Politicians do thankless job in campaigning

On the eve of the title bouts that will determine the outcome of the general election in November, it seems worthwhile to add what might be considered a Pollyanna perspective to the battles for elected office near and far. To begin with, a confession: I am far more a doe-eyed optimist than a jaded cynic about politicians of all stripes.

That is not to say that I believe elected officials always do the right thing, or even do the wrong thing for the right reasons. There is no doubt that ambition, ego and, in the worst of cases, self-interest, influence those who seek and win elected office – that is true for most of us in most of our pursuits. But when examining the driving impulse that pushes people to enter the political fray, I believe it to be fundamentally one of altruism. After all, there are far more lucrative ways of applying determination, drive and high self-worth.

But for those who seek and win elected office, there is at least one bit of common ground that differentiates them from those who never do: They are, by and large, good people from all along the political spectrum who discover in themselves a desire – or a need, a strength, a calling, whatever – to put energy into shaping the future. There is no small amount of selflessness in that effort, regardless of the ideology that frames each candidate’s vision of what the future ought to hold.

That is not to say that all of those visions are equally valid, but the drive to express them is. As voters, armchair electoral critics and political curmudgeons, we would all do well to remember that behind each race are human beings who have put a great deal of themselves into an effort to serve others.

It’s just that things get complicated – exponentially so as races heat up and step from the local to the state to the national stage.

The good intentions that spurred a candidacy now must contend with the reality of what it takes to win. Money, influence, courting support, defining positions, refining them to respond to the money and influence: Each of these variables and the thousands more that define a candidacy – and, at some level, the candidate – obscures by degrees those good intentions. They get twisted, mischaracterized or lost in the scuffle.

Negative campaigning, bumbling speeches, poorly thought out positions, compromising allegiances and the increasingly contentious division between Democrats and Republicans turn candidates into caricatures of themselves, fighting an epic battle that is cast as being one of good vs. evil, with each side accusing the other of the worst depravity.

Voters begin to use the same language, assuredly conveying to one another the glowing character, personality and achievements of their guy, and the reprehensible disposition and lack of moral fiber the other guy posseses.

This is hardly the stuff upon which a positive future is built, and it should not shock us that from such campaigns flow a policymaking climate that is absent unicorns, rainbows and high-fives. It is a miracle these people even speak to one another, after the team blood sport of election season, and with the next one just around the corner.

So as we enter the final quarter of the 2012 election showdown, I want to thank all of the candidates who have put their convictions on the line – regardless of what those convictions are. Ideology aside, Kellie Hotter, Harry Baxstrom, Gwen Lachelt and Julie Westendorff all deserve respect and recognition for the effort it takes to run for county commissioner, subjecting themselves to criticism, mud-slinging and mischaracterization of intentions – all from neighbors and even friends.

Mike McLachlan and Rep. J. Paul Brown are to be similarly commended for their commitment to advocating for our hidden corner of the state in the Colorado Legislature – at no small cost to themselves.

Rep. Scott Tipton and Sal Pace, too, show a deep dedication to the 3rd Congressional District, a geographically broad and demographically diverse region that both men love deeply.

And President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney, whatever can be said about their respective political positions – and there is much – can only be willing to subject themselves to the insanity of a presidential election because of a profound care for the country they seek to lead.

OK, now that’s enough. The rose-colored glasses are coming off, and future election-related columns will consider the merits of candidates’ agendas. After all, good intentions do not necessarily prevent widespread harm when they produce ill-conceived policy, nor do they excuse reprehensible behavior, statements or positions. But for placing themselves under the microscope for such dissection and criticism, all candidates for office deserve respect.

Megan Graham is a Herald editorial writer and policy analyst. Reach her at meg@durangoherald.com.

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