One of the most frequently quoted statements of Karl Marx is: "Religion is the opiate of the people."
In context, Marx was speaking of religion as a condition that arose to help humanity cope with its struggles. He believed that calling on mankind to give up religion would mean calling upon them to give up the conditions of life that require what he saw as a coping mechanism.
There is a measure of ambiguity about the usage of opium in the statement because in Marx's day, opium was legally available and widely prescribed.
In any case, the metaphor of opium can be seen as Marx's view of religion as being a painkiller and something that dulls the mind.
More than a century and a half later, I would like to amend Marx's statement to better fit our modern American context: Politics is the opiate of the people.
What do I mean?
There is this false optimism that somehow our political process will offer the cure for all that ails our society. If we only elect the right candidate, we can solve the problems we face. What ensues is mostly an attempt by either candidate to cast the other as a wrong choice that will bring certain doom.
This year is more of the same. In the end, there are no substantial differences between either John McCain or Barack Obama that will result in any real discernible outcome for the American people.
You will either get more war in Afghanistan or more war in Iraq. You will either get more spending on expansive government programs or more corporate welfare. Both will push for more regulation on financial institutions without addressing the subsidies and easy credit offered by the government to many of these institutions. Both will offer more aid to countries such as Georgia while aggressively posturing against Russia and Iran.
The only real division that can be drawn between these candidates is concerning social and moral issues, most of which have no business being in the federal domain. That is where people line up to make their stand, fighting for the "heart and soul" of the nation.
This is the opiate of the people. They are drugged into believing that these are the issues that will guarantee the future vitality of our nation. They are corralled into voting booths to support the candidate that supports their issue, or vote against the candidate that opposes their issue.
I cannot count the number of times I've talked to Republican-voting people who curse those "liberal Democrats," or how many times I've listened to Democrat-voting people curse the Republican policies.
The reality is that most people are not Republicans and Democrats; they are anti-Republicans and anti-Democrats, and they vote accordingly. They are convinced by the campaigns not to vote for what they believe in, but to vote against what they do not.
This is what is passing for democracy in our nation, and the people are distracted by the false feud that exists between the two parties.
That is not to say that we do not need the voices of Democrats and Republicans, but we do not need them to be our only voices, especially when much of what they are saying is the same.
Until we can break the stranglehold these two entities have on our politics, we'll never see true "change" in this country.
It is an uphill battle, for sure, but one that is definitely worth fighting, for the sake of principle, and to "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity" as our Founding Fathers put it.
And yet, we still find ourselves taking the opium every election cycle, hoping that somehow this dose will do for us what the last dose didn't.br>
Here's to hoping we'll leave the bottle on the shelf the next time around.