They say you should on a subject you know. It just occurred to me that this should be an easy column for me, matching up the issues of political opinion and Cancer. If you know anything about me, you know my political opinions are strong, and I am one of those people who has been diagnosed with Cancer, but I have not – yet – had to pay a heavy cost in dealing with it. It seems to me that one thing Politics and Cancer have in common, is that everyone seems to say they understand what those words mean, but in actual fact most people have a superficial and error-heavy understanding of either, and both topics scare people a little bit if anyone mentions those words in relation to their personal lives. It’s a rare person who is seriously interested in running for elected office, and no one is casual about the possibility of contracting a cancerous condition.
Starting with Cancer, then. There are thirteen major categories of Cancer, and the National Cancer Institute recognizes 204 specific types of cancer. Yet even that list is not comprehensive, as there have been recent discoveries of new forms of cancer, and there are also rare cancers which are often ignored in discussions, such as Pseudomyxoma Peritonei, a free-floating cancer of the abdominal cavity, and more importantly is also ignored in research funding. But that is for another time. The American Cancer Society says that ”Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. Half of all men and one third of all women in the United States will develop cancer during their lifetimes.”
Let’s put that another way – if you found out there was between a 33 and 50 percent chance that someday someone would shoot at you with a rifle, would that concern you? Cancer, then, is a scary word, the sort of thing which always gets your attention. This is why, naturally, people begin to wonder about a candidate when the C-word shows up in his or her family. Yet it’s a strange thing. John Edwards and his wife discussed their options when her Breast Cancer returned, and from what I understand they decided together that he should continue his campaign to run for President. Since Elizabeth has battled cancer before, and she is intelligent and appears to be aware of what she is facing now, it seems to me poor courtesy for so many people who are not directly involved with the Edwards to castigate them for this decision. And Fred Thompson is getting some of the same doubts, and he will hear more to come, for his own medical condition, even though his non-Hodgkins Lymphoma was successfully treated and is in remission. It’s as if the man is unacceptable to some folks as a candidate, simply because he has fought the disease and continued in his life. You’d think someone who has battled Cancer would be respected for their fortitude, and judged on the quality of their ability in the area concerned, but in the wacky world of Politics, image is everything for some folks and a person who has endured a challenge and prevailed may still be considered ‘damaged goods’, while a morally bankrupt con artist caught in the act can still be considered a ‘contender’. Something is very wrong there. I noted Edwards and Thompson, because they are the polar opposites to me; I could never consider voting for Edwards and Fred became a favorite for me as soon as he mentioned he might run, but in one way they are the same: Each man deserves to be judged on his qualifications, and anyone who wants to use the Cancer issue against them should be treated as a cur and a blackguard.
And that brings me to Politics. I don’t cheer for politicians as a rule; they are prone to selfish and ego-centric behavior, but we the voters have always had choices available to us, and so we deserve what we get. Oh, I agree that sometimes what shows up in the General Election comes down to a question of avoiding whoever is worse, but that’s why we have primaries. And if all the guys out there do nothing for you, you could always consider running yourself.
OK, the average guy doesn’t have a chance of becoming President, and ordinary people don’t ever seem to show up on the ballot. But before you start playing up the old ‘smoke-filled back room’ theory again, I should remind you that there is a way to get involved yourself, beyond just voting I mean, and beyond working to support someone’s campaign. And it’s simpler than you think. Just show up at your precinct when the polls close, and ask to attend the caucus. Both major parties have one, and that’s where they select the delegates to the state convention, and who help write up the party platform. Ultimately, this process even leads to the selection of the electors from each state for the Presidential campaign, though that part is a longer process. Now, that’s how they do it in Texas so things might be a mite different in other places, but if you want to find out, just ask your local party people how to get involved. You might find local politics more to your liking than the big stage, but whether Republican or Democrat, and also some of the more sane smaller parties, there is always an eager interest in getting people involved, and that includes running as a candidate. Like any project involving a network, you need to start sooner if your goals are bigger, but it can be done.
So why don’t we see more candidates in the primaries? Two reasons, really. Part of it is that the parties have a winnowing process, and by the time the actual primary elections are here, the party has narrowed down the field to the guys they think will be appealing to the average voter in their party. The other reason will make you uncomfortable, or at least it should do that. It’s because we are lazy.
Let’s start with the numbers. Maybe 90% of the adult population is eligible to register to vote. Maybe 88% of the eligible population, (or 80% of the adult population) actually goes and gets registered. Maybe 56% of the registered voters (or 45% of the adult population) actually goes and votes, and that’s in Presidential years. Maybe 66% of those who will vote in the General Election, also vote in the Primaries (or maybe 30% of the adult population). And maybe 2% of those who vote in the Primaries will work for a candidate or participate in their party’s system (or 0.9% of the adult population). And perhaps 5% of those who work in their party’s system will themselves choose to run for office. That means only somewhere around 0.045% of the adult population will run for office, ever, for all offices, local through national. You’ll get the ambitious, the who-you-know “connected” players, and you’ll get a very few genuinely worthwhile candidates that way. And that is truly unfortunate.
Why don’t more people run? Consider what it costs to run for office. I mentioned a few times that my automatic first choice for President 2008, and to my mind the only person truly qualified for the job at this time, is Condi Rice. The War on Terror is that important, and she alone shows the balance of tactical and strategic thinking which is critical to that need. But Condi won’t run. Why not? She hasn’t said, but I think it’s because Condi knows what a run will take out of her, and I don’t just mean the glaring media attention. A campaign is a full-time job, and yet a candidate is expected to perform their regular responsibilities as well, which you can do as a Governor or a Senator, but which people with real jobs would be hard-pressed to manage. There is also the personal cost, in money, stress, and second-guessing. For instance, I will indelicately submit that Ms. Rice has had a sex life while she served as National Security Advisor and then as Secretary of State. We’ve never heard about it, because even the media of today understands and accepts that this aspect of Ms. Rice’s life is private, and there is no purpose to chasing Ms. Rice’s amorous admirers. That would, unfortunately, change if she declared that she was running for President, because any gentleman companion would be measured as a potential First Husband, and as such privacy would be obliterated on the pretext of the public’s right to know, but in actual fact the hunger to find a hot story would be the real motive. There’s not many people, frankly, who can stand the hot light of such interrogation at every turn, much less manage to bear it with the apparent ease and comfort which we demand of our potential leaders. And even a candidate who loses a race for a significant office, is never really able to go back to being considered a regular guy. The public gets angry because political figures are not ordinary people, but really, we never let them go back to being just regular folk, do we?
I got a small taste of that when I was elected to my Homeowners Association Board of Directors. Small beans, I know, but ever since, a lot of my neighbors make a point of telling me all kinds of things. Some which are important and need to be addressed, some things which really are not something the HOA can control, like the guy who wants me to tell his neighbor to cut his grass a half-inch shorter so the two lawns are the same height, and some things which are just strange. I can only imagine the communications my Congressman gets. Not that it excuses him ignoring the wishes of his constituents on the issues, or that he should be lining his pockets with tax money or lobbyist money (which means the taxpayers would pay in the end, anyway), but there are a lot of duties and burdens to consider. After all, you may leave the office, but you never really get to leave the job, you know?
Just something to think about, the next time someone complains about the kind of candidates we have to choose.