In high school, fifty years ago, all I wanted to be was a lawyer. I’d work for ten or fifteen years in a private practice, build up a name for myself, then get elected attorney general of whatever state I was living in at the time. I would establish a reputation for taking on corruption in all forms and win a trust with the people. Halfway through my second term, I would announce my intentions to run for governor. I would instantly be attacked by my opponents as being opportunistic, but I would respond by pointing out that if I had been ambitious, I would not have taken on as many difficult cases as I had.
For example, when a state senator from my home district and from my own political party was caught cheating on his wife with his son’s nineteen year old college roommate, I would launch a thorough investigation into the cover up by party leaders that would lead to the indictment of three elected officials. Why would I have done that, I would say, if I was as opportunistic as some have suggested. This explanation, backed up by my rock solid record, would be untouchable by all political rivals, and I would sail to victory.
My first term would be a rocky one as I take on a series of controversial issues such as renegotiating union contracts with state workers, restructuring that state business tax, and seeking to improve public education by raising teacher pay. I would win reelection to a second term, but it would be close as I will have slightly alienated my base while also exposing myself to attacks from the opposing party. With the trust of the people, I will be able to cast myself as someone who does what is right no matter what the political consequences might be, and that will prove just enough to eek out a three percentage point victory.
Still, the close results will weaken my party, and I will have to tone down my agenda in the second term. I will have my wins and I will have my losses, but overall, I will leave office with a sixty seven percent approval rating and rumors of being added to the national ticked as a vice presidential candidate. While I will have no intention of taking the position, I will be vague about in the media and enjoy completely all the attention. When a less charismatic governor from a southern state is chosen over me, I will do everything I can to deliver my state in the national election. I will be successful, then, a few months later I will retire to the countryside to work on my memoirs.
The book will actually be less memoir and more political treatise, as I discuss all aspects of how to run a successful campaign, but also broader issues of government and society. I will call it, “The Politics of Politics: The Role of American Government in American Lives.” The book will go on to be hailed as one of the most important political works ever written and, long after I am dead, will be assigned to college and high achieving high school students as required reading.
That is not, however, how my life went. At the age of twenty, I was diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease that caused me to drop out of college. While alcoholism may not be a disease most people picture someone being “diagnosed” with, I was. One morning, after drinking so much that I apparently stole a police car and drove it into my ex-girlfriend’s mother’s house. In order to get me off without jail time, my lawyer, who later went on to run for attorney general of our state, brought into court a doctor who officially pronounced me an alcoholic.
I was sent off to rehab where I met my wife. Now, you may not think a match made in rehab would last, but we were married for forty years before she fell off the wagon and drove a car into my mother’s house killing them both.
Before that happened, however, I reenrolled in school. Nine months later I dropped out when our first daughter was born. Two years later, I reenrolled again, only to drop out again nine months later when our daughter was born. Two years later, I reenrolled again, only to drop out again nine months later when our second son was born. After that, I took a job working in a crayon factory operating a machine that sorted the different colors so they could later be put into boxes.
Every day, as I separated red from blue, I tried to figure out a path from the crayon factory to the state capital, but I could never figure one out. After about five years into it, I stopped trying. The job was good, it gave me and my family benefits and enough money on which to live. As hard as I tried to convince myself that was enough, however, I would often leave the crayon factory at night and write political speeches in my head while I drove home. Eventually, there got to be so many I couldn’t keep track in my head anymore, and I started typing them up. I would sometimes send them to local politicians to see if they would be interested in using them, but I never heard anything back. After years of doing that, I eventually stopped and devoted myself simply to crayons.
Five years ago, at the age of sixty-three, I was presented with the chance to run for city council. There was going to be a special election to replace a councilmember who had recently died of a rare blood disease that had yet to be named. I had no trouble collecting the signatures needed to run. My wife and I had long been active in the community since our kids were young, and we had established a lot of important relationships. My campaign got several key endorsements including the Chamber of Commerce, several retired council members, and the Boy Scouts.
Polls showed a tight race, but a week before the election I was ahead of my closest competitor by four percentage points, just outside the margin of error. In that last week, however, something happened and my campaign slowly began to implode. It seemed that every idea I had, whether it be going on the public access channel, driving a giant truck through the center of town with pictures of my face plastered all over it, or standing in front of people’s homes and shouting campaign promises into their open windows, my closest competitor seemed to get to all of it first.
Sitting around with my family after the election results came in the following Tuesday night, we tried to figure out what went wrong. Not only did I loose, I came in dead last. The only road I had ever found from the crayon factory to the state capital had been washed out. The more we thought about it, the more distracted we became from the fact that my son was not with us. As we tried to figure out where he was, a reporter came on television with a story that someone in my inner circle was rumored to have been selling campaign secrets for sexual favors.
I immediately got up from the sofa to confront my son about the report. When I found him, he denied that he was the one who had betrayed me. I don’t know if it was the way he stuttered and stammered through his plea, or if it was the fact that when I asked him about it he was in the process of making one of his transactions with my opponents twenty year old daughter, but I didn’t believe him. I threw him out of the house, and while he stood naked on our front lawn begging to be let back in, and collapsed back onto the sofa with the rest of my family. Looking around, I realized that no matter how hard I tried to make my life what I wanted it to be, my life kept pushing back. It seemed to know what it wanted to be, and it had no patience for my desires.
So, while I was never able to publish my ground breaking political treatise, I was able to send my estranged son a text message several months after the election that summed up everything I would have said in my book. “Fuck politics.”