A New World Disorder

Let’s take a step back from the Syrian intervention debate for a moment here, play some pop poly sci, and explore what the ongoing crisis means for world politics. Put simply, it could well be the end of the post-Cold War Pax Americana, and a sign of a much more complex world. Of course, some people have been talking about this for a long time. The most famous is probably Fareed Zakaria, who wrote a bestselling book about it five years ago. As early as the mid-1990s, Samuel Huntington was imagining creative new ways in which people might fight each other, absent any Cold War ideological battle lines to separate each other.

The people making these arguments usually framed them against the narrative of the hegemony of liberal democracy and capitalism, made famous by Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man. It was a great title for grabbing people’s attention, though it also led a lot of people to misunderstand him. We’ll save that argument for some other time and say that, quite simply, things looked pretty good if you were a proponent of liberal democracy and capitalism at the end of the Cold War. The communists were done for, and authoritarians were falling across Europe, Latin America, and even in a few other places. The European Union was taking the next step, NAFTA was in the works, and the Gulf War had shown that no one could really mess with the United States military. In an increasingly interconnected world, there were no obvious alternatives. Sure, there were some angry Muslims out there who weren’t too fond of liberal modernity who might blow a few things up, and yes, democratization would have to come in bumps and lurches in many places. But it was hard to conceive of another ideology that might be applicable to the entire world. The biggest questions were over how to make all that integration happen—would it simply be economic, or political as well?—and how to deal with the people and countries that didn’t take off on the right path right away.

Fast forward to 2003 or so, and the narrative still pretty much applies. Yes, some angry Muslims blew some things up, but the U.S. pursued them into Afghanistan and knocked off their patrons and made its message pretty clear. The rest of the world pretty much had the U.S.’s back. The E.U. had itself some shiny new coins. Democracy was lurching ahead in Latin America and in Africa; only in the Middle East were things not really showing signs of moving in the “right” direction. So the U.S. went in and tried to do something about it.

Ten years later, we know that didn’t work so well. Iraq is no shining beacon of democracy in the Middle East, and if anything, the invasion simply added to the regional instability. Though it did little to truly undermine global capitalism, the financial crisis was very disruptive for the countries that had been bankrolling the march of liberal democracy. This was especially true in the troubled Eurozone, though the United States had its own set of issues, especially as the country in the lonely throne atop the world order. The failures of the Bush Era now evident, Barack Obama was elected to usher in a new foreign policy; two years after that, voters decided they didn’t much care about foreign policy when the economy was still not moving much, and in came the Tea Party—which, whatever else one might say about it, by in large has little interest in the nuances of geopolitics. The global vision seemed to be collapsing in on itself, as everyone was too busy dealing with their own crap to bother with saving other people.

A few months later, though, there was reason for hope again. Finally, the dominoes were beginning to fall in the Middle East: spontaneous, popular protests began to weaken the entrenched autocracies, the most notable being Egypt, a regional power. Killing Osama bin Laden was a nice cherry on top, too. Hey, maybe the dream wasn’t dead after all. When it became clear the popular revolt in Libya was going to need a bit of a nudge to knock off its ugly autocrat, the U.S. and its friends were happy to lend a hand. Once again, freedom was on the march.

Fast forward again, and the hopes of the liberal democrats have again gone unfulfilled. The Libya intervention effectively destabilized Mali. Egypt’s “revolution” now looks more like a series of coups coupled with huge protests, and no one has any idea what the endgame will be there. Perhaps even more significant now, though, is Syria, where Bashar al-Assad has shown he is willing to fight to the death in his own civil war. The worldwide debate over how to respond shows just how troubled the world order is:

-Existing international institutions have no real mechanism to react. There is no way to punish chemical weapons users from some sort of international, objective position up on high. This position does not exist.

-No rising power yet has the power or the interest to lead its own effort, with one—Russia—actively opposing any action. If the world intervenes, it will be the U.S. (maybe with France tagging along) or no one.

