Issue November 7, 2006

Guest Commentary – Early Returns

Hey, I’ve missed you. It’s nice to be back after a sabbatical of sorts. The only thing I regretted about Tuesday deadlines was that election day predictions were extremely hazardous. In 2004, I gleefully
celebrated a Kerry victory in my column. Oops.

As I write this one, I am either Congressman-elect or just another unemployed writer. Well, not just that, but someone who has just spent about $700,000 and 10 months on the most remarkable journey anyone could make. When I last wrote here, I was pondering whether to run or not. My indecision was based on doubts that it would be possible to discuss serious issues in the contemporary political environment. For the most part, I think I have succeeded. I also wondered if I really wanted to be a member of Congress, a job that would end whatever private life I had. More on that later.

Over the past 10 months I have shaken tens of thousands of hands, driven almost 15,000 miles, smiled till my face ached, cried, shivered and sweltered. I won the Germantown Dainty contest on my first try. I walked the line at G.E. and spent hundreds of dollars trying to win a cake at church picnics. I tromped through the rain in the Fairdale parade, loving every soaking moment. At the other end of the excitement scale, I sat and called people I did not know to ask them for money I had no idea if they had, and, not surprisingly, heard every evasive tactic imaginable.

Through it all, however, the people of Louisville have been unbelievably nice. I can count on one hand — four fingers to be precise — the hostile encounters I experienced, and the worst of those was simply a man with an angry expression calling me “stupid.” Even those who could not support me, either because they disagreed with my politics or because they liked Anne Northup, were polite and friendly. To everyone I have met during the campaign, I would like to say “thanks,” for being warm, receptive and respectful.

I learned early in the campaign that most people are truly appreciative of any attention a candidate pays to them. I was apprehensive when I made my first political visit to a largely African-American church, fearing the congregation would think I was pandering. The reaction was exactly the opposite; the men and women greatly appreciated the respect that was being shown them. The same thing proved to be true of door-to-door campaigning. Rather than resent the intrusion, most people were flattered that a candidate would come knocking.

Throughout the campaign I was consistently asked the same two questions: “Are you tired?” and “What have you learned?” The first one is easy; yes, I was tired every day. I did not have a “day off” from the end of July through the election, and I was always exhausted, but also energized by the people I met. As for lessons learned, I now know that the people are way ahead of the politicians on most issues. I have always believed that the American people were ready for a universal health care system. I now believe more than ever that such a system is not only inevitable, but that the leader or leaders who champion the cause will find it much easier than anyone thinks.

The people are also way ahead of the politicians on the war in Iraq. If George W. Bush were to change course tomorrow and end our involvement there, I am convinced that virtually no American would object. Those who still say they want to stay the course in Iraq are simply waiting for someone — namely, the president — to give them permission to join the majority.

Whether it is health care, education, Social Security or Medicare, the vast majority of the people of this community are fair, thoughtful and compassionate.

I also gained a far deeper understanding of how important religion is in the lives of our citizens. When viewed from the perspective of columnist and commentator, religion is often just another political issue, and we tend to miss the personal impact of faith on so many people. Never again.

Finally, I learned just how seriously disconnected too many people are from their government and how frustrated they are that no one listens to or speaks for them. And that is why, during this long and exciting campaign, I came to want the job of Congressman so badly. I believe I can be an effective voice for so many who are not being heard. So, if I got the job, I am thrilled, humbled and grateful beyond words. If not (or maybe in either case), maybe LEO will once again publish my words from time to time.

Contact the writer at jyarmuth@aol.com