Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Running for Office

Today's the big day and hopefully people are flocking to cast their votes.

That's the American way, the process that repeats every four years. Admittedly, this past year has seemed long and tedious as the field of various candidates narrowed and those remaining took to the air waves.

It's all over, as they say, but the shouting. Whoever wins will have obtained a job I could never envy. Just why would someone run for public office?  The entire process has become nearly prohibitively expensive and anyone with a cell phone can record every misstep by each candidate.  Why would anyone want to run?

I "ran" for Student Council in the 7th grade. It seemed like a big deal. When it came time to vote, someone asked our teacher whether we could vote for ourselves. She said, "Anyone who doesn't vote for himself/herself does not deserve to win." I voted for myself and won, too. While it was fun to serve on Student Council, that was the end of any desire to be a candidate for anything else.

Who ran for class offices in junior and senior high school? Guys who wanted girls to recognize their maturity. Some candidates merely wanted to see if they could win. Many girls who ran were pretty or popular and basked in the attention. Winning also meant having more photos in the yearbook, more than enough reward.

That makes as much sense as anything, I suppose.

A friend recently suggested that candidates run because they have enormous egos. Call it ego, sense of entitlement, poise or naiveté. Something nags away at certain folks who believe they can actually make a difference. That might have been noble in high school but any candidate who believes they will make a teensy bit of difference in the politics of any adult government -- local, state or national -- is living in a bubble.

I'm not experienced in the ways of politics, other than listening to candidates over the decades and voting regularly. I was employed in local government for several years, enough to know that very little is accomplished unless the person making the request is important or well-known in the community. That's a fact stated from first-hand observation and confirmed within a few days. Perhaps that policy is the result of government employees who fear losing their jobs. Perhaps they feel overly-important because they have a job that encourages favoritism. But most workers are merely hanging on until retirement, day-dreaming about life on Easy Street and doing little in the meantime to make waves.

I also lived and worked in the Washington, D.C. metro area for eight years. That's the equivalent of two 4-year terms and, believe me, that was enough for anyone. No wonder that was the length of time chosen for term limits. I did not work in government but witnessed the wriggling and gyrations caused by the influence of government's omnipotence. That period was astonishing and opened my eyes. The national government -- including the myriad of peripheral jobs and hopeful wannabes -- is a mind-boggling creature. Government workers at the highest level are usually exactly where they want to be. Life is good, very good. And they don't want anyone bringing change.

Recent local campaign advertising has depicted sweet-faced, well-groomed family folks who vow to fight the good fight for love of their fellow citizens. That is hard to believe. But if there are those candidates who really believe they can rock the boat of long-time pirates, they are in for a surprise. New arrivals won't be able to find their offices for months. It's a jungle that likes to scare off newcomers who want to see the wild animals. Intimidating. Exclusive. Filled with pork and pretension.

No place for the faint of heart.

So a message to any candidates out there: I hope you won your election if that's what you really wanted. But just remember: be careful what you wish for.

To quote Robert Redford at the end of "The Candidate" when, as Bill McKay, he won election, "What do we do now?"

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