26 October 2007

Findin' a candidate

I'm three weeks shy of four and half decades now and been politically aware and occasionally active (at least in presidential election years) since my mom took a 9 year old me out leafletting for George McGovern in '72. Yet since my first presidential vote - Jimmy Carter in '80 on the day before my 18th birthday no less, I've never contributed actual money to a candidate. Sure, I've donated plenty of time to candidates...at the DC headquarters and New Hampshire for Gary Hart in '84, and in local phone booths, envelope stuffing, and voter turnout stuff for all the Dems from '88 through '04. But I've never handed over any pocket change until now.

That streak ended tonight when I sent along a small sum to the guy from New Mexico, Governor-Ambassador-Secretary-Congressma
n Bill Richardson. Unless the Nobel Peace Prize coaxes Al Gore into the race, Bill's my guy through the primaries.

(Note: What follows is a slightly revised screed posted in an earlier blog incarnation on another site.)

They say all politics is local. No where did I find this more true than when living more than a dozen years in New Mexico. In a state of not quite two million people - a third of them in Albuquerque - opportunities for meeting and even having a meaningful conversation with significant political folks were plentiful.

At the one politically connected hotel in our little town or at rallies by the red, white and blue rocket slide astride the Pecos River, I met both of our US senators (Bingaman and the dottering Domenici), two governors, and buffet tables full of state incumbents and candidates. And I actually had a brief conversation with then-congressman (though not from our district) Bill Richardson. In his standard rumpled sport coat, sans tie, he said talked briefly with me and my daughter...a cool moment for me, but absolutely lost on a three year old. Those were years when I felt that the common folk - like me - might actually have the opportunity to influence the political life of the nation.

Then I moved to California and I lost that personal touch with our national politics. Tucked away in a distant corner of a monstrously huge state, far from the seats of power and money, we are neglected here by anyone of national interest or importance. No one wants or needs to come by this corner of California, including our own US senators and our cartoon-character governor. It's easy to become cynical about the state of national politics when you're so far away from the conversation. And the local politics of fast food regulation, flouride paranoia and agricultural zoning, though essential for maintaining the loopy and free-form character of our neighborhood, seem petty when people are dying by the thousands in wars of choice led by liars and thieves.

So, I'm supporting Bill Richardson this time 'round. He's the only viable candidate with a brave stance on ending the war in Iraq. He has experience in bringing disparate people together, be they dictators and democrats (small d) or Republicans and Democrats (big D). He's got the resume in congress, the state house, the UN, and the cabinet to see the picture from so many sides.

And, because I once shook his hand. Because he came to my little town and took a few moments to talk to me one afternoon and ask me what I did for a living, and what I thought was the most important issue he should be thinking about. Because he asked my daughter's name and flashed a smile and a hello to her.

Yes, he's a politician, and we could rightly question the sincerity of it all. He didn't invite me to join his party of local fat cat fund raisers. He was then the big fish in the small pond that is a small state. He would not remember our conversation, nor would I harbor any fantasies that he would.

In many ways I'm supporting an ideal by supporting Richardson. For me, for now, he represents the ability of real live Americans to touch those who want to lead us. His wrinkled sports coat, casual demeanor, simple and plain conversation reveal the possibility that our leaders might want to come to our little towns and meet inconsequential people like you and me (and I mean that in the kindest way), and they'll ask how we're doing and what matters to us....and that they'll genuinely care about our answers.

Of course, campaign teams work hard to make us believe their cleverly crafted photo ops are really the candidates reaching out to the little guys. They want you to think that Hillary Clinton really is on a listening tour. they think we'll fall for the joke that Bush is pondering a new way forward in Iraq, that Giuliani has courage, that Thompson is awake, or John Edwards would just as soon work in the mill as be our next president.

I know it's all a bunch of ad company driven hooey colorized by nameless news anchors from empty suited media corporations who have bankrupted their news departments, pantsed their journalists, and are driven by money, not a journalistic fervor for truth, justice and the American way.

But for a brief moment nine or ten years ago, someone who mattered in the higher echelon of national politics, seemed to think my daughter and I mattered to him. That's the ethos of politics we must have again. We need the casually dressed, rumple suited real guy who knows how to work with normal people, not just how to work a room of corporate donors. That's the sort of representative democracy I think this country was founded upon. And I'm bettin' a few bucks that Bill Richardson is the guy who can bring us closest to that silly little dream of mine.

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