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Politics & Policy

A Decline in Political Passion Is Not a Crisis

(fizkes/Getty Images)

On the menu today: A Washington Post columnist discovers, to her horror, that a lot of women are tuning out politics and “taking a break,” a decision that seems entirely rational in light of the often-insane, infuriating, and stress-inducing state of American politics in 2021; Representative Adam Schiff declares in his new book that former FBI director Robert Mueller was a doddering old man when he was investigating Trump; OSHA finally moves; and House speaker Nancy Pelosi is very disappointed in the national news media.

It’s Okay to Get Tired of Politics Sometimes!

This may seem like an argument against interest from a man who writes about politics for a living, but feeling a sense of exhaustion due to political fights at a moment such as this seems entirely rational.

I begin with this point because Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty sees any dip in the nation’s collective political passion as a crisis for the Democratic Party:

A raft of evidence suggests that female voters, whose engagement and activism fueled the gains that Democrats made during Donald Trump’s presidency, are increasingly tuning out politics. In one survey conducted in May by the Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century, nearly half of women in key swing states said they were “paying less attention to what happens in Washington” than they were when Trump was in the White House. This was particularly true among female Biden voters who are independents, under the age of 35, college graduates and city dwellers. Focus groups that American Bridge 21st Century conducted in August with women in Pennsylvania and Arizona found much the same thing.

This sense of growing political ennui among women comes through in focus groups, says Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. “People are exhausted,” she explains. “We have people deliberately saying, ‘I am just taking a break — enough.’”

First, we’re in an off year in the political cycle, with just two governors and two state legislatures on ballots, and a handful of mayoral and special elections this coming November. If there is any time in the cycle where it’s okay for people to be less engaged in politics, this is it! Why are we giving women grief for being insufficiently attentive to every twist and turn of a seemingly endless fight over spending on Capitol Hill? These women have lives!

Second, we should be open to the possibility that these female voters know what they’re doing. What if these women are actually making a healthy decision to disengage from a political process that has become a near-constant source of stress, anxiety, angst, frustration, and anger? What if engaging with American politics, as it is practiced and discussed in 2021, is often psychologically unhealthy?

What’s that? You’re not filled with excitement and enthusiasm at the prospect of paying close attention and feeling intensely emotionally invested in a world of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Ilhan Omar, Eric Swalwell, winks and nods to QAnon, ludicrously hypocritical elected officials breaking their own pandemic-related mandates and restrictions, election protesters assaulting police with a “Thin Blue Line” flag, and nutjobs chasing Kyrsten Sinema into the bathroom and berating her as she sits on the toilet? What, jumping into all of that doesn’t look like a productive use of your limited time on this Earth?

(Cue the “Jim shouldn’t lump all of those together. The crazies on my side are nowhere near as bad as the crazies on the other side” complaints in the comments.)

When Geraldo Rivera rages that Republicans are “getting almost sexual pleasure from the chaos and the destruction!” do you ever wonder why anyone is watching this, and why they can’t find something else to do with their lives?

Ever feel like the inmates are running the asylum?

Do you find yourself wondering why The New Yorker is giving a relatively generous interview to the author of How to Blow Up a Pipeline? When NPR published an interview that was characterized as “a defense of looting,” did you feel as if someone was trying to gaslight you and convince you that wrong was right and right was wrong? Wondering why the Extinction Rebellion folks are treated as idealistic activists when they say they wouldn’t allow ambulances to pass through their protests that block highways? When a One America News Network host calls for mass “executions” of those who “overthrew the election” and “traitors who meddled with our sacred democratic process,” do you feel as if someone has turned over the airwaves to raving maniacs?

When it turned out that the angry Loudoun County father who was allegedly the poster boy for dangerous extremists threatening school boards had a daughter who had been sexually assaulted in the girl’s bathroom of her school, and the school board had insisted no crime had occurred, did you feel as if you’d been lied to in the name of serving a particular political agenda?

Are you eager to get more active in a world where the National School Board Association is asking the FBI to investigate those who protest its members’ actions as “domestic terrorists” or for “hate crimes” — and not consulting with their local branches before making that FBI request?

Do you feel as if you got conned when vast swaths of the national media spent a year telling you how Andrew Cuomo was the hero this country needed? Feeling a little whiplash about how the lab-leak theory went from an allegedly nutty conspiracy theory to the sort of thing taken seriously by The New Yorker nearly two years later?

When major cities belatedly realize that “defund the police” is an unworkable disaster, do you wonder why they had to go through with the idea when so many voices warned them that it was a formula for worsening crime?

