There’s a conversation out there that goes something like this: We’ve been fooled by the political class for the last time. It’s our turn to run this country.
Who “us” is is anyone’s guess, but I have noticed a fairly tight correlation between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders supporters and people speaking thusly, although it’s surely not limited to those groupings.
I hear it in the back of rooms at public forums, especially outside New York City. And I read it in the online comments section beneath my columns. “Stuff it, establishment tool,” is the operational sentiment, and it’s directed at anyone who’s been involved in politics for more than around 20 minutes.
I don’t take it personally when it’s directed at me. But it does irk a little, because I can’t help thinking, where the heck have you been all these years? Varmint hunting?
Politics is hard work and it’s not much fun most of the time. It means standing outside on gray snowy days handing out palm cards, getting yelled at on the phone or while collecting petition signatures and giving money you can’t afford to candidates you know don’t stand a chance. It takes giving up nights and weekends often for lost causes. But still you do it, because you feel compelled to — because no else seems to be doing it.
I’ve been spat at on New York City street corner; been given the Nazi salute outside a polling place, and have had my face screamed into drill-sergeant style for handing out a piece of literature — all without socking anyone in the jaw (reflects poorly on candidates.) I once got pulled into a Buddhist chant session on East Eighth Street trying to pick up signatures to get George H.W. Bush on the ballot, but that was fun. I’ve seen the lips of elderly volunteers bleed from paper cuts after licking stamps and envelopes for hours.
Anyone who has ever volunteered for a political campaign has stories to tell. There’s a camaraderie and purposefulness to it, but most of all it stinks. It’s drudgery, and if you’re trying to take down an incumbent in New York, you lose far more often than you win.
But what’s most frustrating about working in politics is voter ignorance and apathy. Everyone has an opinion, but half the time it’s uninformed or misinformed. And you know, statistically, that the person proffering said opinion isn’t even going to vote. But you stand there listening to it anyway, because you have to.
People complain all the time that “all politicians sound the same.” And most of them do — the good ones anyway. They’ve learned how to get out of confrontations with some of the people I’ve mentioned. Them sounding like politicians is a reflection of the electorate, and nothing else. (You can blame the media, too, but it’s giving its audience exactly what it demands. Most viewers turn the channel at policy discussions.)
I’ll never forget going out to a Metro North station about a decade ago with a young mom who was sick of what the “politicians in Albany” were doing. She was so burned up by high property taxes eating at her household budget that she decided to run for state office. She printed up palm cards with her picture and basic political positions on it and headed out onto the platform to greet morning commuters.
You know what they said? “Stuff it. You politicians are all the same.”
If you’re unhappy with the way this country is going, try campaigning sometime.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a Republican consultant.