My father, who died in 2008, was a welder. He came home from working like a dog all day, washed off the sparks and the grime — and sat down to read the newspaper, which in those days came out in the afternoon.
He had a good idea of what the president and Congress were doing. You should have heard him talking about the Democrats and the unions.
He read the editorial page. He yelled at the columnists, except the rare ones he liked. "That one has some sense," he would growl, shaking the newspaper.
He knew what the mayor was doing. He knew what the School Board was doing. He thought the school superintendent was a moron.
Only now, decades later, does all this take on a Norman Rockwell feeling — a hard-working American coming home to educate himself about the affairs of the day. Back then, it was just the normal routine to hear him go on.
Like he owned the joint, I used to think.
Which, as it turns out, he did.
You own it. I own it. That rich guy over there owns it — to exactly the same extent that you and I do.
The bum on the street owns it, even if somebody else with his nose stuck up in the air doesn't like it.
People who came here and became Americans by choice own it. The struggling middle class owns it. The poor people own it.
Everybody owns it.
Which means that everybody ought to pay attention.
Many Americans don't vote at all. Many of us never lift a finger to find out anything about what's going on.
Surely you've seen the studies about how dumb we are as a society. More people can name a judge on American Idol than can name the three branches of American government.
(Executive, legislative, judicial.)
Another study found that more Americans knew all five members of The Simpsons than the five freedoms in our First Amendment.
(Religion, speech, press, assembly, petition.)
(Also: Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie.)
In a way, I understand this indifference. We are incredibly comfortable as a nation. We have the luxury of fiddling with our iPods and game systems and shopping malls without worrying about whether the American government is going to fall, or whether a king is going to take over again.
On top of that, politics is a turnoff for most reasonable folks. Politics is run mostly by people who think the way to "win" is to trash somebody else. This is because we have abandoned politics to a few insiders who have warped it for their own purposes.
That is why we should pay attention.
We should pay more attention to what Washington is doing. We should pay more attention to what Tallahassee is doing (and in my opinion, Tallahassee is doing some things that are very bad for Florida). We should pay more attention to what City Hall and the School Board are doing.
If we don't, then the same bunch in Washington will keep right on driving the country off the cliff. The same bunch in Tallahassee is going to throw this state back into a Faulknerian, mouth-breathing stupidity and keep it there forever. Paying attention is not something optional that you can get around to one day.
Tell everybody you know.