Monday, November 1, 2010

One from column A. One from column B.

My recent leap from the political bleachers into the arena itself was an experience rich with learning. Unalloyed defeat tends to be instructive if you manage to survive it and, fortunately, having your head handed to you in an election isn’t nearly so fatal as, well, actually having your head handed to you.

One of the things I learned that may surprise you is how many men and women run for office for what we would universally agree are the right reasons: a desire to serve, a willingness to sacrifice and a sincere conviction that their ideology, properly applied, will secure the common good. I say I learned this lesson only recently, because my prior experience – as a reporter, as member of the polity, as a consumer of candidates’ rhetoric and as a voter – hadn’t provided much evidence to support the notion that earnest hearts of service beat beneath many candidates’ American flag lapel pins. I say this may surprise you, because chances are you’ve had similarly scant evidence yourself.

The reason is that, by the time the attack ads start running cheek by jowl, and certainly by the time you get to cast your ballot, those candidates have fallen to the clanging, grinding, dollar-fueled machines that propel the candidates for whom you DO get to vote. Your choice is made among professional pols and puppet patsies, who would be indistinguishable from one another (at least on grounds of character) if not for those handy Rs and Ds. You may cheer on one side or the other, but come Wednesday morning, the real comfort is we don’t really rely on these folks for much. We go on raising our families, practicing our professions, living out our faiths, satisfying our responsibilities, ensuring our own security, plotting our own courses, and it matters almost not at all who prevails. It’s the difference between ordering the egg drop soup or the hot and sour. 

But I count myself blessed to at least have shared the hustings with the sincere rabbi with a first career singing Christmas albums; the single mom trying to make a better life for her boy; the philanthropic businessman with a teacher’s insight; the Marines and the Navy SEAL looking to vindicate further the oath they took and honored on real battlefields -- and a good dozen more..

As for the candidates still on the ballot? Sorry about that. No substitutions allowed.


  1. Miguel sent me over and I have to say he was right. Smart, funny and a with more than a dollop of common sense. I enjoyed your writing and I'm looking forward to more. I've added you to my blog roll. I wish you much success though I think you'll do just fine.

  2. Well written and enjoyable, as usual. However, I disagree "it matters almost not at all who prevails." This all-too-common sentiment is a cop out. It isn't easy staying engaged and informed in our democracy, sifting through the wheat and the chaff of lies, distortion and character assassination. But it is important because it matters very much who prevails.

    Life and death decisions hang in the balance. If you believed the Iraq war was necessary for our national security, it mattered the Bush won in 2000. If you believe the opposite, it matters that Gore lost. Lives were affected by the war. Other lives would have been affected by not going to war.

    If you favored health care reform, every Senator and Congressperson elected (and not elected) mattered very much. Lives will be affected one way or the other.

    Too often our fellow citizens give up and don't vote because "it matters almost not at all who prevails." It matters very much. There are many more examples, of course, TARP, stimulus, Wall Street reform, climate change legislation. All of these issues were or will be enacted or defeated by razor thin margins.

    Robert, I know you are not advocating that folks not vote because "it matters almost not at all who prevails." But some may take your comments that way. They should not forget the words of the Greek statesmen, Perciles, "Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you."

  3. First, Miguel, thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    My Dad -- a member of the Greatest Generation, a fellow who fought World War 2 to protect democracy -- used to tell me "Robbie, vote. They haven't made it illegal yet."

    And I have voted in every single election for the past 32 years. I think those folks with the blue thumbs are heroes of a sort. I KNOW my Dad was.

    So yes. Vote. Never let them stop you.

    But the point I was making -- and which I maintain -- is that by the time voters hit the polls today, the choices have been whittled and chiseled and ground away to a sameness. With just an exception or two, the people I thought were best for the jobs they sought were blasted out during the primaries. And what I learned, what surprised and saddened me, what a less credulous naive fellow would have known, what you know yourself, is that they never stood a chance from the jump.

    It's easy, with all the screaming ads, and with the press covering these as "races," to be deluded into thinking the choices today are between one thing and a very different other thing. In most cases, sadly, if you could turn off the noise machine and calmly compare them on an objective basis, you'd see little to choose between the two.

    My current favorite example, and one that ought to matter to lawyers: The state of illegal wire tapping by the federal government is indistinguishable in this administration from the last. How many folks who voted for Obama thought that would be the case?

    So yes. Vote. But know that when you make your choices, most of the best items have already been striped from the menu.

  4. Thank you, Six, for your kind words.

    Besides the flattery, any man with a regular Kipling feature on his blog is a friend of mine.

  5. The Sunday Specials. Six does Kipling, other bloggers play music and post the videos, give recipes of their favorite meals with pics added for effect, some will do prayers or simply take a day of rest.

    You must select your Sunday Thing.

  6. Nifty. I'm going to serialize a novel (since Lord knows I couldn't sell the darn thing).