I don’t watch much television. Really, I don’t have the time.

But the other day, having a rare bit of downtime, I decided to kick back and scan through the channels. I landed on CNN. What I saw disgusted me. Between talk of Whitney Houston’s untimely death and the unrelenting bloodshed in Syria, the screen was filled with images of Republican presidential candidates spewing hatred, arrogance and outright lies in their desperate attempt to secure their party’s nomination.

Mitt Romney’s floundering campaign would be sad — if he weren’t so robotic. Whether wooing Florida seniors with a stiff rendition of “America the Beautiful” or insisting that he is in fact a “severely conservative” candidate, the man can’t shed his Richie Rich image. (To be fair, singing on the campaign trail isn’t a tactic exclusive to Republicans. In January, President Obama gave us a few lines of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” But hey, at least Obama had fun with it. Romney’s performance, on the other hand, seemed more like a contractual obligation.)

And as for Rick Santorum, he’s been busy warning voters of Obama’s ostensible war on religion as part of his broader scheme to charm the religious right. What’s my favorite recent Santorum-ism? That President Obama’s “overt hostility to faith in America” is leading us to “the guillotine.” Yes, he really said this on multiple occasions.

These were the sorts of things I was seeing on the news that day. Just as I was wondering, “Why in the world I was subjecting myself to this garbage?” CNN cut to a commercial break. What came on next? An attack ad against Santorum put out by Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super PAC.

I guess it was inevitable that I’d encounter one of these ads. As of Feb. 17, Restore Our Future had bought more than $3.2 million in media space in Michigan, HuffPost reported . In response, the Red White and Blue Fund, a pro-Santorum super PAC, is set to spend $1.1 million in airtime and TV in the state.

All of these buys may be pumping a bit of extra money into the Michigan economy, but any potential benefits will certainly come at the expense of our sanity.

And then, on Saturday, I had another unanticipated encounter with the Michigan Republican primary. Stopped at a red light on Hill Street, I saw Romney’s campaign bus drive by. It wasn’t quite as flashy as Sarah Palin’s now-infamous Constitution-wrapped bus in which she toured the country last summer, but it gets the point across. Stenciled beneath the words “Conservative, Businessman, Leader” is his campaign’s stirring slogan: “Believe in America.”

I wondered how much Romney actually believes in his “Believe in America” catch phrase or whether it was simply the slogan that tested best in his well-funded focus groups.

Like a lot of us, I can’t stand American politics. It makes my blood boil. But whatever you do, politics won’t leave you alone and it shouldn’t. It follows you wherever you go. As Romney and Santorum descend upon Michigan like vultures, tear each other down in their eagerness to secure their place in history and (I hope) hand President Obama his second term along the way, I encourage you to participate in politics with the knowledge that we can only get out of the democratic process what we put into it.

The political process is a theatrical production: it’s tedious, and it’s staged drama. I know how hard it is to stomach the absurdities of elections, and I know how easy it would be to turn off the television when a candidate gives us a smile as he dances coyly around the question he was asked, but don’t let it alienate you. There will be insincerities, all the more so as we approach Super Tuesday and the general election itself, but don’t let them drive you away.

Politics has become a parody of itself. That much is obvious. But it’s a twisted irony that this thing we call politics also has a bearing on everything that matters — national security, warfare, taxes, tuition costs, economic inequality, civil rights, healthcare and so on. To let the Romneys and Santorums disaffect you from the theatrical process would increase the likelihood that you’ll be dissatisfied with the tangible outcome of their work.

As the melodramatic political battle for Michigan begins, and as we near next Tuesday’s primary, think about that.

Daniel Chardell can be reached at chardell@umich.edu.

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