75.8 F

Davis, California

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Column: The American job

“I gotta job for ya.”

“What are the specs?” I ask.

“It’s in CD-11, down in the East Bay and Central Valley,” he says. “Incumbent’s considered the most vulnerable Dem in the state, which means a crowded Rep primary. The field isn’t settled yet, but it won’t be easy. The reg is almost perfectly even. With the national mood, this should be a big pickup for the Reps.”

“Who’s my candidate?”

“Long time resident of the district, married, three children, beautiful home,” he says. “She’s never run for office before but she knows Congress very well – been a lobbyist in D.C. for years.”

I arch my eyebrows.

“Relax,” he says. “It’s for a non-profit disability rights organization, for an issue that affects her son, so there’s plenty of room for a good image. And her newness to the political scene is a strength this year.”

It doesn’t take long thinking about the realities of first-time candidates before I come up with my next question.


“Yep. She’s dropped in 200 grand of her own to start, which will cover you and the campaign through the primary. She’s promising a lot more from big donor connections in D.C. and L.A. After that, the NRCC and the cavalry will come in. Compensation is not a problem.”

I look into the rear-view mirror and watch a soft-looking bureaucrat walk to her car behind us. The garage just across from the Capitol is nearing empty, the perfect place for a quick conversation. She slowly fumbles for her keys with an armload of files.

“That’s quite a drive from Davis,” I say, eyeing the bureaucrat. “And the last campaign I was on was so stressful I vowed I’d never do it again.”

“Gimme a break, Rob. The Obama administration is spending this country into the ground. Whether the people like it or not Congress is insisting on their version of health care reform. Cap and trade, a pathetically apologetic foreign policy, and government takeovers of the auto industry, finance industry and private industry in general, bit by bit. None of it’s working. And you’re going to sit this one out? Is this ya New Year’s resolution?”

For most, politics is an incurable disease. Left and right, once infected, you never stop paying attention, never stop caring. Ideology and competitiveness take hold. Paid or not, you’ve got to do something. He senses my hesitation and slides a manila envelope across the dash.

“The first installment,” he smiled.

I take my time and consider how it came to this rendezvous. When I entered this world a few years back, I had no idea how hard it would be to get out. The work is far too important. Some days I enjoy it. Most days I do not. The envelope is too thin for all the misery that comes with it. But so many of my friends do it. My wife does it. Old habits die hard, too.

“I don’t know. I was thinking of just becoming a teacher now instead of later. You know how much I love to work with kids.”

“Oh, that’s right, the kids. That’s wonderful, you’ll really enjoy that.” He nods his head slowly. “And of course they’ll need great teachers, when every one of them is born owing more than $40,000 to the federal government before they can even crawl.”

His final jab speaks to the heart of a properly-motivated involvement in politics: to make the country better. I close my eyes and sigh.

It’s just so easy to fall back into the life.

“All right. But this is the last one. After this, I’m out. I’m retired. I’m done with it. Do you hear me?” I look him straight in the eyes.

He flashes a toothy grin. “Sure,” he says as he raises his palms for emphasis. “Sure, you’ll never have anything to do with politics ever again, never work in it again, never write about it again. I promise.”

ROB OLSON wishes old conversations with himself were actually this cool. For your own meeting with him come to the proverbial parking garage at rwolson@ucdavis.edu.


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