WASHINGTON – Washington Post columnist and Fox News Channel regular Charles Krauthammer has a book out that has spent nearly the last four months camped out near the top of The New York Times Non-Fiction Best Seller List called “Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics.” In it is a compilation of his columns from the past 30 years, some of which are political, but many of which deal with broader topics like psychology, sports, the existence of God, physics, etc.
Although this book is a recycling of older works, it succeeds in getting the reader to take a broader look at what is going on in the world beyond the day-to-day grind of current events. But it also raises another question — if there are things that matter, what are things that don’t matter?
Getting caught up in the inconsequential is something the media (myself included) are guilty of doing. Things like the latest Gallup tracking poll in Iowa, the last subcommittee vote on defense appropriations, interpreting the latest remarks from the Federal Reserve chairman as to how interest rates could be affected or where the FDA may come down on a particular pharmaceutical could all be examples of this minutia, which is very important to a niche crowd but not to most people.
However, there are a lot of things that get played up from all areas on the ideological spectrum blanketing the news that are deemed important, but probably have less of an impact in someone’s life than any of the aforementioned examples.
The proliferation of the news media through the Internet, cable television and even talk radio has certainly been a positive step for our society. But one of the unintended consequences has been that it has created two types of people — those who are completely, and perhaps intentionally, oblivious to what is going on in the world, and those who are hypersensitive and even to the point they’re emotionally involved with some current events, especially politics.
As this has evolved, it has been that hypersensitive side of the equation that has driven the news, at least in part. If you tuned into any one the major cable news channels, MSNBC, CNN or Fox News, over the past few months for 15-20 minutes there’d be a high probability you’d see any one of these following topics covered like it was a potentially life-altering news story: ill-advised remarks from rocker-activist Ted Nugent, the so-called BridgeGate scandal tied to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, what did who know when after the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi terrorist attack, allegedly homophobic remarks from reality “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson, how duly elected representatives in Arizona chose to defend so-called religious freedom in their state.
Certainly all of these topics are important in their own way to those who have been directly touched by the outcomes. But in the broader scheme, they’re things that don’t matter. We may be led to believe they matter, which for whatever reason have had their importance inflated be it for driving a narrative to score political points, to prop up television ratings for one of these particular outlets or just sort of exist to give us something to talk about and treat as if they’re baseball standings in the middle of a hot pennant race, even though we’re only into the first month and a half of the season.
Closer to home, back in Mobile, there are those same tendencies. Look at last year’s failed congressional bid for so-called Tea Party upstart Dean Young. It wasn’t necessarily the crazy political stances he took, and there’s no denying they were out of the mainstream, but it was that the focus was beyond the local politics of south Alabama.
Aside from vowing to fight the U.S. Department of Interior’s effort to turn the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta into a national park, Young would deviate from the local issues and venture into hot-button social issues like same-sex marriage, President Barack Obama’s birthplace and the possibilities of his impeachment. Those definitely would be strong contenders for things that don’t matter.
That is the message voters in Alabama’s dark-red First Congressional District seemed to have relayed in last fall’s special election, and that ought to be a lesson for the activist wing of the local Tea Party movement.
Small government and self-reliance are important big picture messages that are worth emphasizing. But taking that message and selling it in a way to show implementing these so-called Tea Party philosophies would have a positive impact on someone’s life needs to be where this should be focused. It’s not in some abstract discussion about the federal debt that ventures into right-wing nut-job hyperbole that is so easily demagogued by more mainstream pop cultural forces.
Even after that ugly contest between Young and Bradley Byrne, there’s still a tendency to wander into the irrelevant by complaining about Common Core, Benghazi, IRS abusing non-profits. Sure those things are important to some degree — a potentially out-of-control executive branch of the federal government out to be exposed — but preaching to the choir about the latest Glenn Beck outrage isn’t going to grow your cause. It’s going to make your side more shrill and off-putting for someone that isn’t hyper-sensitized to politics and just wants to live their life.
The moral of this isn’t to just not sweat the small stuff, but recognize what the small stuff is.