-A war-weary portion of the American public—including Rand Paul’s wing of the long-united, pro-intervention Republican Party—has no interest in geopolitical questions, and thinks the U.S. should mind its own business.

-The neoconservatives—John McCain, Lindsey Graham—on the other hand, are obsessed with geopolitics, and want the U.S. to take the lead, knock out Assad, and set the Middle East on a course to peace. Failure to do so, they believe, will embolden the likes of Russia and Iran, and let an evil dictator stay in power. The word they repeat ad nauseam is “credibility.” If the U.S. says it will act and then does not, the American reputation will be tarnished forever, they say. (Of course, they never bother to mention what happens after the U.S. asserts its credibility by lobbing a few bombs at Damascus, unless they want an all-out invasion and occupation.)

-As of this writing, is hard to know what Barack Obama thinks. Has he called for a vote on Syria—something he did not bother to do with Libya—for strictly political reasons? It makes total sense from that perspective, as it exposes the rifts in the Republicans, makes them complicit in the march to war if and when things do go wrong, and gives him an easy out if Congress somehow actually rejects his proposal.

However, I suspect Obama is genuinely conflicted on this, which may be why he’s passing the buck and actually (gasp) following the Constitution instead of attacking at will. On the one hand, he does believe most of what he said back when he gave his Nobel Prize address; good liberal that he is, he wants to believe the world can punish evildoers and those who violate international law, and he knows the U.S. is the only country that can really do that. But this is also a man who ran as someone who’d learned the lessons of Iraq: that it will be difficult not to escalate from a “surgical” first shot, that this will inevitably be seen as taking a side in the conflict, and that a rebel victory could very easily bring hardline Islamists to power, creating a far bigger regional headache than Assad ever was. Given the difficulty of the question, some dithering is understandable; the problem is that the dithering makes him look at best indecisive, and at worst a total cynic.

And so it becomes clear that the new world order is anything but the hegemony of liberal democracy. It hasn’t been a clash of civilizations, a la Huntington: there have been hints of that, and there may be future threats of that, but Huntington’s worry about “Islam’s bloody borders” was misplaced. It was the bloody interior of the Islamic world that would make it all apparent. We’re left with Alawites and Sunnis and Shias and secularists all shooting each other (with Christians as the collateral damage), all tangled up in bizarre webs of alliances. (Here is a helpful chart that makes everything clear.)

This thing shows how laughable it is to imagine an overarching narrative here. Some people might lament lost chances: if only the U.S. had stayed out of Iraq, or gotten it right, or—to take a more hard-line stance—nipped off all of these disruptive Middle Eastern revolts before they upended a stable, if autocratic, region. I don’t buy it. Autocracies never last, and the allure of “freedom” is always there, especially in such an interconnected world. The revolts would have happened, sooner or later. Likewise, the U.S.’s window of dominance is going to end sooner or later: if not because of military defeat, simple demographics make this clear enough. (I’m not saying the U.S. will fall from its spot as the foremost international superpower anytime soon; given my doubts over the stability of autocracies, I think China has far more serious issues than the U.S. does that it will have to deal with sometime down the line. I’m simply saying that U.S. power for international military influence is shrinking, and will probably continue to shrink.)

And so we’re left with our new world order, which, it turns out, is not some sort of march toward destiny (be it of liberal or a communist or a religious variety), but a mess of regimes rising and falling all over the place and dragging people into webs of intrigue worse than my high school love life. It isn’t pretty, but no one can accuse it of being boring, and as horrible as conditions may be in Syria, this is also (by historical standards) a pretty peaceful time. That might last; it might not. Further integration and democratic advance remain a real possibility, probably worth supporting when they do not require extreme exertion. (See Myanmar, for example.)

