We’re heading into another midterm election. I just spent 20 minutes on my doorstep talking to the Republican candidate for state representation of our district. While I am registered Independent, I tend to vote heavily Democrat. There was a time when I would mutter that oft-used phrase “fiscally conservative, socially liberal”, but now so many distinctions must be made between social issues I think government should get the hell out of and social issues that impact fiduciary decision-making that it’s no longer sufficiently vague to head off unwanted debate at the pass.
It hit me about 5 minutes into this conversation, how hungry I was for real political engagement. This candidate was a character – animated, humorous – he hadn’t been in the system long enough to turn into a rote zombie boot licking two-faced power suck (seriously, TV, stop doing shows about these assholes). He was earnest, but sufficiently vague for me to think maybe I’ll vote for a Republican. It’s happened before – and not always by mistake.
This candidate reminded me of a first grade teacher I once knew. Quirky, slightly awkward, but always, always willing to talk. We’re so used to the drab, polished demeanor of our national politicians. We get a variety here – they’re complete knuckleheads who say bizarre and reprehensible things (I’m from the state of Michelle Bachmann and Jesse Ventura) or they’re vague and incoherent as if pixie dust will fix the state budget but more commonly, they’re the party’s Stepford candidate – when a slight breeze can blow over their cardboard cutout selves.
I could imagine this guy, years down the road, when our mummy representative finally collapses into a pile of non-pixie dust (the dude has been in office for 4 decades, can I get a term limit hallelujah, please?). The new guy will probably get his teeth fixed. He’ll become more somber. He’ll look less like an uncle you see during the summers at the cabin and more like an undertaker. He’ll be a smooth talker, because he will have said the same thing over and over and it’s what the party leader, who took him under his decrepit wing, said he should say.
He’ll automatically try to reach out and shake your hand when you’re just trying to get to the bathroom. He’ll mistake your purse dog for a baby and kiss it. Whenever he talks to you, you’ll see his eyes darting desperately to the side in search of a teleprompter. His daughter will get knocked up. His son will come out with a documentary on how to be a gay Republican. It will receive a tepid greeting at Sundance. He’ll hire a black Muslim lesbian for his spokesperson to make up for the glaring white heteronormativity of his unwieldy staff (and yes, I meant that to sound dirty).
But today, he’s just this guy who thinks he can make a difference. He laughs and talks amiably. He believes that his country, his state, his town are worth representing. He believes in his ability to be a good representative. I don’t care what party he is in – it reminds me of where politics really should begin. With some hopeful schmuck or schmuckette who believes in stuff. The problem is where it ends up and all the shuffling and unethical compromise in the middle. Did I mention term limits? Term limits, term limits, term limits. Ah, I feel better now.
It took me a couple of decades to get into the habit of midterm voting and I had planned to go this time, mostly for some school referendums. After talking with this candidate, I was reminded of how much I care about participating in this process. No matter what our party affiliations, this man, who I had never met before, who I likely have little in common with, reminded me that we share hope. And we could certainly use some of that right about now.