One of the hardest things about running for public office is dealing with partisanship, no matter what party you identify with politically. There are “fundamentalists” on each side of the political spectrum. The truth, however, is that most of us cluster in the reasonable middle ground, in a normal distribution or “Bell shaped curve” where 68% of folks are pretty much in the middle, and 95% of us are within a standard deviation from that middle ground.
The problem is that online, and on Facebook, I often see outrageous things posted to try to gin up interest and outrage. Just like any other marketing campaign, folks are trying to create emergencies, indignation, and other emotional reactions that will prompt people to take some action. So while a typical marketing pitch for retail goods might be “Big Sale! Limited Time and Quantities! Get Yours Today!!!”, in politics, you’ll get emails saying “Look what the other side did now! We’re being outgunned! Give Today!” or other such things, often demonizing the other side.
The more extreme partisans are trying to “Wake the rest of us up” and get us involved. However, I don’t think this constant barrage of outrage and vitriol is healthy for anyone. We all know that in order to get someone “engaged” we have to deliver a message that’s worth their attention, and that hopefully persuades them to our point of view. But ginning up all these largely negative emotions isn’t healthy for our physical or mental health. Not everything is actually an emergency. We don’t need a flight or fight response for every little issue in our lives. It’s exhausting. And sooner or later, the faux emergency messages will start to get ignored, just like the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. Then, when help is truly needed, when a real emergency does exist, no one will pay attention, because there will be no reason to believe that this time, the emergency is real.
I understand this process. One one side, I have to get people to care enough about my campaign to help me knock doors and meet as many voters as possible between now and November. It means getting name recognition, having people put up signs and the like- trying to get people to care, at least a little, about the upcoming election, months before it actually occurs. And then, closer to the election, we have to hope that the folks we met still care enough to go out and vote in November. I would like to do this by persuading them that I consider the opportunity to run for office an honor, and that the job itself involves a sacred trust- a fiduciary responsibility to each and every person in the District, whether they vote or not, to do what’s best for our community.
Or, on the other side, we could create all sorts of smaller, calls to action to make people think it’s an emergency. Every fundraising call, every voter contact creates a decision point, critical to their lives. Now, I wouldn’t be running for office if I didn’t believe the people we elect and their points of view have consequences. But I’m not sure that the election has the same amount of immediate seriousness each and every day, equivalent to a car crash, with critically injured people who need attention RIGHT THIS MINUTE. The election is very important very important but no one will bleed to death today if you fail to vote in November. The level of importance and criticalness is different.
Getting People to Care
I want people to care. I want people to vote for me. But I also want them to see me as a level headed person who understands the difference between Important and Critical; who understands priorities, and making well reasoned and rational decisions. We don’t need reactionary leadership playing a giant game of Whack-a-mole- we need steady hands, that are taking care of today’s concerns while planning ahead for the future as well. Just like in business- this quarter’s results are important, but the long term health and sustainability of the business is just as important. You can’t burn the house down today just to make this month’s numbers, because there will be nothing left next month to work for.
Passion is important. Engagement and caring are equally important. I understand engaging people at the gut level works. But I also want you to know that when I tell you something, it’s the truth and you can trust that information implicitly.
I have spent my life building a reputation for being honest and telling the truth, and I can’t change that, now or ever, because that’s who I am. I will not compromise my personal integrity for the sake of telling someone what they want to hear, rather than the truth.
Adults deserve to be treated like adults and hear the truth, even if it’s unpleasant. Like the old cliche phrase goes, anyone who only tells you what they think you want to hear is likely selling you something. I do want your trust and your vote, and I need to earn that through honesty and integrity. It may sound old fashioned, or even idealistic. Maybe it is. I was raised to believe that our reputation precedes us, and doing the right thing, especially when it’s hard, is more important than any temporary gain or inconvenience you might get out of a lie.
I believe that most of us live our lives in the center of the normal distribution. We go about our daily lives, until we are interrupted by something that’s upsetting, or violates our sense of fair play and justice. This pulls us to the extreme. But we can’t live on the extreme end of things, upset by everything that comes our way. It’s exhausting, and often leads to people simply deciding to tune the whole nonsense out, which explains why there has been historically low voter turn out recently.
Partisanship is about choosing up sides. However, governing is about doing what’s best for all of us. I think the folks we elect to office have to remember we’re all supposed to be on the same team here, pulling for the whole community, the whole State, the whole Country. We will disagree on what’s best, but as long as we put the needs of the community first, we’ll make much more progress than putting the wants of the extreme into the center of the debate.