In Which I Rejoice and Despair: Montana Diary.4
September 4, 2012 5 Comments
If you’ve missed previous Montana posts, click to see: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.
Here it is 7 pm and dinner was finished over an hour ago. This is a different schedule than I’m used to. In the office to work at 8, an hour-long lunch break at 12:30, then back to work till 5. (Except, that is, for me: I was so involved in what I was doing that at 5:15 I looked up and realized everyone had left the office. When I got back to the dining area ten minutes later, dinner was well underway.)
If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that I’m here at Project Vote Smart as a member volunteer, and that PVS has created the Voter’s Self Defense System, which makes non-partisan, unbiased information on legislators and candidates available to all of us. For example, PVS “digests key legislation in Congress and all 50 states into easy-to-understand summaries, making it easy to compare what your representatives said during the campaign with how they actually voted on the record.” Find out how much money candidates raised, and who donated. Find out where they stand on issues that matter to you. If you’d like to know more about what PVS does (and I hope you will), THIS page provides a good overview
So. . . on my first day I did two things: I spent an hour or two in an envelope-stuffing-and-stamping assembly line. I know that doesn’t sound very glamorous, but what went into the envelope is pretty sexy: The Political Courage Test, a questionnaire sent to candidates inviting them to provide comprehensive information on where they stand on relevant issues. You can have a look at the current test forms here.
But before and after the envelope-stuffing I worked at a computer; PVS invites all candidates to submit an issue statement, and I was asked to type up some of them for later input into the data base. I worked my way through a stack of pamphlets and letters from current candidates; several are running for Congress, a few for the Senate, some for their state Assemblies; there was even a statement from a write-in candidate from President.
Now, why the title of this post? Well, on one hand, the papers in the stack were from candidates in a number of states, many certainly first-time candidates, people of varied backgrounds and beliefs. The existence of those statements–the very fact of that stack of papers–is a philosophy, an idea, a political ideal made real. We live in a country where anyone can throw her hat in the ring. Anyone can put himself forward for public service because he see problems and would like to have a hand in solving them. People can form a society and decide that everyone living in it has the right to have a say in how things go. Obviously, we’ve never fully lived up to that ideal and, let’s be honest, throughout our history we’ve fallen far short. But the ideal itself, the fact that it’s our lodestar and it’s at play at all, well, that’s beautiful.
And so I felt sort of excited and joyful typing away at that computer. So why the despair? Well, as above, anyone can run for office and, apparently, anybody does. Even reading the most crackpot statements, or the ones that outline the opposite of everything I believe (and there were many of those), I was aware of the hopeful ideal of participatory democracy. But some of the statements were so poorly written, some made so little sense, and some were just so way out there that I couldn’t help but feel rather hopeless at the same time. These people might end up making laws in Congress next year?
I mean, honestly, this? “I support that, All citizens health care for healthy lifestyle to included, diagnosis, prognosis, treatment & therapy for physical & psychological well being.”
And this? “The BUDGET is BROKEN – We need to FIX IT & BALANCE IT.” (Sorry, but that’s a teenager’s capitalization, and I saw TOO MANY EXAMPLES Today of this KIND OF Creative capitalization! Plus exclamation points!)
How about this one? “What about Gibson Guitar, going on for 7 yrs: they get special wood from India for the neck of the guitar, workers at Gibson finish it here. Obama wants the work done in India -” (I think the candidate is trying to address the problem of outsourcing, and wonder why she didn’t say so.)
Well, I have three more days of stuffing or typing or whatever else they’ll have me doing, and I’m looking forward to every minute of it. The pictures, above show (top) the envelope assembly line and (bottom) my computer station.