Doorstep Politics: Sometimes It’s Not About the Party

canstockphoto5811625We’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.

16 Comments on “Doorstep Politics: Sometimes It’s Not About the Party

  1. Agreed. With those term limits, a flat tax please and laying off of 30-40% of all government workers (city, state and federal). Corporate America has let go of more than 40% of its American workers over the last decade.

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    • I’m for term limits. The flat tax debate really needs to be qualified, since routinely, flat tax plans proposed in this country become a battle over what gets defined as income. Most Republican plans call for exempting capital gains, which seems disingenuous at best.
      Not sure that laying off 7-9 million people would be best for our country at this point, but the number of Federal government employees is currently at its lowest point since 1966, so perhaps it’s heading in a better direction. And Corporate America has a lot to answer for in terms of shedding American workers for cheaper, less qualified labor abroad.

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  2. I agree with term limits. But the other thing that needs to happen is to educate the populace and get them out there to vote. Voter turnout, especially in the midterm elections, is pathetic. I hate the political ads; they’re mostly stretching the truth or outright lies.

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    • Yes – the midterm average voter turnout is about 40% and education is a pivotal point. Admittedly, I didn’t vote at midterm elections until I was about 30, when I saw that it was a time when parties and fringe groups would try to sneak issues in under the wire. I hated feeling stunned when something got passed or approved when no one was looking.

      Political ads seem pointless to me – mouths moving, nothing really being said and all the fake PR posing with families and their pets. Websites, debates, and voting records are much more useful in getting the pulse on a candidate. I did enjoy going a round or two today with the candidate on my doorstep – all very civil and engaging.

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  3. It sounds so refreshing to hear about real political engagement. Sadly our democracies have fallen into a sad state of affairs. If your free-talking candidate progresses, he will quickly learn that phrases not stated quite right get him in big trouble, disengaged voters are happy to return the zombies to office at alarming rates in the US and those ridiculous ads actually work. He then stops talking and acting like a real person. While term limits might help, the real problem is the vast number of voters who are not zealots for a party or a cause tuning out, not voting or both. I dream of elections in both countries focused on issues and informed but tough debate. But it’s not easy to turn around the downward cycle when voters look over good guys and non-encumbents.

    How’s that for a lot of opinions for a non-American?

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    • I would imagine that similar problems plague most political systems. Politics are much like wealth, once you have a little power or money, all your energy gets diverted from doing the things that earn it to conniving how to keep it. Our system seems more and more rigged to reflect only the wealthiest Americans as citizen representatives, which is one of the reasons I believe so strongly in term limits. Don’t give them enough time to become entrenched in cynical habits.
      That being said, with more and more of our power as citizens being siphoned away through corporate malfeasance and bizarre legal maneuvers, the very least we can do is show up to vote.

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  4. I just rewatched “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and it made me weep a little. The idealists get crushed in the system.
    I agree with term limits and some kind of restriction on lobbying, if that’s at all Constitutional. But, most of all I hunger for real information–not the weird gossip in the ads or even in the “respectable” magazines. *Everything* is biased, edited or lies.
    I voted by absentee ballot, but I was not informed. I just voted a straight party ticket, which is not the kind of citizen I want to be. But I don’t know how to get smarter anymore.

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    • For many years, I voted straight party ticket until I realized that there were complete dipshits in both parties. Unfortunately as both parties have catered to the more extreme elements, figuring out who to vote for has become exponentially more difficult. I’ve started looking at the Green and Independent Party candidates more closely and stopped believing that my vote doesn’t count because I didn’t pick a winning side.
      The upside of the internet and so many independent writers is that we can actually learn more about candidates and what they’re up to. The down side is that “normal” people (without a narcissistic bent) don’t want to live through that kind of scrutiny. Then voting becomes what it has always been – picking the lesser of evils.

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  5. I think the hardest thing about sending the newly-minted, still-has-a-moral-compass type off to a political position is you know that they will be the shiny, new penny candidate for only so long. Watching for the inevitable tarnish to appear from the corroding effect of such an acidic environment is disheartening. Like sending your kindergartner off on the road to education and you know they are going to fall down and skin their knees and possibly grow to despise you due to the influence of their peers. Not to mention that they will grow up, but possibly not out, of all the bad habits they will develop and will rely on you well into your dotage for hand-outs. Wait…I’ve lost the string of my thought-kite. Am I still talking toddlers or politicians? Regardless of who we vote into office, the chances that our earnest candidate will enter the playground of politics without meeting the jungle gym bully who strong arms him out of his lunch money is slim. We can only hope he or she doesn’t grow up to be a bully as well. (Now, go ahead and count the mangled metaphors. I dare you.)

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  6. On a completely unrelated subject … Do you still wanna be my NaNoBuddy? You’ll find me under BTook. Getting all excited about this!

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  7. Just goes to show that door-knocking works – person to person. I still make phonecalls and knock on doors and put out lawn signs, but sadly, I’m pretty cynical about elections now. Can’t help it.

    I don’t agree w/ your note in the comments section that both parties have gone to the extreme. Certainly the Republicans have, but the Dems are not extreme liberals – they are almost as beholden to corporate money as the Republicans now.

    Are you doing NaNoMo? Have you done it before? I’ve just started considering it (though it would be nonfiction).

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    • I’m cynical as well, but I still feel strongly about not giving up what little power I might have. You’re probably right about the Dems, but the narrative they’re selling (versus action) seems to defy common sense.

      I am doing NaNoWriMo. I did it in 2012 and found it a valuable exercise. It’s not for everyone, since many decry the lack of quality versus a word count. I felt good that I ended up with material that I could work with and it forced me to shut off the inner editor which is often my downfall.

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