I follow politics with the enthusiasm of a sports fanatic. At President Obama’s first State of the Union I was able to name every member of his cabinet who passed before the camera, getting excited at the sight of people like Steven Chu and Arne Duncan. So it’s naturally baffling to me when people are all into sports but don’t tune into politics until the next presidential election is practically upon them.
Non-politics-watchers have a tendency to loudly assert that all politicians are the same and that nothing ever changes in Washington. This is like saying that all baseball or football players are equivalent, and that these sports are boring because they’re always played on the same basic field. Naturally, if you don’t pay attention, you’re not going to see the beauty of the sport. If you’re not a baseball fan, it looks like everyone’s just standing around. If you’re not a football fan, it’s just a bunch of dudes mindlessly crashing into each other (sometimes football is like that even if you are a fan). Politics is pretty much the same. Ignore it, and it’s boring. Watch it, and you’ll see things so riveting that you won’t mind reading twenty barely-different takes on the same event.
Oh wait, no, politics isn’t like sports. Because sports never actually matter.
I’ll give you an example. A couple of years ago, Jacoby Ellsbury was the star center fielder for the Boston Red Sox. He was great. He stole home this one time. Everybody loved him. Then, after helping his team win the world series, he became a free agent and signed with the Yankees. The local press screamed Betrayal! Greed! What kind of jerk would leave his beloved team, the one whose farm system he had risen through, the one that had developed his skills with the best coaches in the league etc. etc. etc., and sign with the Evil Empire?
Then neither team won the series and nobody cared.
Now let me tell you about Arlen Specter. Specter was a Republican senator from Pennsylvania from 1980 until 2009. He was pretty much a party-line guy, but he was more self-interested than ideological (in fact, he’d been a Democrat until 1965, when he lost a nomination for Philly DA and switched teams so he could still run – the guy who lost to him called him “Benedict Arlen”). As a result, nobody liked him. A more conservative Republican ran against him in the primary in 2004, and Specter barely squeaked through to retake his seat. Then in 2009, it became clear that Republican primary voters were going to pick the other guy this time.
So Arlen Specter switched sides again.
President Obama and the rest of the Democratic establishment welcomed Specter with open arms, promising to clear the Democratic field for him if they could. In return, Specter became a sudden party-line Democrat.
Hey, remember how the Affordable Care Act passed in the senate on a party line vote, getting exactly the 60 Democratic votes it needed to break a filibuster? One of those Democrats was Arlen Specter.
So because Arlen Specter switched sides (mostly for his career, just like Jacoby Ellsbury), over 10 million people who wouldn’t have had health insurance have it now. Millions upon millions of American women are able to get their chosen method of birth control for free. People aren’t forced to stay in jobs they hate just for the health coverage.
Now, you don’t have to like this result in order to agree with me (and Joe Biden) that this was a Big Fucking Deal.
So politics is relevant. But how about the contention that all politicians are the same? That statement is so obviously false that it’s hard to know where to begin. So I’ll stick with the sports analogy. Are all football players the same? Um, no. Some are private people; some won’t stop talking. Some play honorably; some are cheaters. Some are lovey-dovey with their spouses all over the internet; some punch their spouses in the face. Some are animal lovers; some torture them for sport. And if you watch football with any regularity, you’ll notice that they even play the game differently! Politics is the same way, people.
Except, of course, for the whole “mattering” thing.