04.20.14 Politics: Ends and means
I have been a political activist in one form or another since I was a child. Until I moved to Takoma Park, Maryland in 2000, my involvement was at a remove. That is, I tended to be in high-level campaigns where I would never meet the key players. I was but one cog among dozens, hundreds, or thousands.
When I arrived in Takoma Park, I became interested in local/county/state politics for the first time. I also served — for a while — as a Democratic precinct captain. I got to know candidates, political consultants, and elected officials close up and personal. It has been exhilarating to feel like I was making a real difference, to see the direct impact of my activity. It has been gratifying to be on a first-name basis with movers and shakers to the extent that I have become — albeit in very limited fashion — one of them.
My deep involvement has also been disillusioning. When looking at national politics, it is distressing enough to see bad guys and be unable to do anything about them or policy disasters that are utterly irrational, yet utterly irreparable. What I have learned is that the same phenomena exist at the very bottom of “retail” politics.
I have spent the past couple of weeks trying to sort out good guys from bad guys in a particularly convoluted local race (specifics forthcoming in one or more future posts). One candidate doesn’t even live in the district (he’s promised to move here by election day — all that’s required by law). He’s just been endorsed by a completely devious former elected official partly for racial reasons and mostly because she plans to use him to grow her own political power. This candidate’s campaign manager was recently found in another candidate’s office, taking pictures late in the night. The victim of that episode is described by everyone I’ve talked to as a bully. His dirty campaign tactics, whispered smears, harsh condemnations of opponent’s backers, are now legendary. When confronted, he plays the victim, accusing his opponents of smear campaigns. Another candidate has hired a political consultant whose past includes producing flyers with Nazi boxcars and implications of Muslim terrorism against an opponent. This same candidate has claimed endorsements from other politicos that he didn’t actually get.
We’re not talking Karl Rove or a presidential campaign, folks. This is right here at home. It’s the guys who will be knocking on your door this evening or appearing for a meet-and-greet at your next-door neighbor’s.
What strikes me is that every single one of these politicos — nearly all of whom you are likely to support when it comes to actual policy — believes that winning is everything. Ends justify means, all other considerations be damned. It is one thing if you are running against Karl Rove or the Koch Brothers. But this area is so progressive that nearly all these candidates agree on nearly everything.
My involvement in politics is about ideals. These ideals must ultimately be realized in policies passed and implemented. And one must win to get there. But, is it too much to ask for the tactics used to be above board, clean, uplifting — at least when you’re not running against Attila the Hun?
So what is an idealist to do? Should I choose the bully in order to stop the carpetbagger and his empire-seeking mentor? Should I go with the guy my heart first settled on, even after I discover that his hands are dirty, too? Should I give up in disgust, stop following politics, and start casting protest votes for “Mickey Mouse”? My attempts to settle on a course that matches my ideals have left me dizzy.
Do you check your ideals at the door of the voting booth, dear reader? I don’t have the answer. But I’m sick of feeling dizzy.
©2014 Keith Berner