I’m Shredder, and I approve this message.
I’m sort of winging it here, so how about I tentatively take that back and reserve final judgment for when I finish this column?
See, I was inspired by the several local candidates who used their public comment minutes to campaign at the SLO City Council meeting on Oct 16. Is this something that happens? I mean, I just noticed it this year for the first time—I seem to have first recognized it a few months back—but for all I know, it goes on every year in every race across this nation.
And it makes sense: You have a captive audience made up of the die-hards who obviously care about government—and, thereby, maybe, you. You’ve got a ready-made backdrop of the very seats to which you’re aspiring, plus there’s an American flag somewhere in there for patriotism. It costs you nothing.
Don Hedrick was first up and touted his own merits while simultaneously denouncing the evils of Monsanto and the “One World Order.” Matt Strzepek talked about the candlelight vigil he’d set up outside—and emphasized homelessness-related points of his campaign. Steve Barasch criticized ill-maintained city-owned parcels and presented a money-generating plan for the city in his bid for council. Kevin Rice even used his three minutes to fill out his ballot at the podium. Or is it a lectern? I always confuse the two. Anyway, he stood there and explained who he was voting for, marking his selections on the paper to be mailed and counted. (Spoiler alert: He voted for himself.)
Doing something like that would make me feel like the host of a late-night infomercial, which is probably why I haven’t ever seriously run for office. You have to be so self-promoting, so sure of yourself and your ideas and solutions. You have to have a ready answer and a smile—always a smile—and the ability to latch onto any hint of a talking point in a conversation and use it to your advantage.
But wait, there’s more!
Your friends? Neighbors? Family? They’re all potential clients—er … voters. You could technically call them constituents, but let’s be honest. You’re out to win their hearts, minds, and loyalty come November, so you’ve got to be as attentive and aggressive as a real-estate agent who hears the words “home” and “buying” across the room at a kids’ birthday party and knocks the clown over in an effort to get a business card into the speaker’s hands.
Leap that cake to make the sale. Leap it!
I lack the sort of audacity necessary to do that kind of stuff. Like, to constantly pump and pimp my own image, or to declare myself the winner of a debate. Oh, sure, I talk big here, but put me under the bright lights and start firing budget-related questions at me and I’ll melt faster than a wax figure of Richard Nixon on a JFK-themed hotplate.
The swagger that typifies politicians—of the actual and would-be variety—trickles down to their supporters. Have you been on Facebook lately? Late at night, when I hack into New Times writers accounts to post embarrassing admissions and photos, I see back-and-forth barrages between sure-of-themselves folks, each one convinced that his or her candidate has a heart cast from pure gold and a will of solid iron and several other characteristics and body parts made from various metals.
Not familiar? Go ahead and substitute a deity for one of those candidates. Or forget the god and plug in a sports team. Each time I see someone post “GIANTS!” I grab my magic beans and run.
But getting back to government. There’s a certain, uh, certainty that you have to have if you’re going to make it. Pretty much all the winners have it, which may be why our elected leaders all have a certain ineffective sameness to them. Even the kooky ones.
You don’t see quiet, humble elected leaders, do you? At least I don’t. And they may be out there, but they’re overwhelmed by their fellow officials who have no problem with—and probably enjoy—starting every sentence with “I” and pouncing on babies for photo-op kisses. Who think of public appearances in terms of photo ops and sound bites. Who unironically use the phrase, “Stay on message.”
Look, I see the easy leap, the essentially nonexistent gap people have to step over to go from standing up in front of the city council and the public in an effort to raise awareness of a pet issue or governmental inadequacy to thinking, “Hey, I’m tired of flapping my gums at a disinterested panel of ineffective schlubs. I’m going to stop talking and actually do something. Maybe if I could elbow my way among them, I can shake things up and really, for once, make a difference.”
I get that.
But here’s my thing: Those of you who decide to try to make that transition, and who somehow succeed, need to remember your roots. Don’t forget that you’re not out to win a race. You’re out to work for years at efforts you hope will pay off in a good way for your neighbors, but that will likely face opposition from red tape-wielding lifetime bureaucrats—and maybe even those same neighbors you’re trying to help.
Politics isn’t pretty, even if you are. Or think you are. As long as you’re using your spotlight as a means to not an end, but a beginning, we’re good. If not, if you just like to hear yourself talk, or if grandstanding is in your DNA and will be a part of your time in office, get ready for that spotlight to get hotter.
Everyone will be watching you. Especially me.
The Shredder wears an iron mask at all times. And mumbles. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.