Given the journalistic truism that readers love lists, I’ve been mulling year-end candidates: Top Ten beyond-the-Palinisms? Top Five politicians who sold their souls almost as spectacularly as John McCain? Top 250 examples of disgraceful customer service by Jet “Ordeal or No Deal” Blue during the December blizzard?
Tempting as list-making may be, I’m going to resist the urge to join the chorus. There’ll be no shortage of clever observers combing through the year’s news and pointing out the most egregious inanities of an especially inane year (thank you, Christine, Sharron and Carl!).
My year-end project grows out of what I learned from a month-long separation from the incessant play by play of the blogosphere/cable news/talk-radio axis of dross: You don’t miss much — and can get a hell of a lot more done — if you stop yourself from getting swallowed up by what used to be called the 24 hour news cycle but has become a 24/7 stream of barely filtered raw material, most of which folds in on itself like a monumental fractal.
My hiatus began with disgust at the mid-term elections and anger with myself for not being more politically active. Then, a perfect post-surgery pain/Percocet mind meld resulted in several days of “Who-gives-a-shit what goes on beyond the four corners of my couch?” (A journalist friend who called during this time suggested that U.S. Intelligence officials may have purposely leaked diplomatic cables to Wikileaks in order to embarrass our allies. I told him honestly, “I know what you’re saying is probably really smart, but I have no idea what the words mean.)
My significant other (s.o.) being both a political junkie and an activist, osmosis forced a few highlights — such as Rachel Maddow’s takedown of Haley Barbour and Lawrence O’Donnell on Obama’ surprisingly strong Florida poll numbers — to reach my receptors.
But even sans meds, I felt no need to know the identities of Keith’s Worst Persons, Mediaite‘s latest gaffe-perp or George Will’s thousandth attempt to prove that liberals are blithering idiots.
All this makes me wonder why I’m so obsessed with American politics in the first place. Does it really matter, or does interest in politics merely occupy the same part of the brain that used to handle starting line-ups, batting averages and RBI’s?
For most of us, isn’t politics — like sports, movies, reading — just a way of distracting ourselves, or keeping score? Are we really happier or more productive because we watched the House vote on the Obama healthcare bill or our Senators posture on the budget?
The answer, I think, is that following politics isn’t much more than a diversion unless you try to change things, however hopeless that may seem. And what better time than year’s end to start?
So, to test the theory that my sense of self needn’t include the political shenanigans of the moment, my New Year’s resolutions are: a) To cut, by at least half, the time I spend following political news, polls, etc; and b) To actually do something — like organizing, phone banking or writing more for websites and newsletters.
Easier said than done, you say, and you’re right. As campaign 2012 gets into gear and the narcotic of immersion in a slew of daily poll data and analysis exerts its dastardly pull, I won’t deny myself. But I will endeavor to designate those hours spent refreshing 538 or Politico as play time.
Okay, you ask, what specifically can we do? MoveOn.org‘s an obvious resource, and it’s still a good vehicle for Congress-related activism. Not so well known is the progressive think tank Demos, which offers a wealth of grass roots opportunity and now runs the venerable American Prospect magazine and website. A newer venture, run by Sandy Newman, is called Voices for Progress. It seeks to get people with means — who often limit their involvement to writing checks — involved in direct action. Right now, their efforts are directed towards ending the filibuster.
There’s plenty more, of course. But who needs another list?
Republished with the author’s permission from Huffington Post.