But that also might not happen, and any student of international politics must understand that, for sanity’s sake. We’re left with a diverse world full of interesting messes, and while this shouldn’t cause us to give up all hope of changing it, we do have to respect its complexity. If that makes us traitors to this America messianic mission of converting the world, then so be it. We are not slaves to the fate of humanity: we are free to carve out our own little communities of contentment and choose only the battles that we cannot avoid or that we know will not consume us. We can only control so much.

Edit: Ross Douthat has come out with a good, measured piece that wrestles with some of these themes.

Realizing Dreams, 50 Years Later

Fifty years ago today, when several hundred thousand people marched on Washington, D.C., I wasn’t anywhere close to the world of the living. I grew up on the whitest end of a town that is over 90% white; questions of race were, by in large, something that happened somewhere else. Imagine my shock when I ventured into The Bronx during a visit to New York late in high school, when my father and I were the only non-black people on a crowded shopping street. It wasn’t fear or discomfort; it was simply recognition of being distinctly different. Perhaps because of that lack of experience with other races, I have never found dialogues on race easy. Indeed, I’ve read that white Northerners can often be cagy to the point of excess when confronted with the topic, and I am probably guilty of that.

Even so, it is hard to think of any Americans who inspired more reverence in my childhood than Martin Luther King, Jr. MLK is ensconced in America’s civic religion, complete with a monument on the National Mall and a statue that, while not without its controversy, does capture his deep, searing eyes. He is as much of a hero as we’re likely to find in American history, and deserves so many of the plaudits he receives. But in the worship of past figures, there is a danger of sanitizing people; of turning them into saintly icons rather than the human beings they were. MLK was a complicated man who stood for many things that went far beyond race.

Fifty years later, where is his dream? It’s hard to say. There have been monumental advances in some fields, and in simple, basic civility. But at the same time, African-Americans lag behind whites in any number of indicators, and some cities look just as segregated as they did fifty years ago. Things are more difficult to measure, however: blatant racism is much less common than it once was, and the forces complicating things are invariably more subtle than Southern segregationists of the 1960s. The public policy initiatives used to combat racial inequality in 2013—affirmative action, forced school desegregation, various education reform plans—tend to be crude tools that oversimplify the problem. Ending the single greatest contributor to systemic racism in the current U.S.—the war on drugs—will come with some serious trade-offs; and while I think the benefits outweigh the costs, the costs do exist, and will have to be confronted in a careful manner, if and when the war is drawn down. Rarely are racial issues as clear-cut and morally obvious as they were in the 1960s. From the Trayvon Martin debate to the case of a local black principal sloppily removed from her job, I struggle to believe the motives at play were as vicious as some claim: too often, they seem to assume the worst in other people, and seek to pass blame—something that does not strike me as terribly MLK-ish. (Admittedly, MLK’s willingness to forgive sets a very high bar, and it probably isn’t realistic to expect most people to meet it. We have to work with the world we live in.)

What we are witnessing here is the collision of American meritocracy with ongoing cycles of poverty and culture that leave African-Americans, as a whole, on unequal footing. King said his dream was “deeply rooted in the American Dream,” but as James Baldwin noted in a famed 1965 debate with Bill Buckley, for all its claims of equal opportunity, the future-oriented American creed is not well-designed to redress lingering legacies of the past. (I say this simply as a statement of fact, not as a call for revolution. I don’t know what a better alternative would look like.) No one encapsulates the tension between the American Dream and the past better than President Obama himself: whatever one may think of the President’s record, it is now clear he never had a prayer of re-orienting the national debate on race. Even though his election was a sign of racial progress and the possibility for anyone to achieve something, it didn’t erase the past. Ross Douthat’s Sunday column points out how the “post-racial” Obama era has seen more questions of race than most other recent administrations, with affirmative action and voting rights and  profiling issues coming back to the fore (to say nothing of the racial alarmism around the President himself). History prevents us from ever getting rid of these questions.

