday banalities. But it is so.>

As much emphasis as is placed on campaigns, primaries, caucuses, conventions, elections, statutes, administrations, surveys, polls, trends, and policies these days, most of us know full well that the import of fellow workers, next door neighbors, close friends, and family members is actually far greater. Despite all the hype, hoopla, and hysteria of sensational turns-of-events, the affairs of ordinary people who tend their gardens and raise their children and perfect their trades and mind their businesses and serve in their communities and worship their Savior are, in the end, more important. Just like they always have been. Just like they always will be.>

That is not to say that the upcoming election is not important. It most assuredly is. Indeed, it may well be one of the most important elections in the last half century or more. It is sure to have enormous implications for our families and our future. I want folks to take this election seriously. I want folks to vote.>

But this election is, after all, just an election. The doings and undoings of a government need not be the doings and undoings of a culture.>

That is the great lesson of history. It is simply that ordinary people doing ordinary things are ultimately who and what determine the outcome of human events--not princes or populists issuing decrees. It is that laborers and workmen, cousins and acquaintances can upend the expectations of the brilliant and the glamorous, the expert and the meticulous. It is that simple folks doing mundane chores can literally change the course of history--because they are the stuff of which providential history is made. They are who and what make the world go round. As G.K. Chesterton has aptly observed, "The greatest political storm flutters only a fringe of humanity.">

Thus, what many presume to be electoral apathy may actually merely electoral ambivalence. It may not be so much that the American people believe that politics is insignificant. It is just a recognition that in the end, there are any number of things in life that are more significant.>

Most of us would have to agree with the astute political axiom of commentator George Will, “Almost nothing is as important as almost everything in Washington is made to appear. And the importance of a Washington event is apt to be inversely proportional to the attention it receives.”>

Eugene McCarthy, once the darling of the New Left, also said it well, “Being in politics is like being a football coach; you have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it’s important.”>

Intuitively, we know that is true. Thus, Alexis de Tocqueville was somewhat off the mark when he asserted that, “The very essence of democratic government consists in the absolute sovereignty of the majority: for there is nothing in democratic states which is capable of resisting it.”>

Instead, we have to confess with the pundit, John Reston, that all politics is actually “based on the indifference of the majority.” According to political analyst E. J. Dionne, “Americans view politics with boredom and detachment. For most of us, politics is increasingly abstract, a spectator sport barely worth watching.” He says that since the average voter “believes that politics will do little to improve his life or that of his community, he votes defensively,” if at all.>

As odd as it may seem, that kind of robust detachment and nonchalant insouciance is actually close to what the Founding Fathers originally intended. They feared on-going political passions and thus tried to construct a system that minimized the impact of factions, parties, and activists. Citizens of the Republic were expected to turn out at the polls to vote for men of good character and broad vision--and then pretty much forget about politics until the next election.>

Gouvenor Morris--who actually wrote the first draft of the Constitution and was instrumental in its acceptance--said, “The Constitution is not an instrument for government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government--lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.”>

Similarly, Patrick Henry stated, “Liberty necessitates the diminutization of political ambition and concern. Liberty necessitates concentration on other matters than mere civil governance. Rather, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, freemen must think on these things.>

Suspicious of professional politicians and unfettered lobbyists as well as the inevitable corruptions of courtly patronage and special interests, the Founders established a system of severe checks and balances designed to de-politicize the arena of statecraft and its attendant statesmanship.>

Though there was disagreement between Federalists and Anti-Federalists about how much “energy,” or “lack thereof,” government ought to exercise, there was universal agreement about what John DeWitt called the “peripheral importance of institutional action to the actual liberties of daily life.” Thus the Founders worked together to insure that the republican confederation of states was free from ideological or partisan strife.>

Though they were not entirely successful, for much of our history American life has been marked by the distinct conviction that what goes on next door is of greater immediate concern than what goes on in Washington. Voter registration and turnout, for instance, have always been significantly lower here than in other free societies. On average, only slightly more than half of the registered voters in the United States actually make it to the polls on election day.>

Belgium, Australia, Italy, Austria, Sweden, and Iceland all average over ninety percent participation, while Canada, Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Israel, Greece, New Zealand, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway each see over seventy percent. Although there was a brief and dramatic decline in what political scientists call the “metapolitics of participation” following the presidential election of 1896, voter turnout percentages have otherwise remained remarkably constant throughout our history. Americans have rarely roused themselves sufficiently to get too terribly excited about their electoral choices. They generally have found something better to do than vote.>

The last four national elections offered no exceptions. Though the media mandarins hailed record turnouts and the massive numbers, the actual percentage of eligible voters who cast their ballots remained virtually unchanged from years past--a variation of plus or minus three points hardly constitute a surging trend or a clarion cry from the electorate.>

If anything, they indicates the profound national boredom with the whole affair. Thus, after the 1996 election, syndicated columnist Jane Lawrence was hardly exaggerating when she wrote, “Most Americans yawned their way through what turned out to be an unpleasant exercise in political obfuscation. Perhaps the reason they care more about PTA meetings, zoning hearings, and Rotary luncheons is that in the end, those things actually matter more. It is hard, after all to get enthusiastic about a choice between Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum--or to discern what difference such a choice might make.>

Not that any of this entirely justifies our tenured ambivalence. The fact is, at a time when the Islamic terrorism threatens the very fabric of our civilization and activist intrusions into our families and communities have grown to almost incomprehensible Babylonian proportions, our que sera sera citizenship has offered the radical ideologues in the media, in the courts, and in the bureaucracy tacit approval to lead us ever further down the road to ruin. And so, with Pied Piper efficiency and aplomb, they have.>

During similar times of distress in our nation’s history--following the Jeffersonian and Jacksonian eras, immediately after Reconstruction and the Great War, and most recently on the heels of the New Deal and Great Society episodes--Americans have stirred themselves momentarily from their laissez faire political lethargy to rekindle the fires of freedom. In the face of impending disaster, the collapse of moral resolve, the encroachment of abusive power, and the abnegation of liberty, they committed their lives and their fortunes to the process of political restoration. They proved that one of the great ironies of the American system is that there are times when politics must be treated as a matter of some-consequence so that it ceases to be treated as a matter of total-consequence.>

Despite the persistent evidence that we are now living in just such a time of clear and present danger, American disinterest in politics has only ossified and hardened with the passing of time. We have yet to rally. In fact, our belligerent ambivalence over the destructive antics of politics-as-usual may very well be the defining feature of our day.>

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