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Overton: We need a crisis

BY JON OVERTON | OCTOBER 18, 2013 5:00 AM

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On Wednesday night, Congress finally raised the debt limit, narrowly avoiding smashing the economy into a brick wall. However, this deal only funds the federal government through Jan. 15 and raises the debt limit through Feb. 7. Coming this winter: a repeat of what we just went through.

This same song-and-dance routine keeps repeating, and sooner or later, we’re going to slam straight into that brick wall at full speed, and everything’s gonna go straight to hell (metaphorically speaking).

That may sound harsh, but it’s true. Eventually, we’re going to miss the deadline.

The perpetuation of this cycle can be traced to most Americans not caring less about what happens in the political realm. To be fair, I’m not doing much to solve this problem, either.

We deserve the dysfunctional government we have, because all we do is complain about it without doing anything to fix it.

Look at what Edward Snowden revealed about the National Security Agency’s spying activities. Look at the massacre of school children at Sandy Hook Elementary. Look at the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression.

And ask yourself, what came of any of those? A few people got riled. There was Occupy Wall Street, polls showed people wanted more gun control, and a bunch of people said, “Huh, well, I got nothing to hide, so spy away, NSA.”

Effectively, nothing followed these events because Americans are apathetic toward politics, so politicians do as they (and their corporate sponsors) please.

I will say that voter apathy can be somewhat understandable. Most congressional districts have been gerrymandered so completely that representatives don’t have to worry about competition from the other party.

In presidential elections, voting only matters if you’re in a swing state. That partially explains the pathetic voter turnout in which 60 percent is considered high. Local elections are famous for anemic 10 to 20 percent voter turnout. If Americans are disappointed in their government, they didn’t show it in the 2012 election, when they rubber- stamped the status quo.

We don’t even really protest anymore. On the rare occasion these movements arise on a large scale, they tend to be co-opted by corporate interests (like the tea party) or they have no unifying goal and fizzle out (like Occupy).

Americans seem to be in a political coma. We don’t see how anything outside our own bubbles affects us, so we stop caring. And in the meantime, the government is becoming increasingly dominated by special interests, the federal bureaucracy is devouring sacred civil liberties, and much needed reform is nowhere to be found.

So what’ll it take to fix misperceptions about politics?

Eventually, with Congress’s habitual procrastination, representatives won’t reach a compromise in time and the entire economy is liable to go to hell in a handbasket. We won’t understand why politics matters until there is a serious crisis that really slams most of the country.

I’d like to believe that the public will realize that politics does matter and then act without such an event, but if the past several years are any indication, nothing will change. We’ll just shrug and move on. We need a crisis.


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