“It’s easier now more than ever in my life to feel the fix is in, the game is rigged and no matter how hard you work to change things, it just doesn’t matter,” Damon said in a recent interview. “We’re at a point where politicians don’t really get any benefit from engaging with long-term issues. Instead, it’s all about the next election cycle. Those guys in the House don’t do anything now but run for office. So unless they can find some little thing that zips them up a couple of points in the polls, they’re not interested.”
That’s an odd statement from an actor whose film about hydraulic fracturing is hitting theaters.
But political engagement is vital — and it’s the cure to the very ills he cites.
Let’s begin with the word itself. “Politics” comes from the Greek “politikos,” or “of the citizens.” That’s us. In our system of representative democracy, particularly, we citizens decide things for ourselves.
Like many during this divisive election year, Damon bemoans the attention that’s paid by politicians to getting re-elected. But elections are blessings, not curses. An election is our chance to toss the rascals out. And we get this chance pretty regularly. That’s a good thing. Are politicians too focused on elections? Maybe — but if they are, we can express our disappointment with that at the ballot box.
Damon also fears there’s “too much money” in politics. That might also be true (though it’s all relative — far more is spent selling us burgers than selling us burgermeisters).
But the freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, even if it’s not very pretty at times. And as the first big election held after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision shows, money really doesn’t buy votes. As more and more people realize that, the levels of spending will drop.
But that merely shows an ignorance of history. Remember Tammany Hall? Due to the many “sunshine laws” passed since the 1970s, our government — at all levels — is more open and accountable than ever. Sure, improvements could be made. The Obama administration, in particular, has failed in its promise to be the most open administration in history.
But that’s no reason to disengage. It’s reason to ask more questions, and demand more answers.
It’s been a tough year. There’s no question about that. We’ve seen a brutal Republican primary that left a weakened GOP nominee, whose charisma couldn’t match the sitting president’s. We saw trivial things dominate news cycles, and we saw important stories glossed over.
Yet political involvement is the solution to all of these things. Left or right, the problems we face won’t go away if we merely ignore them.
In 2013, let’s stay engaged. It’s a privilege, not a chore.