A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of voters in [South Carolina] finds that 55% say Sanford is about as ethical as most politicians. (link)]
That's just sad. What's worse is that I'm not sure they're wrong.

One of the reasons I so deeply loathe the GOP is that they have actively endeavored to discourage the American citizenry from expecting more. Partly, it's just the endemic lack of ethics among their elected officials, their constant bleated assertions of moral superiority and spectacular offerings of evidence to the contrary. And partly it's their having repeatedly and shamelessly exploited the greatest weakness of the generally disengaged American citizenry—the cognitive dissonance which allows us to concurrently hold the conflicting beliefs that our government can be trusted and that all politicians are crooks.

The GOP are masters at nurturing both of those ideas: The Bush administration was as much about encouraging the populace to trust them (and trust them as the only party who could really protect and provide for the nation), as it was about meeting the lowest expectations possible of our government, and lowering the bar even further.

It's a bizarre and intractable dichotomy, and terrifying as hell, because it is within that tension that the possibility (and inevitability) of a culture of political disengagement, the void of expectation, resides. Trusting the government to do no deliberate harm to its people permits the denial of wrongdoing—"Our government wouldn't do that!"—unless and until the evidence becomes overwhelming, at which time the second rationalization kicks in—"Well, all politicians are crooks, anyway; what do you expect?" From naïveté to apathy, in one lazy step.

Leaping from one to the other skips over the middle ground in which the politically active reside, that constant state of awareness, connectivity, attention. It is that space from whence government accountability—and therefore good governance—springs, but such is dependent on a majority of the electorate being willing to do the important work of a democratic citizen.

Leaving a small group to carry the burden of caring doesn't work—especially when both parties will happily marginalize activists as hysterical lunatics at every turn, and the impetus to stay disengaged makes accepting that characterization so very appealing to the rest of the populace, conveniently masking as it does any reminder that one's own indifference is not just ignoble, but dangerous.

As long as the majority of Americans insist on maintaining their illogical, disparate regard for government and the people who run it, and uncritically subscribing to the notion that those of us who don't share their interest in preserving a lethargic freedom from responsibility are simply nuts, the GOP will retain a serious place in federal government, even as they hold and promote the idea that federal government should be effectively destroyed, save for national defense.

It's utterly, mind-bogglingly frustrating to watch. I want a better government, but fear we'll never get it, because so few people see a reason to expect more.

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