Political apathy: lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern about politics in general. Wikipedia defines it as “the indifference on the part of any citizen of any country with regard to their attitude towards political activities.”
This is not an article either celebrating or lamenting over the Republican surge in the recent midterm elections. It is an article looking into what this means for America in general, and in short, the answer is not much. If you’re a Republican, you may not be reading this sentence; and if you’re a Democrat, you may have just leaned in closer to your computer screen. But if you’re a political atheist like me, you probably already know what’s coming.
In reality, our two major political parties are more similar than they are different. On the most important political issue that exists—whether the government should be big or small—both are essentially the same. Perhaps with the exception of the Libertarians in Congress, both cohorts want more government and disagree over how to achieve the same end: by more debt or more war. Both choices lead to the same nefarious destination, but each takes a different route.
If you really think about the midterm election results of 2014, it’s hard to really grasp what it all means. For example, a recent poll by Rasmussen Reports found that 8% of U.S. voters thought that the U.S. Congress is doing a “good or excellent” job, and 62% rate the performance of Congress as poor. The percentage of those polled giving Congress positive marks has been less than 10% since April 2011. Combine this with the fact that President Obama’s approval ratings are also poor, and we are left with the statistical phenomenon that Americans in general think that everyone is doing a bad job. Herein lies the paradox: if Americans think both the left and the right are disasters but are only given primary choices from the left and the right, what does a “win” for either side really mean other than a lack of viable options? If the devil gave you the power to vote and told you that you were to be tormented by a blue legion or a red legion of demons for eternity, is there really an upside?
In fact, from the public opinion polls and election results, it is reasonable to infer three conclusions: (1) people are voting irrationally; (2) people rationally behave in ways that differ from what they say on public opinion polls, a phenomenon discussed in Jordan Ellenberg’s book How Not to Be Wrong; (3) in spite of the public calls of Republicans being labeled “obstructionists,” they were actually rewarded for their “obstruction.” The public then, at least in November 2014, prefers a party that attempts to obstruct as opposed to passing excessive legislation.
Indeed, voting is a right and a privilege, yet this freedom must also be tempered with the realization that artificially constraining that freedom toward two primary outlets isn’t freedom at all but coercion by stealth.
You may be asking yourself, what about the pure Libertarian, fringe, and independent candidates? In the end, these minority groups command such a small fraction of the voting that, at least for now, their representation matters little in the grand scheme of things. Adding to this phenomenon is the fact that oftentimes in the Libertarian camp, those who are poised to initiate change are often consumed by political apathy. It is also important to note, however, that although the Republicans have gained control of both houses of Congress, this gives the president greater impetus to take matters into his own hands and increase his use of executive authority to “get things done” as a means to bypass potential roadblocks posed by all those who have just been elected into office.
As A. Barton Hinkle said in a recent article for Reason, “The reason libertarians don’t vote for candidates from the two major parties is not because they suffer from a false consciousness that leads them to misapprehend their own political preferences. The reason they don’t vote for Republicans or Democrats is because—brace yourself now—they don’t want either Republicans or Democrats to win. As far as libertarians are concerned, the 2 percent of Americans who vote libertarian don’t spoil an election. Rather, the 98 percent of Americans who don’t vote libertarian are the ones who spoil it for everyone else.”
One of the books I always enjoy reading annually is Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn’s Wastebook, which describes some of the ways the government squanders your taxpayer dollars. It talks about “gambling monkeys, dancing zombies and mountain lions on treadmills [that] are just a few projects exposed in [the book]—highlighting $25 billion in Washington’s worst spending of the year.” Wastebook 2014 can be viewed here (for free), and some of the other notable mentions include the Pentagon spending $1 billion to destroy $16 billion in unused ammunition, spending $90 million to promote U.S. culture around the globe with nose flutists, spending $371,000 for MRI scans to test whether mothers love dogs as much as kids, and spending $20 million for paid vacations for bureaucrats and $3 million for tweeting to terrorists.
This is not meant to be a partisan jab at all, but rather it is meant to reveal that no matter who “wins” in any election, we all lose—no matter who is in the majority in Washington, we all validate inanity, like spending $856,000 to put lions on a treadmill.
On the bright side, perhaps a house divided against itself will be unable to move forward, in effect sowing the seeds of its own restraint. On the other hand, Plato warned us that the price of apathy toward public affairs is to be ruled by evil men. Only time will tell.
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal