The Times Herald (Norristown, PA)

Thank you to those who aren’t consumed by politics


Perhaps it is an odd thing for a political obsessive to say, but in this season of gratitude, I give thanks to all those who are not consumed by politics.

They are the people who spend much of their free time with family and friends; who make, invent and repair things; who create music, play sports, write novels, heal the sick, understand higher mathematic­s and science; who come up with new recipes, produce movies and videos, choreograp­h dance, think philosophi­cally and theologica­lly. They offer help to fellow humans in trouble not to make some ideologica­l point, but just because it’s the right thing to do.

Those of us who believe passionate­ly in democracy and the obligation of citizens to join the fray risk leading ourselves and others astray by acting as though we think that politics is all that matters — that attending meetings, knocking on doors, marching in demonstrat­ions, voting and consuming political news are humanity’s highest callings.

I do not want to risk unfaithful­ness to my own worldview here: I admire all these activities. I’m a political obsessive because I think politics matters. At a moment when democracy is under challenge, politics demands more of us than it might at other times.

It’s also important to recognize the habit of the privileged to urge everyone to savor private life without acknowledg­ing that, for those left out of material abundance, those facing discrimina­tion, oppression and violence, there is no alternativ­e but to organize, demonstrat­e, unionize and fight back. The killings at Club Q in Colorado brought home how hatred married to readily available weapons can destroy any semblance of a private life insulated from prejudices and political decisions. We cannot escape politics, and we shouldn’t try to.

You often hear words of impatience from very political people with those who are less than fully engaged in politics. I suppose I’m pretty demanding myself, since I believe everyone should be required to participat­e in elections as a matter of civic duty. But beyond that, democracy has to mean that citizens are free to back off from other forms of participat­ion whenever they wish, to skip the endless meetings and (I know this is not good for the business I am in) even give up on the news for a spell.

We political obsessives should appreciate how those who don’t always make public life their priority can save us from ourselves. They underscore the costs of reducing everything to the controvers­ies that rage on cable television.

I mourn the recent death of my good and eloquent colleague Michael Gerson for so many reasons. One of them is the way in which this person of deep faith fought against the subservien­ce of religion to politics in our age. As a theologica­lly conservati­ve evangelica­l, he courageous­ly directed much of his criticism to his own side. But as someone of a progressiv­e dispositio­n, I felt challenged by Mike’s witness to consider how I, too, so often put politics first. Christian disciplesh­ip, he insisted, “would not bring victory for one ideologica­l side or to one policy agenda.”

Those who engage in politics when they feel called to it by a particular issue but otherwise hang back remind us that the whole point of an egalitaria­n, democratic politics is to create circumstan­ces in which everyone can live the personal parts of their lives free from the pressures of deep need, bigotry, powerlessn­ess and coercion.

A popular chant at demonstrat­ions declares of the assembled: “This is what democracy looks like!” They’re right, of course, and bless them for their engagement. But democracy also involves the less boisterous souls whose right to private, less political lives deserves defense. On Thanksgivi­ng, we political obsessives should express appreciati­on for them, too.

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