h1

Don’t Take It Personally

2008.November.3

Campaign work is not for the faint of heart.

Most politicos grow a pretty thick skin to it. When, with stinging eyes, I told our campaign manager today about Barack Obama’s grandmother passing away, he commiserated for about two seconds before saying, “I hate to admit it, but this will probably help him.” He’s great at this stuff, and has all the callouses he needs to go from one campaign to the next in quick succession.

Me, I get by through mitigated intensity. I made sure my contract said I would only be working part time, knowing that it would reach full time and beyond by late October, because it is important to me to maintain an equally intense personal life. I can spare a few weeks without much rest at the height of the campaign, but I couldn’t function at that level for months or years. Wednesday morning, win or lose, I wake up free of obligations.

The wheel-greaser of our office is young; this is her first political campaign and her first job out of college. She often has it the hardest, because while she is the least prepared for the barbs and arrows of campaigning, she receives them most often and most directly. Today, it was a bullying phone call blaming her for something that was 99% likely to not be her fault or even the fault of anyone at our campaign.

I believe she has great potential as a campaigner, if that’s what she really wants. She’s passionate and hard-working, but the unspoken third component one needs is balance. Either you learn to build the walls, like the campaign manager, or you learn to control the spigot, like me. To paraphrase an aphorism, you can give all of your energy some of the time, or you can give some of your energy all of the time, but you can’t give all of your energy all of the time.

But you don’t have to work on a campaign to give too much, and we would all do well to remember that (and remind our friends).

I’ve been the guy who checks the latest polls four times a day, whose office brings in lunch to talk about the election on the day after, then who goes home and talks about it with roommates and family members and friends near and far. Whatever energy you have left on Election Day gets squandered on whining when you lose.

If you follow local elections the way you should, you have a high chance that at least one of your votes is going toward a loss, but I’m not broaching the topic of burnout because I think my guy is going to lose. Like any unnatural high, there will always be a crash after an election, whether or not your candidate wins. You’ve had this siphon of energy and thought you’ve been feeding on a daily basis for weeks, months, years, and suddenly it’s not there any longer.

If your candidate loses, you wonder if it was worth the effort, and feel alienated from your fellow citizens, who voted another way. If your candidate wins, you lose an outlet just when things peaked. If you’ve just given a little, you find yourself wondering whether it was enough – was your sliver of dedication enough to claim credit or too little to avoid blame? If you give everything, you’re left to wonder what is left for yourself as your candidate fades away or forges ahead (and, I don’t know, starts picking a Cabinet).

Politics is both personal and impersonal. We are expected to vote for the candidate most like us, the one we want as a pal, the one who has our best interests at heart. Yet we will likely never meet the candidates or receive a more personal thak you than an email blast with our names pasted in at the top, and it is easy to find your power insignificant when your vote is literally one of millions. The candidate who wins with your vote could not have done it without you and people like you, but does that make it your victory?

Yes and no. You could just as easily ask, could your vote have mattered as much if the candidate had been less charismatic, knowledgeable, or effective at campaigning? Don’t you owe them a little thanks for helping you breathe a little easier over the next two, four, or six years?

The way to keep perspective is to distinguish what is the act of the individual and what is the act of the group. The individual registered to vote, conducted research, possibly volunteered, and cast a ballot. Of these things, the individual can take pride in him or herself. But it was the group that turned out in record numbers, the group that launched a movement, and the group (even if not all of it) that elected the victor. For these things, the individual must take pride in his or her community.

It is with one’s community that victory, defeat, and progress itself must be measured, acknowledged, and learned from (and if you can’t learn from a victory, defeat will find you soon enough). That community doesn’t evaporate after November 5th. Like a long courtship that has reached marriage, that’s when the real work begins.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: