Politics Are Not That Important

politics in daily lifeHere in the northern Wisconsin woods, life seems simpler. Perhaps the woods and the lake and the birds allow me to see some things more clearly. Here’s a woodsy insight – politics are not so important.

Certainly for some people, politics make all the difference. Gay couples waiting to get married, people unable to get health insurance before the Affordable Care Act, and the long-term unemployed – the quality of their lives are directly affected by political decisions at the national level. Members of the armed forces are crucially concerned with our interventions in foreign wars. The continuing uncertainty about federal economic policy affects business decision-makers big and small.

But for most people most of the time, the political controversies which so agitate television news reporters, internet bloggers and radio screamers, are merely background noise. For example, many political commentators write obsessively about taxes. They claim that people’s most significant decisions, such as where they will live, are based on tax rates. Over my lifetime, I have talked with hundreds of people, young, mature, and old, about where they will live and to where they might want to move. People move to be near relatives, to take a new job, to go to college, and to seek a different climate. Financial considerations often play a role. But I have never had a conversation about moving that involved tax rates.

Guns are another political issue which occupies outsized territory in our public lives. A small minority of Americans appears to believe that their happiness depends on being able to carry guns everywhere, even in schools and churches. A smaller number of our fellow citizens have lost their lives to heavily armed crazies. For most of us, however, the proper interpretation of the Second Amendment is a mainly theoretical question.

Our daily lives won’t be influenced by gun laws until the weapons enthusiasts start showing up everywhere we go ready to shoot anything that moves. Maybe by that time the majority, who would feel safer if guns were kept at home, will regain control of this debate.

steve-hochstadtThe issues which do affect us most closely are rarely discussed and barely seem political. Filling potholes, fixing bridges and keeping parks open can make our daily routines safer and more enjoyable. Because they are less susceptible to partisan passions, they get less attention. If polls were taken about whether we want our roads kept in good repair, the left-right divisions would seem less important.

The things we wake up thinking about are rarely political. In daily life, politics fall far behind meal planning, job tasks, recreation, or school activities. We’ll ask ourselves whether we need to put gas in the car a hundred times more often than what we think about gasoline taxes. Most people’s lives are barely affected by Supreme Court decisions, Congressional debates or Presidential decrees.

steve hochstadtSo why do we get so exercised about politics? Why let the things that divide us take up so much emotional space?

I don’t have good answers. I do have a suggestion, drawn from my experience of being called every name in the book by people who only know a little about my politics and nothing about me. Let’s focus more on what is really important in our lives and recognize that politics can be a noisy distraction. We’ll find more agreement and get more done.

Steve Hochstadt
Taking Back Our Lives


  1. JoeWeinstein says

    Great advice. But why are ‘politics’ – the making of public decisions – now so divisive? Steve and I and most others would have it different, but the divisiveness is real – and not always harmless or unimportant.

    From a lifetime of study and reflection I conclude that our methods for making public decisions needlessly engender divisiveness and unproductive emotional conflicts for reasons which go beyond mere chance or ill will, but in fact reflect constitutional design choices made long ago which have been continued by inertia and not carefully reconsidered. Within each jurisdiction (whether city, county, state, nation or other region): rather than (1) break big decisions into manageably small bits and give each bit to a different short-term consensus-seeking jury of ordinary citizens, mandated to use specified scientific-age rational methods of decisions, we instead (2) bundle the entire complex of decisions over to be treated at whim by just the same few long-termed privileged all-powerful people who are chosen by mass voting in adversarial popularity contests in which a single winner takes all power for a long time.

    The result is a recipe for divisiveness, personality cults, concentration of power and ensuing corruption, oligarchic whim rather than democratic reason, and focus on expensive flim-flamming for the marginal but key votes of precisely those citizens who are least concerned or knowledgable (or both).

    So besides following Steve’s good advice for the short term, let’s also for the longer term look in a radical spirit at how we can by design make ‘politics’ – public decision-making – more effective and satisfying.

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