Musings —11.01.2016 09:44 AM—
Let me tell you a story.
In my first year at Carleton U. – after a year or more of punk rock bacchanalia back in Calgary, and the corresponding impact on my GPA – I had decided to buckle down. So there I was in the big first-year Poli Sci course with 300 others, head down. I was focussed.
And I was focussed, on that day in September 1980, on the little guy in front of us. He was our professor for the year. He was Israeli, from Haifa, and he was shy, a bit idiosyncratic, but clearly smart. Near the end of that first class, here’s what he said to us:
“On the very last day of this course, I am going to tell you the truth about politics.”
And that’s it. He wouldn’t say anything else. All year, I kind of wondered what he was going to say. So, at the last class, on the last day, he lectured as he always did. Time went by. We were getting down to the last few minutes.
“What’s the truth about politics?” someone yelled out. The professor smiled, a rare thing.
“All year, we have been talking about politics, the science of politics,” he said. “But here is the truth about politics.” He paused. “If you get into politics, it will break your heart. It will end badly. It will be bitter, in the end.”
And, with that, he walked out. I never saw him again. We all stood and applauded him.
Being a contrarian of long-standing, I of course completely ignored his advice. I was elected student president at Carleton in ’83, I worked for Andre Ouellet and helped chair John Turner’s youth campaign in ’84, and so on and so on. I got right into politics, right away.
As you’d expect, knowing me as many of you do, I got into plenty of trouble. Most of the time, it was for making jokes on the Internet (true story: I always wanted to write comedy, but never got the courage to do so). Jokes about baking cookies, jokes about barbecued cat, jokes about someone’s transit plan. I like making people laugh; I love people who make people laugh (hero: Andy Kaufman, still).
Not all of the trouble I got into was comedic. Sometimes, of course, I got in trouble for getting into big and serious fights on behalf of my candidates, mainly Messrs. Chretien and McGuinty. I don’t regret one of those fights, because I believed (and believe still) in those leaders, but I certainly came to regret losing friendships along the way.
Anyway: one thing I never did in politics was get involved in (a) fundraising or (b) candidate recruitment. Those two fields, I saw early on, were very dangerous. They were trouble. They would always ended badly.
I know a lot of the people behind these kinds of headlines. I feel sorry for a lot of them. They’re not crooks and criminals. They’re like every other human being I’ve met in my life: they’re flawed. Sometimes, they try and take a shortcut, and they get caught. A lot of the time, they have done absolutely nothing wrong, but are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they become the victim of a mob.
My Israeli professor, of so long ago, was right. The political journey probably always ends badly.
But the ride, until that bitter and lonely end, is sometimes glorious.