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November elections reveal polarization of politics

Jack Lessenberry

Thirty years ago, I was briefly involved in the dog show world, when we had a collie that went on to become a champion.

That was during the long ago and now long-forgotten race in which President Ronald Reagan was running for re-election against Walter Mondale.

Both offered vastly different views of America. There were a some people who were very passionate about that campaign, either because they loved Reagan, hated his policies or were excited about the first woman on a major party ticket, Geraldine Ferraro.

But when I came off the campaign and consorted with regular humans, I learned that wasn’t true for most. The show dog people I knew, for example, were more bitterly passionate about their rivals and paid more attention to the idiosyncrasies of the various judges than most people did the election.

Most of them could recite their dogs’ pedigrees at the drop of a hat, or point at a collie and say – “see, you can tell from his hindquarters that he’s out of Champion La Estancia Travolta.” The woman who told me that did ask me once “who’s that guy running against Reagan?” but I think she did so to be polite.

I don't think most people look to politics and politicians to improve their lives, though they are afraid they WILL do things that will hurt their finances or screw things up.

What I took away from this is that America is a land of a million subcultures, and increasingly, politics is just one of those.

There are big differences between the candidates for governor this time, and the candidates are spending tens of millions to try and get your attention in the hope that you might actually vote. But we know already that most people won’t. Apart from the candidates themselves, I’ve seen just two races this year where people seem energized and excited.

One is in Charlevoix County way up north, where just about everybody seems to have a lawn sign for either Joe Hayes or Mary Beth Kur, each running for circuit judge.

The other place where I’ve seen real passion is over the ballot proposals that are designed to prevent the legal hunting of wolves. Ironically, the Legislature, which wants wolves to be hunted, passed a law designed to make whatever voters do irrelevant, but those who want to protect the wolves want to show that the voters are behind them.

But beyond that – why aren’t people more involved?

I think I know the answer, and it is a bit frightening.

I think most people don’t trust any of the candidates to do what they say.

More importantly, I don’t think most people look to politics and politicians to improve their lives, though they are afraid they will do things that will hurt their finances or screw things up. Increasingly, too, we have a harder time finding out what these candidates’ credentials are, or even what they say they will do.

Mainstream media, especially newspapers, are in rapid decline. Fewer and fewer people read them. And some conservative politicians, including Congressman Tim Walberg and GOP Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land, now essentially refuse to talk to traditional media at all.

We seem to be moving toward a politically polarized nation in which much of society has tuned in, been turned off, and dropped out. If this doesn’t worry you, I’d suggest there’s something really wrong.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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