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Politics has become a distracting “sideshow”

Politics in Iowa Web (1)

By Christopher W. Larimer, University of Northern Iowa Professor of Political Science.

In the book, Modern Political Analysis, published in 1963, Robert Dahl, the late political scientist, wrote, “Politics is a sideshow in the great circus of life.” That is, for many people, politics is not of primary concern (similar to quotes highlighted in my previous blog).

The saliency of that “sideshow,” however, has increased exponentially due to technological advances, including social media.  As David Brooks of the New York Times wrote just this week, “Politics has become a way to define and signify your identity, and that is elevating politics to too central a place in life.”

If Dahl and Brooks are both right, then for those of us who follow politics closely, we are essentially paying for a ticket to the circus where the main attraction is name-calling and illogical argument.  Not exactly a show you want to buy a program for (or any other merchandise), let alone wait with your kids for autographs from the actors if doing so requires acknowledgement of the entire cast of characters.

Worse, for voters who simply want to know which set of policies from which candidate will improve their well-being, the sideshow has become all-encompassing, preventing any sort of rational analysis.

The solution?

To do as Brooks advises on how to avoid being consumed by the “accelerated experience of time” due to the internet and social media, and that is to “move slowly, serenely but thickly” through life, including political life.

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