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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Politics: the Will to Serve Others

Brave People Run for Public Office

Whether we're talking about the Presidential campaign or the fight for a seat on the Board of Supervisors of Sonoma County, we're looking at, learning about, and judging individuals who have a desire to serve our community. That fact gets lost as we examine every detail of their lives. When you get a mailer full of venom on a candidate, does it make you feel impelled to run for office in the future? Or does it make you feel vulnerable - that your life could never hold up to that level of examination.

Probably the latter…

As I watch John McCain and Sarah Palin rip Barrack Obama apart for the people he spends time with - for his middle name that he did not choose, for imagined horrors that have no basis in truth, I try to imagine surviving those kind of personal assaults. How strong does an individual need to be - how confident - to brush those comments aside and face voters with the truth of who he is and why he wants to serve our county?

Serve our Country.

For some, it is justified to believe that people run for office because they seek power. It seems like an overwhelming level of responsibility just for power, but to each his/her own. There is power in leadership. In fact, not just the power of the person holding the office - but also the power of the people who helped him/her get there. Not everyone has the personality to sit through meetings - learn complex subjects, etc. They turn to others for advice. It's the advice-givers who have the power of influence.

But to serve - that I can understand. When people are motivated by their belief that they can do something to make the world a better place, they take on the responsibility of implementing their ideas just to accomplish their goals. These people tend to listen to their own counsel more. It is their personal goals that they focus upon, and those goals are often established through a value system. When they seek advice, they look to people with similar value systems so they can feel secure that the advice fits well with their goals.

I imagine power-seekers seek advice from other power seekers for the same reason - shared goals. But with those shared goals comes shared power. People seeking power often will do so at the expense of others, so sharing power can be risky.

People seeking to make the world a better place tend to be more willing to share, to be considerate of others in the process of accomplishing their goals. Their goals are not self-serving - they are goals to serve others. Very different from power seekers.

When looking in-depth at candidates, I tend to look at their value systems so I can determine if they are seeking office to serve others or to serve their need for power. It's not clear in black and white. That's why we often look to who are the people the candidate spends time with, where do they get their funding, etc. If a candidate has a long voting record, has held office or some public position in the past, we can also look to their record to see the path from which they come. That helps a lot.

Nationally, we can see that John McCain has taken a path and had a long record that shifts to serve his immediate needs, that he has been sited for poor judgment (the Keating Five trials), that he changes his mind to serve his political ambitions, that he is a self-described Maverick who bucks the system when he feels it will serve his goals, that he tends to shoot from the hip in making decisions, etc. He has a long record of experience and voting that we can look at.

Barrack Obama is much younger, but he also has a long record of choices he has made during his 47 years. His choices have been to serve, and to educate himself on how he can serve better. His theory on creating peace and prosperity by helping people at the bottom live more comfortable lives is based on visits around the world, volunteering in communities and working with world leaders who share his goals for peace. Hungry people are angry people. Comfortable people are peaceful people. Money does not trickle down from the wealthy to the poor. Comfort builds up from the bottom. Building foundations that are strong makes for better buildings. It's a metaphor that works across life. So I can look at Obama's life and see that I admire his motivation.

Locally for my Sonoma County district (5th), I see a young man vs. an older woman. It's easy to see that the older woman has spent many years serving her community as a volunteer and environmental activist. She studies hard and makes decisions based upon information. She's not a politician, she's a person who has served one step short of the panel that makes the final decisions. Her goal is to take her knowlege and experience and be part of that final decision-making process. As politics rips her personal life apart, she is vulnerable to attacks because she's a caring person. The attacks are personal because that's where she is weak. Her strengths have always been professional. I can relate to a person who lets her personal life suffer in order to accomplish professional goals.

The young man is so young, he simply doesn't have a record to examine. His life is so short, any personal short-coming can easily be explained away by youth. It takes years to settle into life. So where is vulnerable, is the company he keeps and the people who financially support him. These are choices he has made, so they become valid reflections on who this young man is. There's so little information, it's the company he keeps that has become the source for identifying who is this young man? That's unfortunate because the man himself gets lost in the proccess. Much like the older woman's personal life ends up identifying who she iswhen it's her professional life we need to examine.

What we learn from this is that if we really are to judge a person on their goals and value systems, we need to spend time with them, learn who they are and basically ignore poltical propaganda. Not easy. These people don't have time to become close friends with every voter.

So how do we learn who they are? We can only listen to the words they speak and write. We have to ignore what others say about them and go with what we observe oursleves. Is this a good person? Does this person live their lives to serve others or to accomplish personal goals of power? Does this person feel good to me? Does this person reflect my goals? Are the priorities of this person ones I can respect and trust?

When we mark our ballots we are passing judgement on every person we choose. We put our faith in his/her aiblity to serve our needs - to make decisions based upon study and information, not to serve peronal goals.

In the case of president - I find it easy to vote for the Obama/Biden ticket because I see two people whose lives have been lived to serve others. I see them seek advice from others who also live to serve.

In Sonoma County 5th District, I find it easy to choose the older woman, Rue Furch, because I have watched her serve our county selflessly for many years. I have watched her study and make decisions that have no peronsl benefit to her, but that benefit others and our environment. Her opponemt, Efren Carillio is young enough that I can wait to watch him as he grows into his life. He will be interesting to watch bcause he is intelligent and ambtious. He won't fade away. We'll have opportunities to vote for him in the future. Right now I want someone who knows for herself, what is good for our county - our home. I trust her with my home. That's the bottom line.

I trust Obama and Biden with my beloved country and my values. I trust Rue Furch with making decisions that will serve our community. I trust people who are so motivated to serve us that they are willing to run through the horrible gauntlet that is poltics. Very sad. I wonder how many good people just don't have the strength to takes this path to a job?

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