There are very few truisms in life, but here are the truisms I believe about politics: Politics is everywhere. All politics are local. And, whether we like it or not, our politics reflect who we are.
There’s a new show on Showtime that is following this Presidential race through the eyes of reporters Mark Halperin and John Heilemann — the co-authors of the best-selling books Game Change and Double Down on the 2008 and 2012 elections — and political strategist Mark McKinnon. It airs each Sunday night, and features incredible access to candidates and the campaigns they run.
For me, the most powerful moment of the pilot episode happened when Ted Cruz’s campaign manager remarked, “The most powerful moment in politics is still when your neighbor tells you who they’re voting for.”
I think there’s a lot of truth in that. Movements in campaigns — surges — are thrilling. Those moments with neighbors and friends and family members make politics matter. They bring politics home.
I’ve done some phone-banking for Bernie over the last few weeks, and it’s unbelievable how much — 1. Iowans get cold-called by campaigns, 2. How mean people are to me (I mean, why would anyone want to be mean to me?????), and 3. How refreshing it is to talk to people who give a shit — whoever they’re voting for.
Everyone who can be vote should be grateful. I’m tutoring a student at Whitford right now whose family recently came to the United States from Iraq seeking political asylum. This kid has been here for just about two years, and when I asked on the first day how he liked his new country, his eyes lit up as he told me, “I love America!”
My dad, who is the Community Development Director for Tigard, has had similar experiences over the last few months. He’s recently been meeting with a group of Hispanic citizens who want to be involved in their community. They’re engaged, positive, and thrilled to have a seat at the table. It’s a far cry from the standard of local politics, in which citizens who take their citizenship for granted are jaded and mean — if they show up at all.
All that’s to say — we need to check our privilege. The democratic process — notice how it isn’t called the Republican process — is a gift. What will happen in Iowa on Wednesday is a gift. The reason the Bush-Gore election was a travesty wasn’t because Bush won (actually: it was kind of because Bush won) but because that gift was taken away.
If you’re interested, watch this.
Of course, politics isn’t for everyone. That’s totally fine. And the cynicism in this country about government isn’t necessarily off-base. But everyone should take the time to think about issues and have an idea. That’s what great societies do, and if you believe our society is decaying, that’s how you can play your small part in rebuilding it.
Citizenship is, in many sense, the elusive “American dream.” It has nothing to do with a free market, or our promise of upward mobility, or our Judeo-Christian values and moral strength, as Marco Rubio so sickeningly preached at tonight’s Republican debate. The American Promise is finding a home, finding a community, and finding a life worth living.
I think this election might be a historic one. I think that the schism we see now between the left and right is a product of a government that isn’t working for a great many Americans — and I say this after seven years of Barack Obama, who is, without any question in my mind, our greatest President since Kennedy.
Our government, in its form, doesn’t seem sustainable or particularly enviable in any way. So sure, Donald Trump looks like a character George Orwell would create — but if you believe that our politicians reflect who we are, we should absolutely be taking him, his candidacy, and his support seriously. Trump is, as of right now, the Republican frontrunner for President. That’s a big thing.
On the other side, there’s a 74-year-old socialist, raised Jewish but not practicing a religion, who has swept the country away. Bernie Sanders is the anti-politician. He’s authentic. He doesn’t apologize for who he is. He believes what he believes deeply. Everyone should note his success in this election as well.
If you watch MSNBC these days, you’ll see an advertisement for Hardball which serves as Chris Matthews’ ode to politics. It’s a 30 second spot in which great and not-so-great political leaders flash across the screen, as Matthews talks about how he wants fighters, and leaders, not clowns and empty suits.
The American political scene is fascinating to me for how it weaves together the many cultures of our country. Campaigns are great because they are an incredible slice of Americana: of their pomp and color, of entertainment value and competitiveness. Candidates themselves are great studies because of the incredible will, perseverance, and courage it takes to run for office and win or lose with dignity.
I love campaigns for many of the same reasons I love sports. The incredible human drama, in which I — usually — have a stake. These are our stories — our states, our process, our best chance at bettering ourselves.
I love politics. I hope I’ll always love politics. Because this country needs regular people to love politics and engage with politics for reasons that have nothing to do with personal gain. This class understands that. It’s been a pleasure to take part.