We all watch the news. We all recognize the famous public figures in the American political discourse: the president, a senator or two and maybe even your House Representative. We all have some opinion on the politics that govern our country. But rarely do we care about what these people are doing with our country, nor do we care about the direction politicians are taking us in.
We, as students, tend to hate politics. I don’t blame you. Government can be scary, impersonal and sometimes unhelpful. No one likes the DMV — long lines and subpar air conditioning drive everyone crazy. And deep down, everyone ultimately feels helpless in enacting any change as one of 330 million citizens in this country. Despite government’s intimidating role in our lives, you should care — because the decisions the government makes impact you every day.
I’m not writing this article to tell you that you need to radically change your fundamental beliefs on the role of government. Nor will the article instruct you on your ideologies and government policies. I don’t care whether you vote Republican or Democrat, Independent or for the Green Party. I couldn’t care less if you believe we should overthrow the government and instill a broomstick as the president. What I care about is whether you even care in the first place.
We often correlate the words “politics” with images of the president speaking, congressmen debating, income taxes or maybe even the military. We often correlate the word “government” with the least helpful governmental agencies (cue DMV) or policies with which we disagree (cue gun control). Rarely, however, do we think of the day-to-day applications of government that keep us safe: the police, emergency services, street lamps, streets themselves, highways, bridges — the list goes on and on. Rarely do we think of the day-to-day benefits of leisure the government provides: public schools, parks, museums, national parks, radio — again, the list goes on and on.
These things matter to you and me. These are not controversial issues — nor are they topics fueled by passionate debate. And yet, topics like these constitute the government as much as the mainstream issues like abortion or gun control do. These issues may seem to have easy solutions (who wouldn’t want more schools or better roads?), but they are just as political: How much of our funds should go to the military versus building new roads? Should we even build public parks? What about taxes? Should the government have control over how fast I can drive my car?
These questions may have obvious answers to you, but answering them in the context of government is much more complicated: A speed limit may seem obvious, but why should the government have control over my car when it is my own property? We need a strong military, but we also need strong infrastructure in the form of stable roads and bridges — what do we pick, the military or roads? Public parks are nice, but what if we can put that money elsewhere — say, toward subsidized housing for the underprivileged? These are typical questions that policymakers debate on behalf of you and me everyday. These questions strike at the heart of the oh-so-cynical “government” that you choose to despise.
There are always two sides to every argument. But staying out of the political arena and smirking at politicians does not make you a “bigger person,” and it doesn’t make you a better citizen. Government, whether you like it or not, will always be part of our lives and will always be changing. It’s up to us to decide whether we want to determine how it’s changing. I know there are better, more fun things out there that interest you: cars, television, sports or anything other than politics. But next time you watch Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert and laugh at how silly the government is, ask yourself this question: Do I really know how much potential I hold to change the government and the power of the government itself?
You might surprise yourself with the answer.
Image Source: tom_lohdan via Creative Commons