Thursday, July 13, 2006

You can't buy inspiration

Well, I give them all credit for coming out at 6:30 on a Thursday evening to listen to someone like me talk about campaign finances. But they did. OK, they didn't come to hear me; I just happened to be on a Policy and a Pint panel that covered for me. Jeff Blodgett, the former campaign manager for Paul Wellstone, and Judy Blaseg Hansen, who knows a little something about politics since she covered the Capitol -- that's the Capitol, the one in Washington.

And me? Who am I? I thought about it several times during the event when Judy thought it was "sad" that I think there's nothing wrong with the political process that better candidates won't solve. Is it really that bad that I want to be inspired by leaders? Really? Since when?

So what am I? I think I'm a cynical idealist. I refuse to give any politician my vote until that politician has earned it. And they earn it by answering questions, about knowing what it's like to be a working stiff today, and being honest with me, rather than becoming bland, formulaic wallpaper who think that money can compensate for their lack of passion and inspiration.

Sound familiar? Yeah, you know who I'm talking about. I'm talking about most every politician you know. And it's true, as Jeff said, that one has to be careful about casting a wide net on the subject of uninspired politicians, but he acknowledged that, especially with Democrats, there are far too many without something to say, looking for more money with which to say it.

Is money -- the abundance of it or the lack of it -- the root of all evil in politics? Boy, I just don't think so. I don't know whether money follows the vote or the vote follows money, but for the most part, I don't care anymore. I recognize it takes a lot of money to run for office, but I can't help but think of a good line in a mediocre movie (The American President), "Americans are desperate for someone to lead and in the absence of real leadership, they'll follow the first person that steps to the microphone." Yahtzee!

We've had a lot of chumps step to the microphone, but few of the brave and courageous kind. You know, the kind who stay in the race to, say, a primary because that's how important it is for their voice to be part of the campaign.

Jesse Ventura won the race for governor simply by opening his mouth and saying something on the same stage (a debate in Hibbing) next to two professional politicians -- Skip Humphrey and Norm Coleman -- who were well schooled in how to say nothing when saying something. Ventura was brash, but people thought he was at least being honest and straightforward with them. And as much as he wigged out in his last years in office, I think they'd vote for him again if he ran again. I think people are that averse to bland.

And my profession doesn't get off unscathed. We've become really poor at requiring politicians to answer the questions we ask, and call them on it when they don't. If someone is bland, poll-driven, doesn't answer questions, and is bankrupt of real ideas, we should say so.

So why, as Judy suggested, is that something that "teenagers in the audience should cover their ears" for? Why is that a view she finds "sad?" I don't know. But I think it's OK to demand more of the people who want to lead us...whether it's on the parks board or the presidency. Candidates, make me want to follow you when I ask you the question "why?" and money will be the least of your challenges.

Is that so much to ask?

I understand the MPR folks are going to encode the audio and put it on the Web site. I'll look for it and let you know.

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