Ever feel as if you’re constantly getting served a heaping slice of inaccurate, misleading narrative and it takes a long while for the truth to catch up?

There’s a lot more to life than politics, and there’s nothing wrong with anyone who wants to opt out of the latest “We have to make sure the bill passes” or “We have to make sure the bill doesn’t pass” effort. There will be another one; there always is. Yes, someone will inevitably declare that the 2022 elections are the most important midterm elections of our lifetime, and someone will inevitably declare that the 2024 elections are the most important presidential elections of our lifetime. America is not going to collapse into tyranny or anarchy because you decided to take care of things closer to home for a while.

This culture likes to say things such as, “Take care of the caretaker,” but the moment the caretaker starts taking care of herself, people start giving her grief.

One other point: I would say the pandemic put the whole country through a near-death experience, except that as of this morning, more than 737,000 Americans actually died. Businesses collapsed, jobs ended, and families stewed in the pressure cooker of sitting at home, no school, no extended family gatherings, no parties, no travel, no vacations, and no gatherings with friends.

With the pandemic gradually receding, a lot of Americans are probably examining what they want out of life, and what gives their lives meaning. It’s entirely possible that a lot of people — men and women — having endured the knee-jerk demonization marathon that was the 2020 election cycle, have realized that they don’t enjoy being active in politics anymore. Too often, being emotionally invested in what’s happening on the political scene feels like a burden, a never-ending hostage negotiation with crazy people.

As Saul Alinsky wrote, “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”

Representative Adam Schiff: Robert Mueller Was a Doddering Old Man

A point I tried to emphasize from the beginning of former FBI director Robert Mueller’s investigation of Donald Trump: “Former FBI director Robert Mueller is respected across the spectrum, a tough guy but not a witch hunter. . . . Mueller will do a thorough job, and if he comes to the end of his investigation and finds that Trump did not have any inappropriate or criminal contact with the Russian government in 2016, that should close the book on it.”

When Mueller’s investigation was done, I wrote that, “Whatever Mueller concluded, there were no do-overs, take-backs, or second bites of the apple. If Mueller didn’t find it or bring charges over something after 22 months, with 19 lawyers, 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants, and other professional staff at his disposal, after interviewing 500 witnesses, issuing 2,800 subpoenas, 230 orders for communication records, 13 requests to foreign governments, and nearly 500 search warrants, it doesn’t exist. No one can argue that the investigation was rushed, undermanned, under-funded, restricted, or somehow unfairly limited.”

Now, Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, writes in his new book that Robert Mueller was succumbing to the effects of old age all along:

In more than a decade of speaking with Robert Mueller, I never heard him grope for words. And as Jerry Nadler continued to ask him questions, Mueller seemed halting and uncertain. When Nadler asked, did any senior White House official refuse to be interviewed by you and your team? Mueller’s eyes darted left and right, visibly searching his memory. I don’t believe so, he said.

Now I was alarmed. Nadler’s question was almost rhetorical. I could see that Nadler was equally puzzled. He raised his eyebrows in disbelief and said slowly, the president? Mueller raised a hand in recognition of his error. Well, let me take that back, he said.

I winced at the sight of this and turned to my Democratic colleagues. It was heartbreaking to see Mueller, his person whom I so admired, having difficulty answering some of the basic questions. Even on bad day, Mueller had been capable of performing better than 99 percent of the witnesses heard testify in my decades of public service. But this was not the Bob Mueller I knew.

Two years had brought a striking change. And I suddenly understood not only his own reluctance to testify, but the protective instincts of his dedicated staff. Had I known how much he had changed, I would not have pursued his testimony with such vigor. In fact, I would not have pursued it at all.

OSHA, Cruising Along at the Speed of the Federal Bureaucracy

Thirty-three days after President Biden announced that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would implement an employee-vaccination mandate for companies with more than 100 workers, OSHA has finally submitted the text of a new vaccine rule for large employers to the Office of Management and Budget.

OSHA is bypassing the usual notice-and-comment rule-making process and issuing what’s known as an Emergency Temporary Standard — because the situation is so serious, and time is of the essence. Every minute counts. There’s not a second to waste.

David Michaels, who ran OSHA for seven years, told NBC News that he doesn’t “think those new inspectors will be out in the field anytime soon.”

ADDENDUM: House speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday, to reporters on why the Democrats’ big spending bills aren’t as popular as she wants: “I think you all could do a better job of selling it.”

Wait, what is their job again, Madame Speaker?

Something to Consider

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