Sunday, June 23, 2013

My $0.02 about "Giving Back" and "It's Not About ME!"

"There is no politician so brave or so the one who isn't running for office, and isn't going to be."  -- Weld

Council election season is getting into full swing.

I didn't mean to leave out the School Committee, btw, but it's hard to say something is in "full swing" when it's shaping up to be a challenger-free race.

As we move across summer and into fall, we can expect candidate profiles in local media, candidate forums involving the entire slate of incumbents and challengers, and plenty of bloggery to go around.  One of the most natural questions we should expect to hear is, "Why are you running?"  Chances are, the most common response that we'll hear -- particularly among the challengers -- is "To give back."

Personally, I find that answer to have a nails-on-chalkboard quality.

If you really want to give back -- and that's all you want to do -- you could do any of a million things that would serve the community in a less-public way.  You could volunteer to teach literacy or ESL @ the Pollard, you could become a Big Brother/Big Sister, you could volunteer at a clinic, etc.  Sure, you'd be doing something good, but to borrow the phraseology of my friend Jack Mitchell, you just might not get "caught doing good."

In response, some might say that holding public office is just a way to give back on a bigger scale.  Fair point, but the very nature of the beast reveals that there are plenty more people running then there are seats, and ALL the folks in the race -- challengers and incumbents -- will expend a great deal of time, money, and toil in the process.  If it really were *just* about giving back in a completely pure way, I would think one could find a truly unfilled need (i.e. a shortage of literacy tutors) and then seek to fill it.  By that same logic, if it were really the case that the city couldn't find nine people to run, and someone's arm were twisted into it, then yes, that person might be "giving back."

I'll concede that some things are tried-and-true because they've been tried, and well, they've worked -- this probably works better as one guy's rant than it does as sound advice.  I'm sure plenty of people will say something about "giving back" on the campaign trail this year, and they'll come out quite fine.  Personally, though, it just doesn't resonate for me the way a more substantive answer like, "I want to see the Council move in [x] direction" does...or even something unspecific but more to the point, i.e. "I don't want to be on the sidelines."

While on the topic, another cringe-inducer is "this isn't about ME."  Unless we used a system in which we voted for slates or parties directly, this just won't pass my smell test.  SOMEONE is running, with his or her name splashed all over campaign paraphernalia.  That person's name will be on a ballot, that person's name will occupy one of the "wedges" placed on the desks if elected, and no matter what the person does for the rest of his/her days, they will have that fancy "The Honorable" title.

The only way that anyone could convince me that it isn't about him/her is by not running.  Instead, find the candidates you like, support them on the blogs or in the paper, donate if you can, hold signs if you can, etc.

My hat goes off to ANY person who runs for ANY public office.  Right off the bat, someone who takes the effort to get onto a ballot and present himself/herself before the masses has my respect.  But someone who tells me the sky isn't blue -- even as I'm staring right at it -- and thinks I'm not keen enough to see the contrast, loses a wee bit of that respect then and there.  

1 comment:

Renee said...

 "By that same logic, if it were really the case that the city couldn't find nine people to run, and someone's arm were twisted into it, then yes, that person might be "giving back." "

Oh yay! I'm giving back.

OK no one twisted my arm. I just an email about myself and two references to be interviewed on the Animal Advisory Board. It was advertised for months, it seems. Anyone of the potential challengers could if opted for a three year term, then run for council with addition of that on their resume.

They must all own dogs.