^ first campaign I ever worked in : John V. Lindsay (R), for Mayor of New York. Does this look familiar to members of #TeamBaker ? It should
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As Here and Sphere’s political reporter,my job is to report what I see going on and to opine about what it all means. Today, however, I want to talk about myself ; my own views, my commitments in this adventure we call “citizenship.”
From the very first campaign I was ever involved in, a long time ago, I felt it my duty to participate; to give back to the society that had given so much to me. I had no idea how to do campaign work, but I felt I had a duty to learn.
Those first two campaigns that I worked on — both of them Republican, Mayor Lindsey’s campaign in New York City and John Volpe’s Governor campaign in Massachsetts — I began to grasp a message that, over the years, came to mean a lot to me : that it is a citizens’ duty to promote the civil rights of all, and that it is a campaign’s job to tackle the challenge of urban progress, socially and economically.
To me at that time, and to the people I learned from, there was no political enemy. we were not working against another party; instead, the other and ours were in a contest to see who could formulate the most workable program of civil rights and urban progress and to get it chosen by the voters.
That is the political commitment i still live by, indeed, have lived by ever since. I think that in a life filled with career mistakes, this is the one, big citizen decision that I got right.
Not that I was anything special. We all at that time made a somewhat similar decision. Going to the front lines of civil rights and of urban progress was how we made sure that our lives would benefit the lives of others.
This sounds elitist; but there is no bar, in America, to citizen participation. All it takes is to just do it.
Today I hear a lot of noise in the other direction : that, somehow, it is society’s duty to come to us, rather than our duty to come to it. I’m sorry, but that is not how it works. A nation is not a self-starting thing. It moves only when we who are in it move it. Jack Kennedy had it exactly right when he said, ‘ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
There are some who interpret his words, and what I said in the sentences before it, as an attack on the welfare state. By no means is that true. Our society is to be judged, as Suffolk Sheriff Steve Tompkins says, by how we treat our most compromised people. A generous social safety net is how we assure those who have the least confidence, or skills, or family stability, or health, that their lives will not be tossed on the trash heap.; that if they are, for some cause, unable, they are not thereby unworthy.
I hear even more noise today decrying all politics, that government is the enemy, that the whole structure should go to hell. To this noise I have no three-word response. How our politics became so broken is a long story of selfishness, big money dominance, talk radio lies, resentments, prejudice, fear and, above all, a failure of commitment, of moral force.
To speak of “the establishment” as if it were a demon is to reject all of American history. To establish is to erect an edifice solidly; this our Founders did, and still today, their establishment stands strong, if we do not turn on it, to our utter destruction.
To surrender one’s soul to a loud strongman is to assure one’s destruction, morally, economically, politically. History demonstrates this time and again. There never has been a strong man, a caudillo, who did a nation any good at all.
Commitment to participation in democracy is a political decision, but it is a moral feeling. It has always been a moral thing. In the Dark Ages after the fall of Rome, some 16 centuries ago, men and women gathered in monasteries, under the constitution established (yes, I said “established”) by Benedict Nursia, to serve the faith thery believed in and, thereby, to live moral lives. It wasn’t long before the weak governments of the net four centuries called upon these Benedictine monks to help them govern, do justice, and create system.
They did so;,because they believed that government mattered.
Those monks — and Benedictine nuns too — preserved Roman culture and learn ing; they formed schools and taught; they advised dukes and kings. And they gave us even today an example of what must be done to make society work better, and why it is important to do so.
I am far from being a Benedictine, and so, likely, are you who today commit to participate in political citizenship. But we can emulate their example and feel a great deal holier for having done so, and why.
Political work is hard work. There are no short cuts. There is much pushback, many dirty tricks. There are candidates who should never be. Vested interests do not give their power away. To do political work well is to learn the taste of patience, the smell of effort. There can be no excuses. What you do not do, your opponent will do.
Every vote matters, and every voter. You find that out very quickly, and you also realize that most voters know their own interests very well. So you do less talking and more listening. That is how you develop your policy smarts. Having learned, you then seek to persuade that your side can do the job — that we all want done — better than the other side.
When you win, you win generously. When you lose, you lose gracefully. Whichever happens, you keep your eye on the sparrow : that your work must make society fairer, more prosperous, more inclusive of all; a society in which no one of good will is anyone’s enemy.
This is my declaration of political conscience.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere