Who Likes Politicians?

This past weekend I had two experiences that further validated my views on the state of today’s political environment. The first was on Saturday, when I drove out to Barrington to ring a few doorbells for Congressional candidate Sean Casten. He’s running to unseat Republican Trump-puppet, Peter Roskam.

I expected I’d be calling on the elegant homes of white-collar Barringtonians. Instead, I was assigned a neighborhood pretty much made up of modest homes. The streets were shady but had no curbs. There were few sidewalks. Here and there I saw a newer home, a few with a “McMansion” vibe that told me real estate developers were aware of the area’s potential. But in general, I was calling on a very much middle-income group of voters.

It was a sunny Saturday so many residents were enjoying the weather somewhere else. But the folks I did catch at home kept the afternoon interesting. Some were quick to say they were Democrats. A couple were quick to say they hated Trump but wouldn’t say if they’d vote for Casten. Some were non-committal but polite. And some had already mailed in their ballot (a trend that may grow in the future). But what left the strongest impression on me were the three men who answered their front doors and immediately told me that “all politicians are bad,” “all politicians are full of BS,” “voting is a waste of time.”

The thing is, I didn’t feel like those men were making these statements just to get me off their porches. They spoke with personal conviction. — As an experienced canvasser, once a door opener rejects my message I thank them and quickly leave. However, afterward I did think about what those men said and reached a couple of conclusions.

For one thing, I have a hunch that in a Republican-friendly area like Barrington (and other “red” regions), there are more than a few people who voted for Donald Trump but are now appalled by his actions. For them, the easiest way to rationalize their voting blunder is to simply conclude that getting involved in politics and elections is a mistake. It could be they won’t be voting in this election.

I also mused on how those guys’ pessimistic views may have been helped by the one-note messages on right wing broadcast and social media; and by the billionaire-supported think tanks with an interest in furthering a distrust in government.

Of course, I would never deny that the public does have reason to be skeptical of “political people.” There are men and women who choose politics as a career for the wrong reasons. Certainly, over the years, our state and local governments have had their share of scoundrels. And it hasn’t helped to have millions of dollars pumped into campaigns that portray political contests as battles between craven, incompetent candidates only running for selfish reasons. Nor have the optics of an Illinois Democratic Party with an entrenched boss at the top (even if this image is not completely true). That situation has become a campaign liability for every Democratic candidate on the ballot, feeding even more cynicism.

And that brings me to the experience I had on Sunday. 

I attended the NTDO Annual Dinner, held in the banquet room of Maggiano’s in Old Orchard. The room was packed with New Trier Dems, other activists and many Democratic office holders and candidates. The main speaker was our candidate for governor, J.B. Pritzker.

I admit that I have no personal familiarity with the majority of the people who were in the room. But I can honestly say that the Democratic office holders and candidates there who I’ve gotten to know over the past months, years (or even decades) have my sincere admiration. They are in no way the “politicians” that the Barrington cynics believe populate government. These Democrats all entered the political world for the right reasons. In fact, at the banquet I had the honor of presenting a lifetime achievement award to one of those dedicated politicians — Cook County Clerk David Orr, surely one of the most upstanding voting officials in the entire United States.

It’s true that our government is only as good as the people we elect to serve in it. Locally, we should be proud of the quality of public servants we have helped gain office. And I believe that in this election there will be a wave of that level of quality elected in contests across the United States.

If you have any time at all to participate in this process, as a volunteer in whatever capacity — helping our local and statewide candidates and/or, if possible, helping neighboring Congressional races for Sean Casten and Lauren Underwood — please contact one or more of the activities listed on our Take Action – Election GOTV 2018 page.  Sending numbers of intelligent, dedicated, capable people to Springfield and Washington is the best way we have to refute the negative generalizations and lies of right-wing ideologues and Donald Trump.

Nels Howard
NTDO member since 1973

P.S. Early voting is from Oct. 22 – Nov. 5 – and unregistered voters with two forms of ID (including current address proof) can register to vote at their early voting site. Check out our 2018 Voter Guide for information on voter registration, early voting, finding your Election Day polling place, and to see a sample New Trier Township ballot with links to information on our exceptional Democratic candidates.