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Americans Really Love Politics

This piece was first published in The Hill on March 29, 2021


Americans like to say they hate politics, but Joe Biden and the new administration would do well to make a more realistic assessment. For many men in particular, politics seems to be a stand-in for the wars and blood sports that historically filled their time between planting and harvest. Former Sen. Jim Webb from Virginia, a decorated Marine, said of his own Scotch-Irish American bloodline in his book, “Born Fighting,” that when his people weren’t battling a shared enemy, they were fighting each other.


Webb’s analysis is clearly too limited. Fighting is a big part of most cultures, and people seem to enjoy it — until it strikes near home. Literature and history are full of fights within families, tribes, nations, religions, and political factions. The advantage of politics is that it gets the fighting out of the house and family, where it is especially dangerous. The American Constitution is a framework designed by the Founders to manage inevitable conflict by balancing interests to check each other. As James Madison wrote in Federalist 51, “This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect [i.e., lack] of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public.” No one could put it better.


Many women also say they hate politics, but the contention is not convincing. In the real world, many seem to enjoy it, not least for the opportunities it provides for gaining power, arousing men, and identifying the strong ones. I am reminded of an iconic photo from 1914 of joyous women in Berlin rushing to put flowers in the muzzles of the rifles of a column of smiling German soldiers headed off toward Paris. Four years later after 2 million dead and years of near starvation, the mood was no doubt different.


War leaders, especially aggressive ones, are popular with Americans and indeed with other people. They flock to leaders