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The Four Stages of Presidential Politics

April 7, 2012

In this article I will attempt to demonstrate what happens to the American psyche over the course of a presidential term. This is of course a generalization, but should apply equally to members of both political parties.

The first stage of this cycle is obvious: during an election year activism and political awareness are at an all-time high. But what about the other three years – where does this awareness go? Is it stored at Party Headquarters with leftover bumper stickers and folding chairs? Does it pass to the President along with our votes? Or does it have its own cycle of transmogrification?

Stage 1: Election Year (passionate involvement): This is when Americans are at the height of our political awareness. We have opinions about everything (even if they’re the same opinions we spouted four years ago and haven’t bothered to rethink). We decry or make excuses for the established order. We blatantly accuse the other party of illogical anti-American policies. The new (or incumbent) candidate must win, for his opponent will be the ruin of us all.

Stage 2: Election Hangover (vindication or disgust): After the election half of us mutter in disgust while the other half celebrate victory. The losers prophesy doom and the winners predict a fruitful four years. But nobody on either side is arguing with the same force. There’s a feeling of resignation on both sides. For the losers it’s obvious; they have to endure another term at the hands of fools who are ruining the country. For the winners the resignation is more subtle; they’ve expended so much energy that they need to step away and return to their daily routines. And in any case their man is in office. It’s his job now.

Stage 3: Election Rejection (don’t bother me with trivial details): Nobody wants to talk about issues in the middle of a Presidential Term. All we’re concerned with is the state of the economy, and it’s often simplified into a single question: Is the President doing a good job? We forget that our own contributions are as important as his.

Stage 4: Election Amnesia (this year will make all the difference): The year before a Presidential Election we start to ramp up our activism again. Forgotten issues come to light. We render new judgments – or recycle old ones – about the past few years. Members of the incumbent party skew the statistics to prove how effective their leader was while members of the opposition skew them to prove his ineffectiveness.

And meanwhile, in the larger picture, the country teeter-totters along like a drunken driver walking the line. We don’t go anywhere but deeper into debt because we change direction every four to eight years. It’s been 24 years since one party placed two Presidents in office in a row (the second of whom was the last single-term president; draw your own conclusions). It’s been 84 years since it happened with three. And while this may be interpreted as a successful example of checks and balances, the overall result is unimpressive and stagnant.

The four-year term of the American Presidency has created an unhealthy cycle within the voters’ consciousness. We’ve come to equate voting with activism, as if that one act every four years is the necessary extent of our political involvement. Then we take three years off, living unchanged lives and paying at most token attention to the very issues we were so passionate about during election year.

Of course there are many exceptions to this generalization. If you’re steaming under the collar right now feel free to exclude yourself from this judgment. But seeing how 40% of Americans aren’t registered to vote and another 20% don’t vote even though they are registered, I think it’s safe to say a majority of us follow this model.

So what can we do? I’m not advocating for longer Presidential terms. I don’t want either Party to stage a power-grab and dictate the future. It seems we’re stuck with what we have, and not until something better comes along but until it stops working altogether. It’s in the best interest of both parties to keep the system intact. But it’s not in the people’s best interest, and it’s not in the country’s best interest either.

Until our political awareness is constant instead of cyclical, the established order will continue. I don’t like where we’re heading. You don’t like where we’re heading. The question becomes: are we willing to sacrifice the relative security and comfort of our current lifestyle to make things better for our children, or will we succumb to the American way and let the future fend for itself?

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