Archive for October 5th, 2008

The Banality of Politics

Those who have read my blog for awhile know that I often drift into philosophy, ethics, and questions about, to be glib, the meaning of life.  As an election nears, more and more of my entries are about Obama, McCain, Palin or Biden.  As the economy collapses (another favorite topic), I write more and more about that.

Back in 1985 I made a decision that would change my life.  I decided not to continue working for a Senator in Washington DC, and not to accept offers to work at some other position dealing with foreign policy issues (I did get a couple of such offers).  The reason: I decided I did not like the world of politics.  It was too much about control and power games, not much about people or principle.  Both parties seemed like that, though I do remember that a few politicians of each party seemed to rise above it — my favorite Republican was Bob Dole, my favorite Democrat Joe Biden.

So I quit two weeks after returning from accompanying “the Senator” to Greece and Turkey, and a month after getting a very good raise, to get a job as a night manager at a Rocky Rococo’s Pizza in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.  My dad was beside himself.  Not only did he think his son was throwing his life away at the age of 25, but now he had to tell his friends who asked about his “son the Legislative aide to Senator Pressler” that I was now selling fast food pizza in a Minneapolis suburb.

The next year I got accepted to the Ph.D. program at the University of Minnesota, and I was quickly convinced I had made the right decision.  Teaching is in my bones, curiosity drives me, and I’m more interested in learning and understanding than gaining wealth and prestige.  Washington was for people driven to move ahead and make their mark in the world.  That drive is in me to some extent.  I once wrote a spiritual fantasy I thought would might propel me to stardom in the world of literature (it remains unpublished after 15 years), and still think my research will “make a mark.”  But I’m not bothered if it doesn’t, and that kind of non-chalance dooms you to failure in Washington.

While at Minnesota I made friends, especially with a group of people I originally met as students.  I was a grad student teaching classes, but the difference between myself and the students was only a few years.  Many of us connected, and became pretty good friends.   And, while many of them were female, none of these friendships were romantic or sexual, all were real friendships.  Alas, life goes on.  I heard from one of my best friends of that time, Denise Rahne, a few years ago.  Another Patrice Loftus, now Cezzar, has kept in touch a couple of times.  But for the most part we went our separate ways.

So yesterday I was thrilled to read that Patrice, one of the best writers of any student whose paper’s I’ve ever graded, left a response to my blog!  With anticipation I zoomed over to her blog, wondering what nuggets of insight my friend from the past would have.  What I found floored me.

Patrice wrote not about politics or the issues of the day, but her own experience. Her blog is:

I read her blog three times, every entry, last night.   Her blog is about her experience losing her twins, born October 4, 2007.  They would be one year old yesterday, had they survived.  Even though I haven’t seen Patrice in over 15 years, and have minimal contact since, I could feel her as I read her blog entries.  The day her children died.  Her efforts to deal with the ups and downs of grieving.  The way she would see twins in the park and know that could/should be her.  I thought of my friend, someone close in the past, but distant in the present, and felt overwhelming sorrow for her loss.  The 15 years distance between us seemed gone.  My friend Patrice has been in pain, and that hurt me.

Then I went and looked at my blog, to see what she might be reading from me.   Oh my God, how mundane.  Palin.  Biden.  McCain.  Obama.  Bailout.  Iraq.  Blah-blah.  And these are blog entries I was relatively proud about when I posted them.  How seemingly meaningless.   How benal.

Of course, this is why I left politics.  Politics is in some ways a great lie: it pretends to be the most important thing in the world — government, laws, and rules.  But it is really secondary to experience, life, and relationships.  People hurl themselves into political causes and campaigns, fighting for the future of the country, the ideology, or the cause — when in reality humans and their experiences and emotions are the real stuff of life.

Patrice brought me back to reality.  Her experience gives me perspective, especially since teaching courses like Children and War, reminds me that reality is more than the power games of politicians.

Just a few hours ago Patrice’s twins would have celebrated their first birthday.  I think of the joy I felt when my children celebrated their first birthdays, and try to imagine and empathize with the emptiness that Patrice must be feeling, realizing that this is a holiday that might have been, but for tragedy.  I don’t know what to make of it.  All I can do is decide that on every October 4th I will give a significant donation to a children’s hospital in remembrance of Lina and Cole Cezzar.  Most of my blog entries will remain about politics, economics, and world events.   But I’ll remind myself that politics may be interesting, but life is real.