Why do politics matter?

Man standing behind curtain in booth, low section

Courtesy photo: Thinkstock

Man standing behind curtain in booth, low section

Victor Hugg

“Politics is the art of the possible.” — Otto von Bismarck

Recently, the sheer number of individuals who are utterly apathetic with regard to politics has come to the forefront of my mind. An alarmingly high number of young adults in the United States are of the belief that engaging in some manner of meaningful political discourse is boring, complicated or simply a waste of time.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The majority of those in my age demographic are woefully lacking in what I would consider even a basic understanding of the political realm. This degree of carelessness and complacency largely stems from ignorance concerning just how pervasive the effects of politics on our lives are.

Your significant other

In 1924, Virginia enacted a law that banned couples of different races from getting married. A 1967 Supreme Court decision ended all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States (Loving v. Virginia). In other words, you can choose to marry someone regardless of their skin color, in no small part due to a white man and a black woman who got upset about it and fought for their rights.

Unfortunately, restrictions concerning who you can marry still exist. Homosexuals are prohibited from marrying in most states, entirely because of politically active social conservatives. It is thanks to the political action of gay rights advocates that Perry v. Schwarzenegger — the federal lawsuit currently challenging California’s Proposition 8, a ballot initiative which banned same-sex marriages — has made it to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. It is expected that the case will soon make it to the Supreme Court; the resulting decision will no doubt directly affect a great number of American lives. Fighting for your rights and the rights of others is one of the fundamental pillars of politics.

Your sex life

Unmarried people have the right to possess contraception on the same basis as married couples, and unmarried couples have the right to freely engage in sexual intercourse. These are holdings that are derived from a United States Supreme Court decision, Eisenstadt v. Baird. A Supreme Court decision ensures that the possession of obscene material in the privacy of one’s home cannot be made a crime (Stanley v. Georgia). A woman’s rights concerning abortions are directly affected by Supreme Court cases — Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Gonzales v. Carhart — as well as state and federal law.

Indeed, all of the aforementioned cases and the rights associated with them were directly affected by — and continues to affect — laws that came about due to politics.

Your social life

The consumption of alcohol by minors is illegal; what legally constitutes a minor is determined by politics. Politics is what decided that, at 18 years of age, you are told, “Well, you are old enough to vote, buy a gun, join the military, or get married. Oh, but you can’t have a beer.” Politics is what can reverse this preposterous inconsistency.

Smoking marijuana is illegal in the United States, entirely because of a facetious scaremongering campaign, which influenced politicians to the degree that you can be arrested for possessing even a scant amount of the drug.

Although I do not own one, many people my age enjoy having a cell phone. In Europe, telecommunication features cost substantially less, due to political action. Internet in the United States is of a lesser quality while simultaneously being more expensive. Television is regulated and censored by a government entity that is overseen by Congress.

Your education

What you learn and how you learn it is controlled by the Department of Education. How much you pay for any level of education is controlled by politics, be it through taxes or through tuition. If enough voters demanded that our college education be very inexpensive — if not completely free — changes would happen; perhaps our federal budget would be re-written with an emphasis on learning.

Your health and safety

The water you drink, the air you breathe, the food you eat, the care you receive at the doctor’s office — everything relating to the public’s health has roots in a law that was, at one point, a piece of legislation. A bill’s fate is completely determined by politics.

The police enforce the law, which is created by way of influential political action. Your safety here at home as well as abroad is controlled by statutes, agreements and treaties that exist entirely because of politics.

If you are in the armed forces or have any friends or family in the armed forces, you should be concerned with United States foreign policy. Politics determine where our soldiers go to fight, when they fight, how long they will be away, why they are fighting, what weapons they have to fight with, what protection they have, and so forth.

Your car

Nearly all the roads you drive on were constructed and are maintained by the Department of Transportation. You have to pass an exam administered by the DOT to legally drive. How much you pay to use public transit is controlled by politics. Students at Iowa State do not have to pay anything to use the bus system; this was a political decision.

The car you drive has to be built with airbags because there is a safety standard set by the government requiring it. The Iowa law that requires you to wear a seatbelt exists due to political action. Another Iowa law bans texting while driving. However, that legislation is subject to secondary enforcement, meaning a police officer can only cite you if you got pulled over for something else, like speeding. How much you pay for a ticket is directly controlled by a law, passed by politicians.

Gasoline is something that affects millions upon millions of people. How much it costs, how it comes into the United States and its effect on the environment are all examples of political issues that affect all of us.

Your freedom

You enjoy the numerous rights and protections listed in the United States Constitution by way of the intellectual might exhibited by political philosophers. Here is a short list from the Bill of Rights: freedom of — and from — religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures, protection from self-incrimination and double jeopardy, the right to a fair and speedy public trial by an impartial jury, notice of accusations and the right to confront one’s accuser, the right to counsel, protection against excessive bail and fines, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

It is the proper application of law — and by extension, politics — that allows for equal protection under the law. The idea that all of the legal rights which are owed to a person are respected is extremely important.

Whether you go to jail or not for something you did or did not do, under what circumstances you can carry a weapon, your retirement, where you can travel to — and how — what sort of education your children will have, how your business is allowed to run, how the money in your bank is dealt with, what happens when you are a victim of a crime: everything is controlled by politics and it affects your life everyday, regardless of ignorance or apathy.