Pauses and Moments

Rumblings from the lane next to the off-ramp.

To Run, or Not to Run: A Campaign for Employment.

"Elect-Me" battles and courtships: fighting opponents, speed-dating voters.

Political campaigns are a form of combat and courtship; warfare and seduction.

Elect-Me campaigns reduce to Mixed Verbal Arts cage-fighting against rivals, 24/7 “speed-dating” for voters’ heads and hearts.

The dominant theme is warfare: With clenched fists, or a raised and then pointing finger, or stabbing hand gestures, politicians proclaim, “I’ll fight for you!”

“More fighting, that’s all we need,” he mumbles to himself as he passes through a gauntlet of candidates’ electioneering placards—those red-white-and-blue seasonal “weeds” that have sprouted up on lawns throughout the town. In the parking lot he was assaulted by a “call-to-arms” (voting-machine arms) that was megaphoned electronically from a candidate’s red-white-and-blue campaign van. Vote-for-me leaflets blow up and over the lips of trash cans, as if they are intent on escaping into the breeze that allows factions of autumn foliage to elude rakes and leaf bags.

Without any enthusiasm, he casts a ballot—and then, a homing beacon and anti-establishment gravitational force takes him to the town clerk’s office. There, against a backdrop of non-partisan gun-metal gray and swamp-green steel file cabinets, he inquires about filing to run for United State Congress in 2014.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

His inquiry is overheard by a young reporter who’s already bored with the pap and inanities she is getting from those who have turned out to vote (out of boredom or vitriol). Her antennae are not so small-town that they would miss the novelty of his inquiry. In a voice that delivers a confection of sweetness and skepticism, she asks him if he actually intends to run for Congress.

Even though he had imagined a platform (don’t we all) he hadn’t expected to have to articulate it. His Congressional candidacy is still a PG-rated fantasy his mind drifts to after hours of scrolling through job postings. The fantasy pokes its way onto his mental screen-saver after he applies for the few positions whose requirements he is able to fathom. Many postings daunt with acronyms and abbreviations that few over the age of 50 are likely to comprehend, let alone command. No such pre-requisites to run for Congress.

He hadn’t actually polished the announcement he was now being asked to make to a reporter.

With a nonchalance that is authentic in its offhandedness and embarrassment, he confesses.

“To be perfectly honest, I could really use the salary and the benefits.”

Has he said too much? Has he been too candid, too honest? Has he already shown himself to be hopelessly unqualified to enter the lists of dissemblers and posturers who joust and lance with guile and nastiness rather than nobility?

He can’t seem to stop himself, though. Maybe he needs to hear how it sounds—see the expression on the face of someone who doesn’t know him but who surely knows the rough-and-tumble of a political campaign. In a way, he’s “outing” himself.

“From what I understand, even if I only serve one term I get retirement income and Rolls Royce medical coverage for life; for free. Pretty sweet, huh.”

There’s an art to politically-astute dissembling. Inartfully, he blurts, “I need work. I need a job.”

It’s clear to him that the hard work is getting elected. The full-time part of the job is the work to get re-elected to hold on to the job.

She smiles. Gently, and with a sense that it might just be in her journalistic interests to dignify his candor, she asks about his platform.

He nods, and buys himself a few seconds to reward her follow-up: “You’re asking me—I think you’re asking me—what’s in it for the voting public.”

Again, that smile of hers elicits more than he had intended to offer.

“Well, for starters, I would refuse to vote for any legislation—any bill, any resolution, any amendment—that is longer than 1,500 words.”

She knows she’s on to something—a sound bite that’s a bit more savory than the fare served up by those who’ve been keen to speak with her that morning.

Like an angler whose instincts and sonar have him cast just the right fly into just the right bit of current, she lets out just enough line and prepares the net for the catch. Slowly, without fumbling or haste, she retrieves a micro-recorder from her battered discount-store satchel and holds it out at a non-intimidating distance.

“So, you’re telling me that if elected to Congress, you would vote against anything that runs longer than 1,500 words? It’s that simple?”

He’s hooked. He’ll allow himself to be reeled in a bit for he’s already allowed himself to be swept into waters that are out of his depth. And, given the chance, don’t we all want to be taken seriously, even admired?

“How will you be launching your campaign?”

He has no answer. He hadn’t expected to need one. He hadn’t expected he’d actually be going public with his private self-encouragements; his delusions.

He’s hopelessly unprepared to do any of the outreach—any of the connectivity—that have become the heartbeat and pulse of politics. He doesn’t have a Twitter account—and thus he’s never Tweeted; or is it Tweated? He doesn’t have a Facebook page. He was never on MySpace. No YouTube clips. In spite of its supposed career-enhancing possibilities (which he has never grasped), he’s not on LinkedIn. Would the electorate find that refreshing? How would they even know? He’s digitally anti-social. He’s an old dog, housebroken, with no snarl, a faint bark, and no puncture to his rare bite. He has no appetite for tricks. Maybe the voters would find that a treat.

The reporter senses that there is no point in trying to reel him in further: journalistically, he’s catch and release. But there’s something to him, and so she asks if she can put her number into his phone. He can text her any time, she says.

He blushes—not in a sexual way, though. He’s amused by the little folly he’s produced unwittingly. Fumbling in the pocket of his once-and-future classic of a suit jacket, he eventually produces an antediluvian flip-phone which Verizon has been trying to get him to relinquish for years now. It has a camera but he doesn’t know how to use it; though he may actually have taken several pictures of his auditory canal.

Squinting through his bifocals, he finds it sufficiently challenging to locate the numbers on the keypad, to merely dial a phone number. Composing a text message would require more dexterity, and create more anxiety, than his arthritic fingers should be tasked with.

To compound any such, he’s a precisionist, not an abbreviationist. He’s old school, and thus a stickler for spelling and punctuation and good grammar. He’s an auditor. He’s a forensic accountant, when he gets work. He could wright the nation’s accounts, but who would allow him such a sorting out. How would he put that into a text message, let alone a Tweet, or an Instagram, a Pinterest, or a Tumblr—whatever they are.

He’s not a public person. He couldn’t bring himself to prey on commuters waiting on train platforms or bee-lining to parking lots after a day of work he wishes he had had. He’s not the type to greet-and-meet at big-box stores or the local diner. Shake all those strange hands? There aren’t enough hand sanitizers. Kiss babies? Why would any mother want a stranger to kiss her baby?

He’s not rehearsed at coming up with just the right patter, platitudes and clichéd pablum designed to curry favor at demonstrations, at one pride parade and then another. Gastronomically, he’s not prepared to make the food rounds at street fairs, festivals, banquets, and receptions. There aren’t enough antacids.

As for fund-raising: He’s a worker not a fighter. He’s better off squinting into the screen of his laptop—imaging how he might campaign for a job that doesn’t require fighting, acrimony, or kissing up.

He’ll concentrate on “courting” someone who has hiring authority, who’s looking for Mr. Right, and sees him as a “match.”

Joseph H. Cooper, J.D., teaches media law, film, and literature at Quinnipiac University.

more...

Subscribe to Pauses and Moments

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.