Saturday, September 26, 2009

Primary Colors - Idealism vs Reality

The final push for almost all campaigns occurs about 40 days from election day. During this time, almost anything goes. After all, this is a winner take all affair where the second place finisher usually fades into obscurity.

The tenor of the campaigns tend to get nuclear, with each side trying to out "negative" the other, in search of that Holy Grail of Politics, the unaffiliated voter. Those who are able to woo this highly sought after component of our electorate, tend to emerge the victor.

This is also the time when war weary campaign staffers, exhausted by the rigors of non-stop campaigning for almost a year, try to suck it up for the final push and, like marathoners in mile 23 of the 26 mile race, hope like hell not to hit the wall - that point where the body and mind say "no mas" at the same time. It is during this period where the "win at all costs" bloodsport of politics really kicks in.

It is usually at this juncture, whether I'm involved in a campaign or not, I resurrect an old movie with John Travolta called Primary Colors. This movie is supposed to be a comedy following the presidential campaign of Governor Jack Stanton(Travolta)a candidate in the mold of Bill Clinton who, through the course of the campaign, always seems to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory via the untimely intervention of his personal demons and his addiction to...well... remember Jennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Monica get my drift. Anyway, Stanton manages to dodge one political bullet after another with the help of adroit staffers.

Then it happens. The event that occurs which will define the candidate and the campaign. You know, the one where political and ethical values collide. The event where if you take the high ground, you risk losing the election but saving your sense of decency by doing the "right thing", or taking the low road, droping the nuke and winning the election, but losing your "dignity and honor" in the process.

I love this part of the movie, because it has the naive "we can change the world idealist" colliding head-on into the hardcore world of "reality politics". Which way does Stanton choose to go? Well, rent the movie and find out for yourself because I'm not going to tell.

What I will share, however, is that the dialogue in the movie, while corny and over the top at times, still manages to get to the core of why people run for elected office in the first place - and that is to make a difference in peoples lives. That's it, pure and simple.

It is that simple belief that frequently gets lost in the campaign battles leading up to election day. The campaigns are on autopilot to stay on message, gear up the troops for the GOTV (Get Out The Vote),ads, phone calls, door-to-door leaflet drops and other processes of a campaign.

Primary Colors helps remind me why I love this kind of work, and who I am doing this for and why. It's to make a difference, and particularly for those who can't fight for themselves, and who depend on elected officials to fight the battles for them.

So if you're feeling a bit jaded or overwhelmed by the campaigns being run in your state, county, city or town, just watch Primary Colors - and know that your vote and opinion do matter - choose wisely.

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