The day our faith community found that Rex does not have long to live was the same day as the third presidential debate. One of my friends, who is very close with Rex’s family, and is not anti-politics by any means, tweeted: “Unless either candidate has a cure for cancer, I’m not really interested in what they have to say.”
I saw this after I’d spent the requisite 90 minutes yelling at the television screen every time Mitt Romney said something that was either completely untrue or completely the opposite of what he’s been saying since he started running for president in 2007, guffawing over President Obama’s “bayonets and horses” line and basically root, root, rooting for our household’s home team.
It was a sobering reminder that for some people that day, politics was simply not important.
Nor should it have been.
But for those of us who look helplessly on, unable to do more than pray – and unsure whether that’s even worth doing anyway – politics is not an irrelevant or trivial pastime. Because politics, if viewed correctly, is a way to make life better for all of the Rexes in the world.
For the Rexes whose parents don’t have jobs that offer them health insurance, the political process of 2008 has led to legislation that will finally allow them to afford medical care. For the Rexes whose parents are destitute, this political process could very much determine whether the rest of their society comes to their aid. For the future Rexes of all income levels, this political process offers a choice between a candidate who supports government-funded scientific research that could one day find a cure for cancer and another whose proposed policies leave little to no room for government spending beyond the military once his tax cuts and budget caps are factored in.
That’s dully practical and admittedly not helpful for the Rex whose life doctors expect to end before the winner on Nov. 6 has time to get his feet wet in 2013. I’m not trying to provide a comfort I am ill-qualified to give. Simply to rescue the political process in all its pettiness, tawdriness and ugliness from the irrelevance to which we frequently consign it.
In a sense, all some of us can do is try to leave our children who do survive a better world, one in which it’s more possible for the next Liam or the next Rex to survive these evil diseases, one in which it’s more possible for more children to receive the levels of care these children were and have been blessed to receive, regardless of the outcome.
That’s why I care about politics, despite its many failings and the pervasive opportunity for selfishness and corruption to stain its beneficent veneer. Because for all of its flaws, politics can change the lives of the powerless. The destitute, the disabled, the diseased – their lives are much better today for the politics that led to the institution of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, welfare and now health reform.
On the days when politics seems to matter least, perhaps that’s actually when it matters most.