Sabato's Crystal Ball

The War on Night People

Larry J. Sabato, Director, U.Va. Center for Politics March 15th, 2007

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Rarely does a political analyst stray from electoral politics–but this is war. And there’s a direct connection to politics.

This war isn’t on terrorism; it’s on “night people”–the tens of millions of us who thrive at night and dread mornings every bit as much as Dracula. Based on personal observations in my 54 years, I’d say a majority of us are night people, and a large majority of the creative individuals who teach, act, write, and do art and music for a living (the very foundation of civilization) are devoted to the night.

Yes, it’s possible that this view is skewed by my University existence, where students and most faculty members retire somewhere between one and four o’clock in the morning–and later on the weekends. Yet consider the “morning people” you know–the sanctimonious ones who brag about getting up at 5am for an hour of vigorous workout in the gym; the smiley ones who are relentlessly cheerful in the parking lot at 7:45am; the dull ones you can’t call after 9pm because they’re already asleep. Morning people are held in disdain, and rightly so.

Now comes again the dreaded Daylight Saving Time–except for Vietnam, it’s the worst legacy of LBJ’s Great Society from the 1960s. The length of DST was expanded in 1974 and again in 1985, more evidence of the insidious but effective “Day Lobby.” This year, thanks to an outrageous proviso tucked away in an act of Congress—passed with virtually no public debate in 2005–DST has been extended a full month (three weeks on the front end and one week on the back end). With DST starting in early March and not ending until early November, the morning people have selfishly grabbed eight of the twelve months for their lifestyle choice.

The exaggerated claim of the law’s backers–that this move will save umpteen barrels of oil by pushing activities into evening daylight when less electricity is supposedly required–is hotly disputed by other experts, who insist the gain is minimal at best. Moreover, hardworking farmers are rightly unhappy about getting up deep in darkness to begin their day, and miserable schoolchildren will have to wait for the school bus in the dark in most places. (Have our legislators never read the many studies showing that children do not function well early in the morning and need later, not earlier, school start times?) Perhaps even more important, the productivity of night people will plummet. If Alan Greenspan is right and there is a recession at the end of this year, just remember one of the factors that caused it.

Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) is the mastermind of this legislative malarkey, along with his “cosponsor in crime,” Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI). Markey and Upton actually tried to swallow up two additional months for DST before some affected businesses complained.

Markey had the unmitigated gall to assert that, “The beauty of DST is that it just makes everyone feel sunnier.” Everyone feels sunnier?! Well, Congressman Markey, I have news for you. I will bet that a majority of your own constituents in the Bay State disagree. I hope they let you know their true position. You’ve earned a permanent place of dishonor in the Nighttime Hall of Shame for this classic, Massachusetts-liberal, Big Government overreach. Get your doggone hands off our clocks–and VCRs, and all the other electronic gear we had to waste time resetting last Sunday!

There is just one ray of real sunshine in this story. The new law acknowledges the obvious: that people won’t like it, and it won’t accomplish a blessed thing that it has promised. Under the legislation Congress has the option to quickly move back to the old system–a relatively even, fair split of the year between Day and Night people.

Rise up! Bombard your members of Congress with calls and emails and stopwatches, demanding time equity and fairness for nocturnal citizens.

Night People of America, unite! You have nothing to lose but the sickeningly early buzzing of your alarm clocks.