In a sign of the oddness of our times, Douthat’s column went on to argue that both parties have much to gain from a cross-racial coalition of working class Americans who have been left behind by the business and technology interests that are now deeply embedded in the political establishment. Yes, that’s right: the New York Times’ “conservative” columnist is making what is, essentially, a Marxist argument. Across the spectrum, political pundits are trying to find some source of a sustainable majority in American politics. Some have said the Republican Party will be dead unless it can increase its appeal among minorities, and while this is in essence true, I think it is also a horribly reductionist way of thinking. Aligning parties along racial lines is identity politics at its worst, and is not a recipe for societal health for either party.

Still, I’m skeptical of Douthat’s solution. One of the great lessons of the failure of Communism was that uniting the underclass against entrenched interests didn’t work particularly well. I’d be intrigued by populist candidates who try to lead insurgencies on behalf of Middle America, but even if those candidates should start to win, they would find a hostile environment in Washington. Reading some of the retrospectives on the 1963 March, it is astonishing to see how much the nation pulled together for such a display of collective conscience. Perhaps even more striking is trying to imagine that sort of rally in 2013 America, and failing miserably. Sure, there have been marches on Washington (Tea Partiers, Occupiers, and so on), and as a D.C. resident at the time, there was definitely something different about Obama’s election and inauguration. But the election alone was mostly symbolic in nature, and the militant political movements are a far cry from the unity preached by Dr. King and his fellow travelers.

This nation is deeply fragmented, and I’ve written on here with some sympathy for people who worry about this. Whether it’s the result of self-segregation in suburbs, the atomizing effects of technology, or the failures of the political system to inspire much confidence, some parts of this country seem further apart than ever before—a curious fact, considering how much more interconnected things are due to technology. The few forces that can hold things together—popular culture, national news networks, a handful of sporting events—often appeal to the lowest common denominator, and rarely offer us much in the way  of deep insights or patient reflection.

But, rather than bemoan our fate, I’m going to look for some bright spots in this apparent lack of national unity. The failures of the political class may lead people to hate national politics, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into complete alienation: as I’ve said before, politics need not go through formal institutions, and re-focusing on things we actually can affect can be quite gratifying. For the first time in a very long time, the American public is deeply skeptical of embroiling itself in foreign wars; whether due to the excesses of the Bush years or the lack of a real existential threat, that skepticism is a far cry from the blind patriotism behind past American military adventures. From localist liberals to communitarian conservatives, there are growing groups of people who find little to like in the crony capitalism/corporate welfare that has become so prevalent. At some point, they may even realize they have something in common, even if it never coheres into a national movement. Keeping political movements on a smaller scale allows for more nuance and attention to particular cases, rather than trying to slap a one-size-fits-all approach over a wildly diverse country of 300 million.

This doesn’t mean an end of attention to national politics: given the state’s power, it can’t be totally ignored, and there are some problems that can only be solved on a national level. Inertia is a powerful force, and the national media isn’t going to change the narrative anytime soon. It will be hard to limit ambition, and many successful local politicians will heed the call to climb the ladder in search of some “greater” opportunity. Still, the untapped potential in local energy for improving everyone’s lot in life is enormous.

Focusing on the immediate also keeps with a key tradition within the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King’s words in front of the Lincoln Memorial are what we remember most, but so many of the key moments in the Civil Rights Movement took place in towns and cities across the South, carefully coordinated by civic groups and churches confronting an ambivalent or hostile national political scene. We should remember 1963, but better societies do not come about just because some people decided to hold a march, or because of a great speech or two. The important work is far more mundane.

From the Vault: Election 2012

The post I’d planned to write for today isn’t quite done yet, but since I’m sticking with my plan to put up a post a day, here is something I wrote on the eve of last November’s election. I have some other reservations about doing this; I don’t want to have readers of a newish blog judging everything I post from here on out through the lens of who I voted for in an election–especially one that, in the grand scheme of things, I do not think was all that relevant to most of what I plan to write about on here. But, much as I may wish to believe it, I am not purely objective. I have my biases, so I may as well note them, hopefully with enough nuance that any reader can respect it.

