Sunday, July 30, 2006

Following Politics

Following politics can be an interesting hobby if you are interested in something that never gets boring and mostly is not repetitive. When I was in college, I was very politically active, even interning for a national political campaign. That meant that I had to be up on the issues. There was no way around it as my work depended on my knowledge of what was going on in the world.

Now I am getting a graduate degree in public policy. I find yet again that keeping up with political happenings is a requirement for me and not just a luxury. Because of that, I am keeping CNN on more than usual. I occasionally flip the channel over to Fox News when I want to get the far from fair and balanced view they provide. I can check out the conservative viewpoint and get my blood boiling before I begin thinking through the issues on my own.

My son finds watching news shows fascinating, which I think is really funny. If you put on a cartoon, he will bolt and play. C-Span, though, captivates him. My husband, too, is very political, so we enjoy watching political shows and then talking about them. We usually are only small degrees of the same position apart, so it makes the conversations interesting for us, though I am sure they would seem tedious to others.

Following politics closely can be a full-time job. I find myself very impressed with political show hosts because they often know about so many issues. I am not talking television hosts here. I am talking about radio hosts. They are more educated in general about the issues. Their callers may bring up any topic, and the radio host must know what is going on.

If you are going to start following politics, I would advise you to begin by getting to know the major players. You should find out about the president and his background. Also study powerful senators and Cabinet members. Find out who everyone is and where the person generally stands. That is the best way to get a good idea of the various political positions out there. Know who is Democrat and who is Republican so that you can begin to anticipate how they will respond to certain issues.

The second step is to learn about the major topics in the news. Check out the major newspapers, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. Read The New Yorker and Time magazine. Find out the issues that are happening right now. When you come across an article about which you know little, find out. If you are not sure what FEMA does exactly, read up on it. Use each article you read as a starting point for learning more until you can read through the papers and be familiar with the major issues being discussed.

Then you should get an idea of the general issues that are important. Go to the party websites for the major political parties. Go to the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, and other small parties as well as the big ones. Find out the party platforms. The platforms are the overall issues that are important to the members of the party. You will find, for example, that civil rights is an on-going issue in some parties. The Green Party members believe that environmental sustainability is an important topic. It has been in the news only recently with discussions of oil prices, but there are other planks on that platform. Read the research and get informed so that you know what they mean.

Finding out about party issues through independent research will help you to see both sides of the issues. You will learn how to make sense of everything going on, and then you can follow politics by understanding where everyone stands.

Politics is very important to our lives, but few people are committed to paying attention to politics. That is unfortunate because it is vital to the survival of our governmental system that the people are involved. So if you are looking for something to occupy your time, think about following politics. It is one hobby that is very important.

By Julia Mercer

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