Last night I got to watch the Republican National Convention with two different families from two different sides of the farm. At the Republican abode, everyone was so happy, shaking their heads and drinking beers, cheering about how Romney is going save the nation. “I love this man,” they boomed in unison. At the Democratic house, blood was boiling. “LIAR,” they screamed quite a few times at the television screen. Watching both was weird.
How could two families from the same nation, that actually live in the same apartment complex and on the same floor, be so ideologically at war? Where is the common ground today? Why do we hate each other so much?
I asked the Republican family why they love Romney. The answer: Because he is going jumpstart the economy again and actually do something about the debt. He’s a businessman and knows how to balance budgets.
I asked the Democratic family why they love Obama. The answer: He’s good man, trying to level the playing field to ensure equality.
Those answers, of course, made no practical sense. They’re so abstract as to be rendered meaningless. So then I asked a more pointed question: What is the political issue that directly and negatively affects you the most? And what is your plan to change it?
Ironically, after probing through a lot of gobbledygook, the Republican family said “gay marriage.” They have a gay daughter. They’re like Dick Cheney! But then I said that does not count because they live in New York and it does not affect them or their daughter. Then I pressed for another answer. “Well, I already pay 42% in taxes. I don’t want that going up much more. and I’m worried about that with Obama.” That last answer passed the test, I guess. But, what evidence is there to say Obama can even raise taxes any higher on regular income? My neighbor could not ground that claim with any evidence offhand.
The Democratic family — again some irony here as the Democratic family is wealthier than the Republican one — said “universal health care.” Again, the answer is null and void because it did not directly affect them. They have jobs with health care; even their 29-year-old Harvard graduate son does. I asked again. What policy directly affects you? They said abortion. Again, a failure to answer the question. This is New York: you can get rid of as many fetus-human-like things as you want. That’s not a direct threat. Finally, this answer: “Obama’s program will help boost the economy.” Again, too abstract, but whatever.
I wanted to know: Does anyone in New York City actually have any idea of how political power affects their life? I asked on Twitter and got radio silence. My friend did chime in via text, “Forget about what anyone actually wants to do. All that matters is that the other guy loses.” And that makes sense given my personal experience among my privileged friends. Politics hardly touches us because we, as wealthy citizens, are powerful. Politics doesn’t matter to us. It’s like a basketball game, we cling to our favorite team and hope they win, but after the game is over we don’t really care cause it doesn’t affect us all that much.
I asked some of my seedier friends by email for their thoughts on the subject.
“Why are you voting for Obama?” I asked my hippie friend Mark. His response:
Because his name is Obama and that’s fun to say, Obama. Obama. Obama. No, but for serious, he respects everyone and wants to make sure everyone is taken care of, which is the job of a good president. You can also just tell he is smarter and in with the times. You look at his campaign website, it’s brilliant, he knows how to execute things right even that thing he did on Reddit today — genius. He’s pulling those marketing moves in the white house and that’s awesome. You can tell he is a moral man and just the smartest politician we’ve had in a long time.
“Why are you voting for Romney,” I asked my sociopathic business friend Jack. He told me:
You don’t save a country by putting it in more debt. Some people just won’t make it. You’re going to have your haves and have nots. And the have nots are not even starving to death, they’re just pissed because they have to work at a coffee shop or can’t afford to live in a nice apartment. Why isn’t the illegal Mexican who works in the basement pissed though? Where is his sense of existential dread? Why is he happy just to be in America? Life is tough, get over it and do something about it.
I don’t know what this little investigative experiment accomplished. But it made me ask myself, how does political power affect me?
- I can’t drive really fast on highways legally.
- I can’t smoke marijuana legally.
- Laws and regulations make doing business pretty damn expensive and bureaucratic.
- An invisible hand takes about 35% of my income. That same hand also puts surcharges on virtually every purchase I make.
- That invisible hand also makes the wonderful parks in my neighborhood that I use everyday.
- And finances my public transportation, particularly Amtrak.
- They made go to jury duty once.
- They send me awesome photos of the universe via NASA, which is probably the best art ever produced.
- My grandfather, who should have died 25 years ago, gets social security and veteran benefits.
That’s my life with the government. I know my experience is petty, but at least I know where government actually affects me directly.