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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Grow up and get involved

    Sarah Devlin columnist
    Sarah Devlin
    columnist

    One of the more embarrassing things to come out of the 2006 midterm elections was the contention that Mark Foley’s underage page-stalking shenanigans had a hand in the Democrats’ subsequent takeover of both houses of Congress. Seriously, America?

    After Iraq, Scooter Libby and innumerable other public deceptions, what really pushed us over the edge was a Republican representative’s penchant for flirting with congressional pages via instant message? Foley’s behavior was indeed disturbing and sad, but the media’s seizure upon and subsequent flogging of the issue, especially at the expense of discussing other matters of governance, bordered on the absurd. Scandal fatigue struck again – the public became disillusioned and exhausted.

    The problem with the circus of hysteria that surrounds political scandals is that it detracts from actual tinkering with our democracy. In 2002, the Bush administration quietly announced a tweak of the Clean Air Act that went virtually unnoticed by most of the country. This new plan allowed polluters to get credit for reductions in pollution that occurred up to ten years ago, rather than installing new pollution controls when there is a significant increase in air pollution. Additionally, 15-year-old pollution control equipment became exempt from replacement as long as it meets standards from when it was originally installed, further delaying modernization of pollution control amongst big businesses.

    Why is this so much worse than the newest hypothetical fiasco involving some politician’s secret transsexual lover? After all, weakening legislation through unsexy technical loopholes and careful alterations isn’t all that interesting to the American public. The trouble is, while we’re worried about who our politicians are sleeping with, we get too distracted to notice that quite a few of them have hopped into bed with big business – and in return for effective lobbying and campaign contributions, politicians get credit for environmentally conscious laws like the Clean Air Act while allowing campaign contributors to systematically dismantle them.

    Scandal fatigue creates a political environment in which politicians aren’t trusted and government is viewed as ineffective, but it also allows politicians and the media to focus on scandals that have no real impact on public life, while allowing more egregious violations of the public’s trust that have legitimate legal and institutional repercussions. It fosters lots of oppositional hand-wringing and vows to clean up government that exhaust the public before anyone realizes that nothing is really getting done. For example, if the Democratic Congress were actually serious about taking the Bush administration to task, Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t have removed impeachment from the table before even assuming her post as Speaker of the House. The Bush administration has been chastised endlessly, and rightfully so, for its dishonesty and corruption – however, the Democrats’ unwillingness to enact punishment that packs any sort of punch accomplishes nothing save exhausting the electorate.

    I recognize that any politician’s penchant for young man-flesh will never stop being newsworthy, but it gets embarrassing when that’s just about the only criterion we use to evaluate a politician’s fitness to lead and fidelity to the policies that we support. During a public comment period the same year the Bush administration rolled back clean air regulations, more than 130,000 Americans expressed their support for more stringent environmental regulation. A 2007 poll by the American research group showed 45 percent of Americans supported impeachment proceedings against Bush and 54 percent supported beginning the same proceedings against Cheney. How on earth wass there no larger public outcry when the speaker of the House very clearly announced that impeachment was not an option? How are the toothless and ineffective railings of Democrats against Republican mishaps a meaningful substitute for action?

    As citizens, it’s our responsibility to sift through our news with a little more discretion. Avoid the constant coverage on CNN of Joe Senator’s messy divorce – scandals like this will never stop being news, but there’s no point wearing yourself out watching endless ruminations on the marital shortcomings of our nation’s leaders. Meanwhile, don’t let scandal fatigue prevent you from demanding real action instead of prim (and useless) scolding from other political figures. Engage with alternative news sources and pay attention to news stories that don’t initially sound like they were cribbed from an episode of “”Dynasty.”” Policy rollbacks hide behind soapier scandals, but there’s nothing sexy about voter deception. Make a conscious decision to worry a little bit less about bedroom than boardroom politics and force our politicians to gamble a little less with their obligations to their constituents, even as they thumb their noses at their marriage vows.

    Sarah Devlin is a senior majoring in English and political science. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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