In the 1991 edition of The Cannonball, the yearbook of Battle Ground Academy, there is an ad which simply states “Compliments of the James Clarkson for US Senate Campaign.” We got a holiday from school if we sold the requisite number of ads. I think the number for seniors was ridiculously low. Of course I did not go out and pound the pavement trying to sell ads. I just bought one at the last minute. But I think my ad was, in fact, just cheeky enough.
The ad reflected what I thought at the time to be true: I wanted to be a politician. I thought that could be a good thing, a noble thing. The Senate, of all places, was where I thought nobility particularly lay. Jim Sasser and Al Gore Jr. were the Senators from Tennessee at that time, but they were not the ones who inspired me to pursue the upper chamber. It was more people like Daniel Inouye, Ted Kennedy, Robert Byrd, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan that impressed me. They had Republican colleagues like John Danforth and Orrin Hatch who seemed like decent, reasonable people as well.
I wanted to be like them, wearing suits and shined shoes that walked across thick carpets and marble floors while doing good for the people of this country and the world. Today I’m not sure that there is anything you could do to convince me that life as a Senator would be anything but miserable. I have no desire to be like Mitch McConnell or Harry Reid, and it baffles me that anyone would. That may illustrate how much I have changed, but I believe it shows how much politics have changed too.
Today, I saw a Mitt Romney campaign sticker on a car, much as I saw McCain stickers for four years and much as I saw Kerry stickers before that or Gore stickers even. All of these people who are carrying around these losses long after the campaign is over. Politics did not used to be like that, I don’t think. Certainly we were not talking about shutting down the government every three months. My notions of public service may have been naive, but our politics have not always been so cynical. Still, I’m a little sorry that no one will drive around with my name on their car for years after I lose an election.