So, last week I ran into (well, not literally), an old campaign co-worker in the Starbucks drive-thru of all places. I was opening that morning, and I took some lady's order over the headset, had her pull up, and then went over to the window to get her money. I looked at the lady, thought, "Wow, she looks like Bobbie," and she must have been having a similar revelation because at the same time we both said, "OH MY GOD WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?"
She was, in fact, visiting her brother not far from the store, but she remembered or knew somehow that I was up here at school. Not sure how that info gets around, but politics is a small world, I suppose. We chatted for a few minutes - she told me what she was up to, who she was working for, caught me up on a few other people, and then she left because we were holding up traffic behind her.
We weren't friends, per se, when we worked together (I actually couldn't stand her), although there's always something about seeing someone from your past that makes you reminisce a little, right? No, not at all. And it had nothing to do with her personally. I realized, in that brief encounter, how glad I am that I have permanently quit politics, how delighted I am to have God call me to something radically different.
In talking to this woman, I had an amazing moment of clarity where I realized that "doing" professional partisan politics is just dumb. I don't mean people who do it are dumb, because clearly, on some level, it keeps the system functioning. And there are some things, and some people worth fighting for. That's all important, and I know that. But really, when you get right down to it, it's constantly, always and forever, the same old shit. It's the same people fighting the same battles, over and over and over again. It's just the date on the calendar that changes. Who's working for whom just cycles through - you're either working for the candidate (at the top of the ticket, or one of the down-ballot races), or the party. And realistically, at least post-primary, everybody's working for the party. It's the same issues, and the same candidates, and the same staff, and the same consultants, and the same fund-raisers, and the same volunteers making the same speeches and road trips and phone calls, putting yard signs in the same yards and hosting fundraisers in the same houses, year after year after year. It's the same offices, and the same restaurants, and the same bars, and the same Election Night Party hotel ballrooms.
A few months ago, I volunteered at a fundraiser for a friend who is on the finance staff of a pretty major campaign. As I stood inside the house, gorgeously decorated for Christmas, I thought back to a few years prior when I had been on staff for a different candidate who had been running for the same office that this guy now was. Listening to the candidate (who is a really good guy, and I really like and respect him and hope he wins) give his speech, it occurred to me that this speech was, for all intents and purposes, the exact same speech that my candidate used to give. The same issues, the same people on the other side to demonize, the same list of things that need to be done and need to no longer be done. At the time, I laughed with my friend about it, and we attributed it to the inept governing strategies of my victorious opponent of a few years ago. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that it's really all just a game. The more things change, the more they stay the same. There's nothing new under the sun. Just the same old frantic Blackberry messages and 6am/11pm conference calls that 24 hours or 24 years from now will be completely meaningless.
For me, it was death. I spent my 5 years in professional partisan politics getting yelled at about stuff I couldn't control, pushing myself and my volunteers to the brink of insanity, publicly defending legislation and legislative proposals that I hated, being lied to by my superiors and being forced to lie to those below me, and so on. I was never not working. There was no time during the day or week when I could legitimately say, "I am not available then." Politics makes you sign away your life, and sometimes your very soul, for the cause, the candidate, the party.
I spent the better part of 2004 listening to the Shrek 2 soundtrack as I put thousands of miles on my car during all hours of the day and night. Frustrated, depressed, anxious, paranoid, sleep-deprived, malnourished, I completely identified with the line in "Holding Out for a Hero" that reads, "Somewhere after midnight/in my wildest fantasy/somewhere just beyond my reach/there's someone reaching back for me". Yes, I know it's a love song of sorts, but in my mind, in my car, cranked up loud late at night, it became my cry to God. God, I'm reaching out, I need you reaching back!
Sadly, it would be another four years that I would torture myself in this profession. But alas, God grabbed my hand once and for all, and pulled me out of the miry pit. He showed me what it is to "sell" a "candidate" who has no flaws. Who will always, in the end, win. Who yes, wants your life and your soul, but not to destroy them. No, He wants to dust them off, fix them up, and give them back to you all shiny and resurrected. He encourages, even commands rest. He gives you a team, the Body of Christ, because He knows that you can't do it all by yourself. If He makes you work until midnight, or calls you at 3 am, you can bet it's going to be worth it in the end.
None of this, of course, is to say that everything about my experiences in politics was terrible. I met some of the most amazing people - some who are wildly famous and incredible public servants, and some of whom are "just staff" or "just volunteers" but are some of my best friends to this day. I will never forget leaving a fundraiser at 10 pm to begin a 3-hr-plus drive clear across the state to be prepared for a parade at 5 the next morning. Or the time I confessed to a coworker that the thing I had just been given props for in a staff meeting was a total lie. Or driving to and from a cancelled-after-we-got-there-parade in a torrential downpour the likes of which I had never seen before. Standing in the back of the room the day after we lost a tough, tough race, bawling my way through my candidate's "final address" to the staff. I loved getting to know the human side of the politicians I worked for. The people - not just the issues - they care about. The things that make them laugh or cry. The issues that they hold their ground on because they honestly think they are right, even though they're getting blasted by supporters, party leadership, and the press.
But it's not for me anymore. The same old, same old holds no interest, no intrigue for me whatsoever. I serve a God who says, "Behold! I am making all things new!", who has come so that I - and everyone in the world - may have life, and have it abundantly. Praise Jesus!