The Only Thing I Will Write About the 2012 Election

I’ve studied politics my entire life, and I spend a healthy amount of my time procrastinating by reading about it daily in any number of publications. So it might come as a surprise to some that I have intentionally avoided nearly every opportunity to express my opinion about the upcoming election. It all goes back to a moment not long after the 2010 elections, when I found myself standing before a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Mexico City in the dead of night and realized, finally, that my happiness in life was not remotely related to the results national elections. It was a delightfully liberating moment. Eternal student that I am, I’ve kept up with the endless intricacies of politics ever since, but always from a comfortable distance, and only rarely volunteering my opinion. But, as the saying goes, silence is only useful if someone somewhere expects you to be loud. Given the extent of the endless screaming about politics out there, it’s obvious my silence hasn’t meant much. Not that I expect to be able to drown out the din now that I am offering something, so I’ll be a good citizen and have my say on the 2012 election.

What a difference four years make: the incumbent President and his party find themselves in a conundrum. The new liberal majority proclaimed four years ago has been beaten into submission, and reality has taken root. This country is split almost evenly between its two dominant parties. This in itself is no great change; it’s exactly where we were twelve years ago, at the start of the George W. Bush era. But after a few wars and a giant recession, the mood couldn’t be any more different. Bush’s effort to remake the world in America’s image fell flat, and U.S. influence around the globe is waning, though in a number of cases that is not necessarily a bad thing. Likewise, the hopelessly high hopes for Barack Obama have resolved themselves into a murky mess, and even if the President is re-elected, the odds do not favor any sort of great shift in a second term.

In search of a pragmatic center-left candidate who disdained business as usual in Washington, I voted for Mr. Obama in 2008. That is more or less what I got, though I will not pretend to be thrilled with the results. Mr. Obama’s dislike of political wrangling led him to ignore the dirty work of consensus-building, and his eagerness to be all things led him into unsavory alliances with much of the entrenched political and economic elite. A necessity for survival in modern government, perhaps, but the consistent caution in the President’s dealings has often allowed others to dictate the terms of the debate. Even when Mr. Obama has tried to be tough, it hasn’t seemed very natural or effective for anyone beyond the base; that just isn’t who he is. And for all of the post-partisan rhetoric, the legislation produced was decidedly liberal; sure, many liberals had their quarrels with certain points, but when one considers the arc of liberal history in this country, there is no doubt Mr. Obama is one of its greatest champions.

After four years in the city, I don’t have many illusions over what Washington does; by in large, I can live with Mr. Obama’s major legislative achievements and foreign policy. Both have elements that I find worrisome, at times even deeply troubling: drone strikes, coziness with big banks and insurance companies, an extremely narrow view of faith, and a well-intentioned but sclerotic continued expansion of the ever-growing, ever-centralizing federal bureaucracy. Still, given the constraints of his office, I think he has done some good where others may have done none.

Yet through it all, I’m reluctant to reward him with a second term. The Democratic turn to class warfare, coupled with canards about taxing the wealthy—though true in the sense that everyone will have to pay in somehow—often rely on fanciful math and willful ignorance. Make no mistake, this country faces a fiscal crisis, and the Democratic Party has yet to offer a substantive approach to reining it all in. None of Mr. Obama’s achievements on the health care front will mean much if this country goes broke sometime down the road. Many of the narrow-minded defenses of government intervention that have emerged this election cycle are cringe-inducing in their portrayal of how the state interacts with individuals, seeming to dole out benefits from on high out of the goodness of its heart, replacing any need for such trivialities as families or communities. I still admire Mr. Obama’s measured seriousness, and perhaps a President freed from worries over future elections could again rise above the fray. But Mr. Obama’s message is no longer something fresh or terribly inspiring beyond the base, and after the exhausting scrutiny of the past four years, he may have neither the will nor the authority to do so.

