I don’t have a TV, nor do I subscribe to a newspaper. But lately I’ve become a regular reader of Huffington Post. (A news junkie always finds a way to get his fix.)
Over on the right flank, we have a bunch of rich, arrogant morons competing for the Republican presidential nomination by advocating ideas based on religious zealotry and economic dogma, neither the zealotry nor the dogma having the remotest connection to reality. These people are extremely dangerous.
On the left flank we have a disorganized bunch of idealistic young people who have no leadership and are in constant danger of being beaten up by the police. These people have not, as yet, shown any interest in actually governing. Their message seems mostly to boil down to, “Not this — we need something better.”
In the middle we have the shamelessly corrupt Democratic Party, whose sole claim to our loyalty is, “Vote for us! We’re not nearly as scary as those other guys!”
It seems to me there’s something missing from this picture, and I think I know what it is — leaders who will tell the truth and who have a commitment to reforming the system so that it will work, so that ordinary people’s lives will improve.
I have this recurring fantasy of running for Congress. This is a terrible idea, of course. Here are the reasons why I should not run for Congress:
(1) I’m too old. I don’t have the stamina, nor the charismatic good looks.
(2) I’m known to be both an atheist and a socialist, and proud of it. Imagine the attack ads that would be rolled out against me.
(3) I don’t have a big enough bankroll. Not nearly big enough.
(4) I’m not a people person. I don’t have a network of stalwart friends who would be eager to roll up their sleeves and do the tons of volunteer work that would be essential to making a candidacy viable.
(5) I like my quiet lifestyle. I like playing the cello, going to the gym, writing magazine articles about music software, maybe even doing a little yard work. Sure, I’m basically retired — I could free up 30 or 40 hours a week to run for Congress without putting a strain on my budget. But it would put a major strain on my serenity, and I value my serenity.
Marshalled against these very cogent arguments, we have only the tiny voice that says, “Yeah, but somebody ought to do it. You know what needs to be done, and nobody else is doing it. All of those arguments against doing it are just rationalizations. You’re spinning rationalizations because you’re afraid you’d make a fool of yourself.”
Nobody else is doing it. There’s a vacuum. A vacuum sucks.
The problem is anyone who would want to be a leader and actually do what needs to be done to get there probably shouldn’t. You’re assessments of why not to be the front man are not necessary as you’re too smart to prostitute yourself to become one. What is needed to fill the vacuum is ordinary people like you and me being in the elected guy’s face all the time, making suggestions, implying favor and disfavor over issues that person has a role in, and the implication that you have influence either pro or against his/her constituency. They run scared of us when we’re tapping them on the shoulder. I’d be the same if my job relied on the votes of my students. I’d be sucking up to them like politicians suck up to voters (which is why, as an aside, I think the trend in education to evaluate teachers at all on student input is part of the problem regarding the perceived drop in student accountability is counter-productive, some of my best professors now are the ones I didn’t like then). If enough of us were always busy in their affairs we would get more accountability. The proof is that I do it and I get calls from my state senator, personal emails from my congressman, get invited to functions, etc. In short they listen. And you can see how much they listen by how much they pander to vocal organizations. I think we think they don’t listen to individuals because we don’t see huge public pandering to my comments made over coffee with Derek Kilmer (state senator and chair of both the higher education committee and the economic development committee), but he knows I’m a union officer in my local, held in regard as an ideophile by the state organization and am in a position to comment on how talks between he and I go. That means that I have direct influence on the votes of organized college teachers in the state, and that message then gets to K-12 union’s people and then to organized labor as a whole, and how much influence they have on other voters. So a word from me can have a positive or negative affect on his job way beyond my individual vote. And I need not be the panderer to wield that power. Now if everyone would do one little thing to show the bastards we’re paying attention the outcomes would not necessarily be what I’d want 100% of the time but a bette compromise of what we all really want and a reduction of the power of money and the noisy special interests, and that’s democracy I can live with.
I’m not sure I buy your assessment that those who can, shouldn’t. But your point about getting involved in direct discussions with your Congressperson is very good. Of course, you have a union. I don’t. It’s just little old me.
One of the positive things about running for Congress is that even if you don’t win (and you probably won’t), you’ll change the nature of the public discourse. Simply by putting enough shoes on the sidewalk to catch 30 seconds of interest from local media, you can toss cogent questions into the mix — questions that the other candidates will have to address. You may even demonstrate to your Democratic Congressman that he has a constituency on the left that will support him if he moves a few inches in that direction, or to your Republican Congressman that he may become marginalized unless he moves toward the center.
Cogent analysis, but there are those who do run with proper spirit and actions, and those who would stand with you.
Ron is right, the answer is to create a culture that asks of everyone, why should I run? not, why not?
A good place to start is with the woman I consider one of the most cogent of public speakers I’ve heard from in a very long time.
A good place to find some videos of her is jillstein.org