The Long Hello
Leaving politics typically involves handcuffs or a pine box. When you enter, you’re idealistic and plan to change the world. As time progresses, you compromise that bright-eyed optimism until you slowly reach cynicism. You wake up one day and realize you’re phoning in your outrage and lost perspective. It’s the old adage of the frog in the pot.
Over the years, I watched people rise to the level of their greatest potential and realize there was no more ceiling. What happens next? They transition to a lucrative functional role, cashing in the person they were to keep the machine going. Lobbyist, consultant, writer, commentator, board member, the list goes on. There is a formula of money, power, and relevance that they adjust to stay in the game.
It’s a career philosophy: develop the knowledge and contacts and reap the rewards once you’ve conditioned yourself to compromise your idealism for the moment. I’m not going to spout off the “career politician” tropes, but there has to be a balance.
As a young idealistic Hill staffer, I promised I’d never be the old has-been lobbyist telling war stories, lobbying for this group, or consulting for that group. By the time I walked out of the Governor’s Office for the last time, I knew my time was limited.
In 2015, I foolishly agreed to work for Mark Sanford for the third time, this time in his “comeback tour” in Congress. The man I met 20 years earlier had risen to national prominence and in the 2012 presidential discussion. Then it all came crashing down. He’d been elected to Congress again in 2013 and over the next 18 months went through three chiefs of staff. He asked me to come to DC four times before I finally said yes. Even then, it was only on the condition that it was temporary while I found a more permanent replacement and my own exit from politics. It took seven months, and that was too long.
I dedicated years of my life to building a presidential contender and 18 months cleaning up the mess of a personal failing played out on an international stage. When I walked back into his congressional office, it was different. Why? We weren’t fighting for big ideas and moving the debate forward; we were fighting for his relevance.
He’d become obsessed with the idea that daily long-form Facebook posts lecturing on this piece of legislation were the highest and best use of everyone’s time. He was hiding in plain sight, believing, that as always, the path forward would appear to him. It didn’t. He’d failed his own “bias for action” mantra, which ultimately contributed to his first defeat at the ballot box in 2018.
He’d ride staff all day to write five Facebook posts, and he’d pick the one that was appealing to him and then spend hours rewriting it himself. No matter how many arguments we had over the futility of the act, he’d cling to those posts telling me this one person who told him how great they were. The only value that came from those Facebook posts was clarity for me.
When we’d finally post some screed on why he voted against a bill that meant virtually nothing to his constituents, the first five responses were either “Great, when are you going to impeach Obama?” or “I don’t care what you think, you voted for that traitor John Boehner for Speaker.” It drove home just how much I outlived my usefulness in politics.
So off I went into the wilderness. My day job permitted me to reconnect with the real world outside the bubble that surrounds the world of politics. I guess old habits die hard. I didn’t need to be in the middle of the action to have opinions. I think it was more liberating than limiting. As discussions got more polarized and tribal, I moved in the opposite direction.
Us v. Them
Every political conversation is now a pitched battle between good and evil. It’s a cynical game that has consequences. The characters are miscast. “Them” are the politicians, influencers, commentators that profit from fear and anger, and “us” are the rest of us.
Is the glass half empty or half full? Maybe it just needs ice. If you don’t pick a side, you get labeled as a “bothsider” or “neitherside.” It’s a joke. The binary choice is not whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, conservative or liberal. The choice is whether you want to call the powerbrokers on their bullshit even if you agree with something else they do. I picked a side, and it’s sanity. I suspect quite a few more people out there believe the same. If we don’t rally soon, it’s going to be too late.
And Now a Word from Our Sponsor
You may have noticed a name change. The original title borrowed from a Nietzsche quote might have been too high a concept. Sort of like Genesis with Peter Gabriel. A couple of aside statements and a text from an old friend who thought I was writing about science fiction moved me in a different direction. So, introducing “Outside the Tent.” Draw your own conclusions on the meaning - all guesses welcome.
The other change is merging my personal blog and this site into one place. We’re slowly working on transitioning the posts and web address into one place. More to come.