And so I have done my best to give Mitt Romney an honest appraisal. It wasn’t easy. Though he is more complicated and decent than the all-too-easy caricatures make him out to be, Mr. Romney remains a graceless political chameleon. I think a President Romney would have more in common with the Massachusetts governor than the version of him we saw in the Republican primaries, but his self-serving rush to please does not suggest much potential in the way of executive leadership, and his apparent ambivalence over issues unrelated to the economy is troublesome. Sure, it’d be nice if the economic recovery went a bit faster (no guarantee), but where is the grand scheme? I find his recent adoption of the rhetoric of “change” amusing; he has adopted the vagueness of the Obama ‘08 message without any of the interesting backstory that made Mr. Obama likeable.

All in all, I think Mr. Romney is a distraction; the man who best captures the Republican moment is not the former governor but Congressman Paul Ryan, his lieutenant. There is little doubt Mr. Ryan is the intellectual heavyweight of his party, and he is among the few who take the country’s fiscal situation seriously, even if his proposed solutions are, in the end, no less fudged than those of the Democrats. I have my disagreements with the man, but I’d like to think he has both the political clout and the sense of duty necessary to eventually get something done. Yet I cannot embrace him: he is an enigma, and in the end we are left with this curious fusion of Ayn Rand and Catholic social teaching. Whether the congressman from Wisconsin recognizes it or not, he embodies the contradiction that has poisoned his party: the union of conscientious (if often self-righteous) religious and community-oriented conservatism with a free-market ideology of individualism. Each has its merits (particularly the former, in my opinion), but the resulting policies—slashed taxes without fiscal restraint, a missionary zeal to Americanize the rest of the world, the hypocrisy of conservative government overreach in an effort to impose the alleged solutions—usually manage to combine the worst of both.

It’s enough to make a man go screaming into the night in search of a third way.  At the moment, the most prominent of those options seems to be the Libertarian Party, a freedom-loving alliance of free-market (and sometimes pro-gold standard) adherents and elements of the anti-war, drug-legalizing left. The movement’s standard-bearers, Ron Paul and his son Rand, have sat out the general election, leaving us with the capable but unremarkable Gary Johnson. I find myself in agreement with Mr. Johnson on a number of fronts, just as I have some lingering sympathy for other alternatives such as the Greens, but I do have some serious reservations. Promoters of the third-party vote will sensibly dismiss these reservations; they know their candidates cannot win, so my qualms with Mr. Johnson’s economic plans really don’t matter. The vote is instead a matter of principle; a form of protest, such as it is.

Still, the certain failure of these third-party candidacies simply goes to reveal the folly of the anti-establishment movement in modern American politics. Sure, bits of the Libertarian or Green or Constitutionalist platforms may worm their way into our two behemoths, and though they may be hijacked or lose their purity, this mild populist influence is not insignificant. Yet there can be no victory of any magnitude. It all gets swallowed up by the beast. It’s only natural, and it makes sense: it’s an attempt to change the system from the top down, and labors under the delusion that the president will be the one who sets the agenda. It outsources the responsibility for meaningful change to yet another distant figure who, for some unexplained reason, will allegedly be less constrained by the twin leviathans of the modern state and liberal (in the broad sense of the term) culture. It’s not coincidental that the most successful of these third-party figures are never moderates, but those who best outline a distinctive, and often radical, agenda either largely wedded to a single issue (as with the Greens) or a clearly ideological worldview (the Libertarians). They are admirable voices in the wilderness on hand to ease the consciences of certain idealists, but little more.

