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The Apathetic-American Vote

May I be the first to wish you and yours a safe, happy, and prosperous King Tut Day.  Oh, and if you think about it, don’t forget to vote.

I used to love the Richard Linklater line, “Withdrawing in disgust is not the same as apathy,” and I would love to apply it to my own slothful approach to this year’s election, but that would be dishonest. With me, it’s just apathy, though I suppose you might say that’s a distinction without much of a difference.

Back in the day, I used to look down on people who weren’t engaged in politics. How could they not be? I thought they were lazy, and maybe I was right. Maybe I’m the lazy one now. But I genuinely cannot gin up any interest in voting for national candidates these days, and it has been like that with me since 2008. I am intensely interested in cultural politics, but that’s not the same thing. I’m not going to say that I’m right to be this way (in fact, I feel slightly guilty about it), but I am going to explain the source of the meh.

From a philosophical point of view, the problems I care the most about can’t be adequately addressed through politics. They are spiritual and cultural in nature. Politics, as the process by which we govern ourselves, is not entirely tangential to them, of course, but I no longer believe that they are as relevant as I once thought. The times require prophets, not politicians. I do vote, but have no confidence that the winner, even if I voted for him or her, is going to make much difference. I don’t know whether that is cynicism or realism.

Aesthetically, our politics are repulsive. I am never so glad not to have a television as during election season. Whenever I find myself in the presence of a TV these days, the obnoxiousness, the mendacity, and the witlessness of our political ads and political discussion makes me hate the whole damn thing. Four of the campaign ads the Washington Post identified as the worst 10 in this election cycle are from the Louisiana Senate race. We got a robocall from Duck Dynasty‘s Phil Robertson today asking us to vote for his kinsman for the House. That guy is running against Vance Romance, the Kissing Congressman, who … well, look. 

Look, I don’t expect the Lincoln-Douglas debates, but the stupidity and unseriousness of our politics is exhausting. It makes me think in more more uncharitable moments that if you want to serve in Congress, something must be wrong with you.

And ideologically, as a social conservative-economic moderate-foreign policy realist, I’m paralyzed and homeless. Social issues are the things I care the most about, and religious liberty is at the top of the heap. Consequently, I am pleased to see President Obama and his party take it on the chin. That said, I am hardly pleased that the Republicans will be taking over Congress after tomorrow, because I expect terrible leadership on foreign affairs, and Tea Party gimmickry and sloganeering on many other issues. I don’t trust either party to be good stewards of the public trust. I could be wrong about this, but the incompetence and wrongheadedness of Obama does not make the Republicans into saviors.

A friend told me the other day that he stopped voting because he doesn’t see a meaningful difference between the parties, and can’t affirm either one. He’s a principled radical, so I understand where he’s coming from. Me, I would like to vote for somebody instead of against somebody, but I quit expecting that opportunity to come along. People like my radical pal excepted, I tend to think the “pox on both their houses” sort try to make a virtue of their laziness and unwillingness to think through the issues and the candidates. I’m not a radical, but I’m probably that guy this year. But you know, I keep getting to be more of that guy with each passing election cycle, and I’m worrying less about it each time. I think of politics like I think of professional sports or television: as something that lots of people care about, but that goes on largely unnoticed by me, because life is elsewhere.

Again: I could be wrong. But I don’t really care.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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