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HERE COME the national conventions. They used to have real meaning when the nomination wasn't already a done deal, or when the vice-presidential nominee was in doubt. These days, the networks know they won't be a ratings bonanza.
But you don't have to be a political junkie to pay attention to the conventions. Taking an interest in the course of the nation's political leadership may put you in the minority of Americans, but it doesn't necessarily make you a nerd.
If you can suffer through the repetitive partisan rhetoric and insightful network analysis of the convention hall decor, this year's festivities might provide some drama and nuggets of actual news.
So mark your calendar: The Democratic National Convention gets under way July 27 in Boston, and the GOP gathers Aug. 30 in New York.
With the conventions and the presidential election just around the corner, I've come up with a game that I call "Whose Business Is It?" The debate over many of today's hot-button issues is fueled by those who either want to stick their noses where they don't belong, or who would try to exclude noses from where they do belong. The best part about my new game is that I'm the host and the only contestant.
OK, here are today's politically charged categories: Gay marriage, stem-cell research, the right to die, school vouchers, the war in Iraq, and the environment.
That's quite a list, and I don't know if we can fit them all in one column, but we'll try.
All right, then. Gay marriage. Well, I'm sure that who marries whom is not my business, but President Bush thinks it's the Constitution's business to prevent two like-gendered people from getting married. He says it destroys "the sanctity of the family."
But it doesn't destroy the sanctity of my family, which is the only family that's my business. If two people want to get married, any two people, that's their business. How they choose to live is not relevant to how I choose to live.
President Bush has made it his business because gay marriage riles up social conservatives almost as much as abortion does, and diverts attention from his administration's many troubles.
You can make gay marriage your business in a good way if you want to set up a couple of friends on a date. Remember, though, whether you set up a guy and a guy, or a girl and a girl, to be certain that they're gay, or they'll be giving you the business for sure.
Stem-cell research. Uh-oh, this is the one that Republicans think shouldn't be anybody's business because the cells used are derived from human embryos, or future babies.
To begin with, the embryos are developed in a laboratory, not a woman, and when used they are actually about eight months and 25 days away from being babies. Both parties involved have provided their consent, because it is their business that's going into the petri dish.
Stem cells, according to the National Institutes of Health, offer the prospect--the prospect--of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat Parkinson's disease, spinal-cord injury, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. The research could indirectly advance work on Alzheimer's disease and cancer.
So stem-cell research is in everyone's best interest, and is therefore everybody's business.
Here's another life-or-death issue: the right to die. The Republicans think this is everybody's business--the courts', the legislatures', the church's, and so on. But it's not.
What's the value of the individual if one is not allowed to control one's ultimate destiny? It is the definitive "my own business."
Even legal documents expressing one's preferences are being challenged by overzealous relatives and third parties. Still, legal steps are the best way to make sure your wishes aren't ignored if you can't speak for yourself.
In the meantime, turn to your spouse or significant other right now, and if you'd rather not be kept alive by extraordinary measures, say so. That makes it a personal business arrangement that can be legalized later.
Oh, those pesky school vouchers. The Republicans would have you believe that they are the business only of those families lucky enough to obtain them. There's nothing wrong with a few kids getting a good education, except when it's at the expense of all other kids. And that makes it everybody's business.
If you want to improve education, spend money on public education. Don't subsidize private schools with the cockamamie rationalization that public schools, even with less money, will somehow strive to compete for good students. That's some kind of funny business.
Next, the war in Iraq. At the beginning, this was just President Bush's business because many Americans had doubts about Iraq's ties to terrorist activity in this country. But the president persuaded enough people to make it their business, and now, with its insatiable hunger for more American troops and taxpayer dollars, the war is everybody's business.
Nobody wants to see more American lives lost. But abandoning Iraq in the throes of anarchy would be even worse, though not by much, than the distortions and bad intelligence that led us to attack Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein in the first place.
Because President Bush is responsible for the war, the only way to resolve the Iraq issue without the political need to save face is to have a new president handle it, and that's everybody's business, too, on Nov. 2.
How about the environment? That's everyone's business--except, apparently, the Bush administration's.
At a cost of $1 billion a week, the war in Iraq has caused huge budget deficits and a lack of money for everything else. The only green priorities the administration has are those that mean breaks for Big Business. So-called increases in spending on some environmental programs result only from cuts to others. Ask those who have made it their business to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.
Well, that's all the time we have for today. But don't forget, as long as President Bush is in office, there will be many opportunities to play "Whose Business Is It?"