The road out of our political malaise is not in the worship of a single candidate or a vision of the world as it should be. It is a return to the particular, to the things we really can control, a realm not yet totally captured by the Washington bureaucracy or the vagaries of the market. While this means paying a bit more attention to state and local races, not even that gets to the core of the issue. Too often local politicians simply ape the talking points of their party, and hatred can run just as rampant at a city council or school board meeting as on the national stage. Yet any serious inroad against the two-party system fostered by our electoral laws will have to start on the local level, where elections are actually winnable without an absurd amount of financial investment. From there, a movement can grow to regional and state levels, a process that would only make sense given the great regional disparities in this country. In nearly all countries with a multi-party system, at least one party is a regional bloc. No, this process would not change things overnight, but that is the point—and a real strength—of democracy.

I am sympathetic to those who would like to just shut out all this political bickering; it all seems so petty, and I’m sick of it, too. But politics isn’t just Obama versus Romney. It is how we interact with people on a day-to-day basis, and need not involve the formal structures of government. It involves our interaction with other people in any walk of life, from churches to schools to private clubs to our decisions in where we do our shopping and to whom we give our money. It is, in short, how we interact with our community; whether we like it or not, we all live in a community of some sort, and we must find a place within it, amongst the competing interests and crazy ideas of those people who surround us. Whatever the libertarian or liberal-state-providing delusions of individual autonomy may say, we’re stuck with those other people, and we’d better learn to live with them. Many liberals will nod and smile when they hear ideas such as these, but liberals do have a tendency to favor certain aspects of “community” over others, and liberal tolerance is often stunningly intolerant of views that drift outside the constraints of the ideology. Truth be told, a robust civil society is, in fact, traditionally a “conservative” talking point, and there are still plenty of examples of this great conservative tradition in such projects as faith-based initiatives and even some of the Tea Party rhetoric. Still, the Randian, hyper-individualist wing of the contemporary American right has dismissed any sense of obligation to the community, and Congressman Ryan’s effort to at least keep it in the conversation was largely ignored.

I’ve spent enough time studying autocracies that I take democracy seriously, so I will be voting; as unappealing as U.S. politics may sometimes seem, five minutes in a developing nation is usually all it takes to reaffirm one’s faith in our decidedly imperfect system. Being jaded enough in my ideals, I will likely vote the straight Democratic ticket. A second Obama term seems like the somewhat lesser of two evils, and in my dreamland, President Obama might find some way to work with a Republican House led by Congressman Ryan. I am less enthused by an alliance between such opportunists as Mr. Romney and Sen. Harry Reid, neither of whom seem to grasp the scope of the challenges this nation faces. I’m very open to voting for an agreeable Republican, but my state’s Senate race is a foregone conclusion in favor of a hardworking and largely positive-messaged incumbent, and my Republican congressman does not even feel the need to post a political platform to his own website. (Apparently my disgust with Obama and/or love for him is supposed to speak for itself? Given the mediocrity of his Democratic opponent I could have been convinced, but at least the Democrat actually says he’ll do things.) In a refreshing bit of clarity, I am untroubled with my ‘no’ votes on constitutional amendments aiming to ban gay marriage and enact a voter ID law, though even there, I tire of the rhetoric used by many fellow ‘no’ voters. Believe it or not, conscientiously following one’s faith is not bigotry.

So on Tuesday night I’ll settle in with a drink or three to watch the results come in (though I doubt it’ll be nearly as glamorous as my Mexican penthouse election party two years ago, or my run to the White House two years prior). It’ll be a pleasant evening of politics as a spectator sport. But to me, it’s no longer a whole lot more than that. On Wednesday morning I’ll get up, tune out the chatter, and get to work. I’ll make a conscious effort to spend less time glued to the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal and re-commit myself to this city I’m in, whether it’s serving the needy, being a good neighbor, or simply enjoying such communal rites as a parade or a hockey game. I’ll spend fewer nights on the couch and more nights finding new ways to fall in love with the people around me, and their own rather distinct culture that must be preserved and carried forward. After all my study of politics, it is here, I believe, that we find our happiness. I hope a few others will join me.