Tanned, rested and irrelevant

August 31, 1996|By Andrew Ratner

I LIVE in two worlds.

One is the newspaper where I work. There, colleagues follow the polls and ''convention bounces,'' debate whether moderates or extremists will seize control of their party and enthusiastically track the horse race of the presidential campaign.

The other is the neighborhood where I reside. People raise their children, juggle work and recreation, squeeze in mowing the lawn and tending the flowers -- and didn't give a whit about the goings-on in San Diego or Chicago.

Discussions on my street this summer traversed many topics, the tragic and mundane. Neighbors shuddered over the breakup of a marriage on the block and the death of a teen-ager, who lived on the next street over, in a pedestrian accident at the beach. They discussed half-done home-improvement projects and those that will never get to half-done. They talked about puny crabs, drippy weather, the flighty Orioles, the big Target store that opened, the small video store that closed, and the latest excess from the mouth of Howard Stern (that was the men talking, of course.)

But outside of an off-hand crack or two, I don't ever recall anyone seriously discussing Bill Clinton or Bob Dole. The candidates and what they represent (if anything) were nowhere on the radar screen.

I live on an average block, I believe, and not one uniquely apolitical. There are nurses, a computer technician, secretaries, a CPA, a firefighter, mothers at home, middle-managers. In the driveways sit flashy sports cars, family mini-vans and workhorse pickups. We don't talk politics, I surmise, because the pursuit of happiness consumes most everyone's energy.

This isn't the America my elders knew, gathered around the radio hearth, wondering when the boys will come home. Or families towel-drying the dinner dishes as they listened to Uncle Walter intone about the Cold War.

Noisy lives

Now, worries seem closer to home: downsizing, day-care, drugs and depravity. The noise in people's immediate lives drowns out the national agenda and the scripted party conventions.

Only one home in five watched the Democrats' gala. As for the Republicans, their best night, when Mr. Dole spoke, drew fewer viewers than their least-watched night four summers ago. That voters in the '90s have been able to be so apathetic about a direction for Washington underscores the collective confusion and faithlessness in government.

When a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll recently asked voters to describe their philosophy, the largest group, 28 percent, described themselves as moderate -- probably meaning they didn't believe strongly one way or another. Another 10 percent couldn't describe any personal bent.

The same disconnection between talk on my block and coverage of political ''inside baseball'' is also evident in the tracking of ''consumer confidence.''

''Consumer confidence hit a new six-year high in August,'' it was reported this week. And there's a bridge for sale cheap in Brooklyn, too.

The link is gone between consumerism and confidence -- with easy credit, auto leases and no-payment-now, we'll-sock-you-later purchase plans. Folks buy without money, or surety, in a way undreamed of by their parents and grandparents, the ''children of the Depression.''

Perhaps it's only natural that we aren't as trusting of politicians. Bonds once stronger -- in religion and marriage, in medicine and consumer products, between employer and employee -- are crumbling. Whatever public trust they had, the politicians have spin-doctored and double-talked away.

Tanned, rested and ready our newly minted nominees may be. Relevant, they're not.

Andrew Ratner is director of zoned editorials for The Sun.

Pub Date: 8/31/96

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