When did “politics” become a dirty word? In a representative democracy, politics is the participatory process through which citizens pick their leaders. That shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of. Yet both presidential campaigns have been doing their part lately to advance the notion that politics is an inherently ignoble, even shameful activity. At the Republican convention, John McCain temporarily suspended the conclave’s usual political showmanship because Hurricane Gustav was bearing down on the Gulf Coast. “This is a time when we have to do away with our party politics,” McCain declared, “and act as Americans.” And last week, McCain and Barack Obama called a one-day campaign truce, vowing to “put politics aside” to mark the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Let’s stipulate that in both instances, McCain and Obama had the finest of motives. Still, what message does it send that in times of national crisis, electoral politics is treated as if it were America’s crazy uncle, to be hidden up in the attic? As columnist Rich Lowry argued on the eve of the GOP convention, the impending hurricane made it more imperative, not less, that citizens learn how Republicans plan to address such challenges in the future. Similarly, as the nation paused to reflect on the shattering losses of 9/11, Americans were arguably primed for a sober, intelligent discussion about the ongoing terrorist threat and the appropriate national response. The proper word for that discussion is “politics,” and there’s nothing shameful about it. I’m not sure what to call the ridiculous, petty arguments about knocked-up daughters and lipsticked pigs, but I’m certain that nobody would complain if we suspended that activity from now till November. - Eric Effron