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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Why politics matters

    I don’t care about politics.”” We’ve all heard people say it. Sometimes we even say it ourselves.

    But why? We’re all interested in politics of some sort, whether it’s office politics, university politics or the politics in our own families. The reason for our lack of interest is simply a sad misunderstanding of what politics is.

    Politics, at its core, is simply the struggle for control. It may be the struggle between two employees jockeying for the same position, or it may be a matriarch’s struggle to assert authority over the rest of her family. Everyone knows that sort of politics.

    But when that human struggle becomes a national struggle, the story changes. Surely our national politics is driven by more mysterious and overwhelming causes than the politics we know. Surely it can’t be that simple, we think.

    We shrink from the very fact of power in America. We do not like to think that a very small group of people decides which two candidates will be offered the presidency. We do not like to think that our leaders are driven by the lust to grasp and wield power, the very human and very familiar desire to lord it over others, and that this has a very real impact on the rest of us.

    “”We are fast losing the ability to think politically … to think as Machiavelli thought, as the writers of ‘The Federalist Papers’ thought, as Abraham Lincoln thought,”” warned historian Walter Karp in 1979. He was thinking of the growing tendency to ignore political motives in favor of economic ones.

    An economic explanation pleases everyone – corrupt ruler and angry radical, passive observer and cynical professor. This is because an economic explanation typically seeks to exclude politics altogether. It contends that all events are basically predictable.

    Thus we are assured by countless ideologues, conservatives and Marxists alike, that the Civil War was not a war over the extension of slavery, a war over the very meaning of liberty, but merely a struggle between two different economies.

    Thus we are assured by The Economist, a magazine held dear by smart people the world over, that an electorate that does not bother to vote is not alarming, because political apathy often indicates a “”content”” people.

    And thus we are assured by Howard Zinn, and countless other leftists, that our country goes to war for economic reasons. Our government is the tool of corporations. Our rulers scheme and plot not for personal power, but for financial gain – for land, for oil. So flawed in all other respects, our rulers become perfect predictable automatons when it comes to serving their “”corporate masters.””

    It is this dire and unlikely brand of Marxism that allows so many people to ignore who really wields power in this country, and to ascribe all evils to “”big business.”” And it also feeds apathy, for if politicians wield no power, then politics is not worth entering or caring about.

    The truth is, an economic motive explains very little. It might explain why Wall Street backed Woodrow Wilson when he took America into World War I, but it cannot explain why he did so. To explain that, one must examine Wilson’s character.

    Wilson was a man who believed above all in himself. He believed himself to be a great man who had been chosen by God to play, as a friend told him, “”the noblest part that ever came to a son of man.”” And so when war broke out in Europe, he naturally dreamed of negotiating a peace treaty. A commendable enough goal, until Wilson realized that he could only achieve his noble dream by taking America into the war.

    It was this, and nothing else that led Wilson to declare that Germany had no right to attack British munitions ships that happened to be carrying American travelers. And since the American people did not want the war, it was necessary not merely to trick them into believing that faraway Germany was a menace, but to bully them into supporting the war by destroying political liberty in America.

    It is a story told, and well told by Karp in his great book “”The Politics of War.”” There is no more chilling example of the way politics works. An ambitious leader manipulated events to serve his own ambitions, cloaking his every deed in the most soaring rhetoric.

    Yet the fact that politics is dominated not by corporations and institutions but by individuals is not depressing, but heartening. It tells us that we, the people, can still make a difference.

    And that is more than enough of a reason to care about anything.

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