I was listening to the most recent Patreon bonus episode of If Books Could Kill, in which they picked two random political pundits to talk about—Kathleen Parker and Chris Cilia. The Cilizza segment was particularly interesting, as it led into a long-ish conversation about pundits in general and the tendency to cover politics as theater—who said what and how we think that will play—rather than talking about the actual impact and effectiveness of policy.
I feel like this tendency to go meta is a real problem; it is a big part of why I have pulled back from following and talking about politics in recent years. I still listen to the occasional episode of Pod Save America if there is nothing else in the queue, but I have largely stopped listening to all of the other political shows I used to follow. I have mostly come around to thinking that if you believe it is important to be involved in politics, you ought to run for office, get involved with a campaign (either for an office or an issue), or get engaged locally where you can actually make a difference. Everything else is just hobbyism and tourism.
I suppose that is fine, to the extent that is just one more form of entertainment for people, like following box scores and playing fantasy baseball, or speculating on Twitter about the latest Star Wars news. The difference here, though, is that politics and how we talk about candidates and issues has a direct material impact on people’s lives—not the who’s-up/who’s-down, this-week’s-gaffe kind of stuff, but how that sort of coverage affects voters and the outcomes of elections and legislative votes. When your hobby determines whether or not someone can get healthcare, or marry the person they love, or be recognized as a full human and citizen, that seems like a problem.
I don’t know quite where to draw the line, though. I think it is important to know what is going on in the world around us and to be informed about current events, to know know some degree of the context thereof, and to have some opinions about them that are based on facts. The hard question—and one that is probably impossible to answer—is what matter and what does not, as well as the follow-up question of how deep one needs to go on any particular current even or issue. That is going to be different for each of us and it seems like there is no clear boundary for what is a useful amount of interest and what is frivolous or obsessive.