Thursday, April 4, 2013

Why do you care?

Several weeks ago, Kim was out for the evening and the kids were in bed. I’m certain I could have found work to do, but instead I found myself on the couch. Probably unwinding with a beer. I believe I was watching a Timberwolves game. I know I was flipping through my Twitter feed. And I came across a tweet mentioning there was a Minnesota legislative debate being televised on TPT.

After a moment of internal debate, I flipped the channel. And then I flipped it back to the game. But I had to see what was coming next. So back to the Legislature I went. It was a debate about a state healthcare exchange. I couldn’t have cared less about the outcome, but I couldn’t turn away.

Hello, my name is Joe. And I’m a geek. I love politics. Love the creation of public policy, and the drama and soap-operaness of it all. Lots of people I know hate politics. They hate discussing it and their eyes glaze over whenever I bring it up. “There’s absolutely nothing appealing about it,” they tell me.

Fair enough, I say. It isn’t appealing. Many people call the political process the equivalent of sausage-making, and it’s true – the end product can be good, depending on your tastes, but you sure as hell don’t want to see what it took to arrive there. For the most part, I’m an interested bystander in the entire political process. I read political websites and watch politics on TV when nobody is looking. I annoy the heck out of my wife when I get going about. I wonder about someday running for office myself and I send my elected representatives emails from time to time.

“But why do you care?”

I get that question a lot.

I care because the decisions politicians make today affect not only me, but also my parents and kids and their kids. I care because politicians are exactly the same as you and me – they don’t have a direct line to God and they don’t always do the right thing. Absent pressure from regular citizens, they very well may do the wrong thing (at least from my point of view). I care because when they do the wrong thing, they need to be held accountable. I care because in the political process, it doesn’t take much effort to make a difference.

We’re lucky in this nation to be able to elect the people who represent us. That’s a right that came at a steep cost. We’re lucky that when our guy or gal doesn’t win, we can point out his or her competitor’s shortcomings. We can criticize his or her decisions. But you can’t do that if you don’t participate in the process. Democracy, after all, is for those who show up. While it’s true you can’t bitch if you don’t vote, too many of us stop participating once we’ve walked out of our voting place.

We decide at the ballot box who represents us. But it’s only after that when those folks’ decisions shape our future. And you can’t be a part of it if you tune it out and just wait for the next election.

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