WHY CAN'T NATIONAL politics be more like local politics? Oh sure, you say, and have the entire country run by idiots? Well, that's already true. What I mean is making national politics as interesting as only local attempts at self-government are. Potential disasters in my home town have drawn just about everybody into politics, while the never-ending barrage of garbage from Washington promises that this coming presidential election will draw a voter turnout as low as always.
Look at the "issues" that have come out so far in the early beginnings of what is sure to be a most tiresome presidential race. President Bush, in a bold and daring move, attacked Congress as "elitist." No way! Not Congress! But is there perhaps another elitist in Washington? Who could it be? Could it be...? No, but Satan is close. Good Lord, George, this is supposed to excite me to vote?
In local politics, no one's sure how democracy works. But everybody has a great time.
The Democrats, in an equally valiant manner, have struck back with domestic issues. Oh good! Gloom and doom. The problem is that even if the Democrats were to win, I doubt any solutions would be forthcoming. The recession might end, but the economy will still be in relative decline, the inner cities will still be collapsing, the homeless won't be finding homes, education will only get worse, and health care will still be inaccessible. Pessimistic? Apathetic? Cynical? Oh, a little, but isn't everyone? After all these years of hearing about the country going to hell, no one cares anymore. To get back that interest in politics--to make democracy exciting--we need issues that people can really flip over.
AND THAT'S WHY local politics is so great. No one's sure how democracy is supposed to work, the representatives are incompetent, and everybody is passionate. Take my home town, for instance: South Hadley, Massachusetts.
There is a current proposition to merge South Hadley's school district with the one in Granby, the town next door. You wouldn't believe how people have reacted to this. Sure, there's been a little rational discussion, but there have been arguments you'd never see at the national level.
The most persuasive opposition has been, simply, "Granby sucks." Several committees have examined how much additional state aid the towns might get for regionalizing, and the only conclusion any reasonable person can draw from their reports is that no one knows. On the night of the Clarence Thomas vote the town was supposed to vote on regionalization, but a minor problem came up: Who votes? Town meeting? The whole town? Both? No one knew. Somewhere along the line the issue of whether or not regionalization is a good thing was lost, but the process was so amusing. How often can we say that about the federal government?
Of course, you might complain that local political fiascos aren't interesting at all. They're...well...local, you say. So just come on down to Amherst, the town next door. Tired of Bush's foreign policy? That's okay. Amherst has its own. Every international crisis, human rights incident and major diplomatic move gets its proper judgment in Amherst town meeting.
There's a lot to be said for community legislation of national affairs. Why should one person deliver edicts from on high, when every American can participate at home? Amherst is hardly unique. Many towns around there have declared themselves "Nuclear Free Zones"--as if the federal government might decide to put ICBMs in Western Massachusetts but would be deterred by what the residents thought.
INCOMPETENCE, while only depressing at the federal level, can provide hours of entertainment when people you know personally are destroying the country. Right next door to us, in Holyoke, the school committee wanted to shorten the school week to four days to save money. The mayor was reluctant because he thought it might create problems for working parents...No! Do you think?
In my very own high school--sadly, one year after I left--the principal decided to ban Levi's "Button Your Fly" t-shirts because as a man he was offended at the suggestion of genitals hanging out of pants. This was a major town controversy--front page stuff for weeks (no joke). Can you imagine stuff like this happening in Washington? (Aside from the Thomas hearings, that is. They were a refreshing anomaly.) No, everything there is served up as the same depressing hypocrisy. All we can do is watch the nation waste away and feel completely powerless.
That is why we need federal politics to be more like local politics. What's that? I'm politically apathetic? I prefer smut over substance? Government isn't supposed to entertain? I've given up on '92 and basically Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court in general. If I can't have good government, I want fun government. I want entertaining budget crises (like my home town investing $25 million in a nuclear power plant that's still not operational and may never be), not endless excuses for deficits of hundreds of billions of dollars. I want administrative idiocy I can laugh at, not inane plans I should fear.
I want to achieve the ultimate Reaganite consumerism: a complete denial of reality because my attention span is too short to deal with political frustration. I'll stop whining now, having beaten my point into the ground, but I really think my idea is the next logical step for government. Having totally alienated the public, the federal government now needs only to pacify our daily whims (which Ronny did so well) and, hell, I'll be happy. So forget George Bush and the Democratic sacrifice and join the ebullient masses of politicos in your home town.
Thomas S. Hixson '95 is contemplating a run for Cambridge City Council next year.