What you see depends upon where you stand. I was thinking about that old political axiom the other day when someone asked me what was the future of the Democratic Party here in Macoupin County and nationally? To me, at least, the answer was pretty clear. But first a short story from the last election.
I was in Staunton at a rally for Mike Mathis for State Representative. There was a very good turnout and the room had a nice energy. Mike was standing with a group of people toward the front getting ready to take his turn at the speakers podium. As was normally the case, people were constantly walking up to talk to him, asking questions, offering advice (both solicited and unsolicited), posing for photo’s, etc. The room was loud, people were moving about constantly, and it was a normal political rally: organized chaos.
I was sitting at one of the long tables sipping a beer when an elderly couple from Gillespie came by and asked if they could take the seats next to me. I said sure and scooted down a bit to give them some more room. Just after they were settled, a young campaign aid brought them a couple of plates of food. “Mike asked me to bring you this because he didn’t think you would have had time to eat before you got here,” she said as she handed each of them a plate.
Now these two people were not big roller political types. They were just ordinary folks from Mikes home town who took the time to drive down the road to support a neighbor.
Now remember, the place was quite crowded and very loud with all kinds of people moving here and there. Plus, Mike was standing several feet away from us, looking over his notes and trying to prepare for an important speech he was only minutes from giving and still he saw that couple and spoke to that campaign aid. Now there is not one person in a thousand who under those circumstances would have noticed that couple. And fewer still would have had the foresight to send them those plates of food.
But Mike did.
Because what you see depends on where you stand.
Mike saw them because when he looks into a crowd he doesn’t see blank faces, he sees people and he sent them those plates because he translated his concern for people into action. It’s not fake concern; it’s genuine and it cannot be learned or acquired. Mike is the real deal and that story tells us all we need to know about where he stood on the issues and what kind of State Representative he would have been had we won that election.
So, back to the original question. What does the future hold for us as Democrats? As long as we continue to nominate candidates the quality of Mike Mathis, we will be fine. That’s job one. Yeah, the last election didn’t go so well and there are all sorts of things in hindsight that we could have done differently or done better. Some of those things we can–and will– fix. Others we can’t.
But as we think about what needs fixed or changed we must always remember we are the “Big Tent Party” and when you invite everyone into the tent, it can get so crowded that elbows will be thrown as people jostle for position and everyone can’t sit in the front row all the time. That means we have to all be more like Mike and make sure that when we look out into that crowd we see everyone in the tent. If we do that then it won’t matter what row they are sitting in and everyone will get their seat at the table and will get their plate of food.
That’s what it means to be a Democrat.
We start our turn around today. And as we get ready for the next election we must recognize that it’s not in November, it’s in April! That’s when we elect all sorts of local officials: school boards, village trustees and mayors. We need to direct energy toward these local races because, as Tip O’Neal famously said “all political is local.” We need to pay as much attention to the ground zero of politics as we do to the Presidency, because if we don’t win at ground zero it won’t matter who the President is.
So here’s the recipe: quality candidates, big tent policies, built from the ground up.
It’s not rocket science but it’s also not easy. Still, it can be done. Let us know. Oh yeah, there is the another key aspect of being a Democrat: suggestions are always welcome. So tell us what you see and where you stand. Because that is the only way we can all all be sure we are standing together.