I used to love politics. I was fatally attracted by the intrigue and unpredictability of it, the written and oral combat, the clash of ideas and ideologies, and the noble notion that one person could move millions and change society for the better.
Conversely, I also was fascinated by the propaganda, lies and subterfuge that have been a part of politics since the moment people began seeking institutional power.
Former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill famously said that "all politics is local," in the sense that the concerns and problems of small-town America influenced what happened at the highest levels of representative government. It may have been true then, but no longer.
Today, especially at the federal level, all politics is financial, and very little of it serves small-town America—or any other America. For proof, just watch a presidential debate, if you can stomach it. Virtually none of the rhetoric has anything to do with reality, and none of the promises made will be delivered.
Regardless, the candidates know that if they convincingly spew the correct vitriol toward the most useful targets—their own government, Muslims, gays, Mexicans—then New Englanders and Iowa caucus voters (caucusians?) will gather in secret granite caves and cornfield mazes and execute the political voodoo necessary to propel them to "viable candidate" status. The Republibots understand who they really serve, and they'll do what's necessary to keep the money flowing. "My Vegas billionaire will see your corporate raider's $3 million, and raise $2 million."
This political kabuki may temporarily mesmerize the sleeper cells of the American Taliban that will decide the Republican nominee, but soon after the election, the buzz wears off, and the hangover sets in. Politics used to be a war between competing agendas, some of which were actually implemented. Now, it's just a war for the sake of war, and virtually nothing changes, no matter which party is in power. There's a reason Congress is flirting with single-digit approval ratings: It's earned it.
The Bible-beaters of South Carolina will strike the next blow on the nominating gong. The Carolinian Christo-fascists face a conundrum, however: They don't trust Mitt Romney's McCain-like conversion and Johnny-come-lately arrival to the revival tent. He may be sufficiently country club for national consumption—he has the presidential hair, the blond accessory and the requisite litter of attractive whelps—but I think the Christo-fascists correctly perceive that there is really very little separating Mittsy from the man he would bump from the White House bubble.
And that's why none of this federal political bluster really matters. The difference between the two parties at the national level boils down to this: At least 99 percent of Republicans serve wealth and corporate power. With the Democrats, it's only about 90 percent. President Obama quickly abandoned the change he promised during the last election and instead has spent three years toeing the corporate line. But if he's lucky enough to see the unemployment rate come down another a half-tick by November, he'll crush anybody the Republican mullahs put forward. Tip O'Neill is rolling in his voluminous grave.
These days, politics is local only in the sense of who pays the price for it. For example, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal's ruthless witch hunt against the Tucson Unified School District's Mexican-American studies program is not about the ideology of the state party, the Arizona Constitution or even budget priorities. It's really about the students who will be affected—you know, the ones who marched out of class and showed up at administration offices with their fists in the air when their educational heritage was sacrificed on the altar of political expedience.
Huppenthal says that the MAS program breeds racial resentment. In the sense that the true history of how gringos seized this land by violent force and proceeded to treat its Mexican inhabitants as second-class citizens for the next 150 years breeds resentment, then I guess he's right. He says that the program promotes ethnic solidarity, as if that was a bad thing, rather than the glue that held an oppressed community together for all those years.
Which is more important: hundreds of high school kids clamoring for a little dignity and respect on the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., or a bunch of wealthy men blowing billions of dollars to persuade fearful peons to continue voting against their self-interest?
I'll bet that King would not have bothered running for the White House, or even Congress. He'd be in the streets with those high school kids, still trying to prove that, not only should all politics be local, but local politics is all that matters.