Thursday, November 18, 1999

senator learn

After much consideration, even though hordes of people have not been urging me to, I am not announcing that I will seek the office of U.S. Senator this coming election year.

There are several factors that connect to this decision. Among them are a schedule already too full for a campaign, a vague sense of purpose (what does a senator do anyway?), and a firm belief that the two major political parties, and therefore the Senate, are run by cheese-heads anyway.
My interest in seeking office began about two months ago, when I realized I would be old enough to run for governor in 2000.

My hopes of taking the state house by storm next year and writing a series of columns detailing my none-too-serious campaign were dashed prematurely when I discovered that as a two-year resident of Iowa, I don't meet the state's requirement of seven-year residency.

I was disappointed by that setback to my budding political career, partly because it meant I couldn't get revenge on the state Division of Motor Vehicles for having such long lines, but primarily because I couldn't use my great campaign slogan: "Vote for Dave Learn. He can't possibly make it any worse."

My disillusionment lasted less than five minutes, the time it took me to realize that other public offices, perhaps not as glorified as governor, still are available to me.

A quick search of the Internet revealed that I could run for the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. I chose the Senate since that meant I could get my picture in newspapers all across the state.

The first thing any aspiring politician should do is create a platform. At the presidential-campaign level, Al Gore and Bill Bradley are dickering over who is a bigger loser, Pat Buchanan and Gary Bauer are arguing over how far back they should turn the clock on America, and Texas Gov. George W. Bush is trying to demonstrate that a clear knowledge of current events isn't necessary for running the country.

My platform, as I've detailed elsewhere, would have been one I think most voters could agree with readily: thinning out the political ranks with a hunting season; making government employees go to work on stupid holidays; requiring check-out lanes to go quickly, especially express lanes; and eliminating the income tax (and therefore much of the IRS).

With a platform like that, I figured I had as good a chance to win as any other irreverent journalist whose entire political experience is a failed bid to be treasurer for the Trafford Middle School Student Government. (I got two votes from the entire seventh grade.)

The second thing a politician has to decide is which political party to run with. There are very serious philosophical differences in the two major political parties.

For starters, the national Republican Party has the image of being an elite group of white men with a lot of money who want to protect their money and position in society.

The national Democratic Party, on the other, has the image of being an elite group of white men with a lot of money who want to protect their money and position in society, while still being identified with the masses.

Since I’m not rich, it didn’t seem likely that I could find party backing there. And anyway, if you were a party leader and had your choice of fielding a candidate with experience or a complete unknown who thinks you're a cheese-head, whom would you endorse?

I would have thought so too, but to my surprise, the party head indicated he would rather back the seasoned political veteran.

It appeared that if I wanted to have party backing, it would have to come from a third party. The Reform Party, due to the election of Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, is the strongest one of these, but I'm not a billionaire like Donald Trump or Ross Perot, a professional wrestler like Gov. Ventura, or otherwise sufficiently bizarre that I would fit into such a zoo.

After much thought, I finally settled on the Free-Soiler Party. The Free-Soilers, as you may recall, were a protest political party formed before the Civil War for the express purpose of keeping new states from practicing slavery.

At last, here was a party whose line I could firmly embrace and that I could use to my advantage in political debate:

"My esteemed opponent has been outspoken on human-rights issues in China and on the matter of Social Security, but I feel I must point out that I am the only candidate to raise the issue of keeping slavery outlawed in our territories. I also support the right of women to vote. My esteemed opponent has said nothing on these issues."

It all seemed like a go. All I would need was to get 800 signatures by registered New Jersey voters backing my candidacy, and my name would go on the ballot next November for the Senate.

I'm sure I could drum up at least two of those with no effort just from within my own family. Well, one of them anyway, if my own signature counts.

So back in mid-October, I pitched the idea to my boss. I knew that as a former spokeswoman for a congressman, she would appreciate the great need to make Capitol Hill a saner place.

I also figured that her connections could help, so I offered to make her my campaign manager, a position of greater prestige than media spokeswoman and -- in my case, at least -- less time-consuming as well.

So as I say, I asked my boss what she thought of the idea. Trying to mask the "forget it, kid" tone in her voice, she said she would check it out with her boss. He said he would check it out with his boss.

When he said he would check it out with his boss, I knew it was over. Unlike many other politicians, my campaign had been nuked over ethics.

The chief concern was that running for office as a joke, while it might be fun, would make a mockery of the system.

My immediate reaction was that it's too late to stop that from happening. The national Democratic and Republican parties already have made a bigger mockery of politics than I ever could.

But instead of fighting the decision from on high, I simply accepted the untimely end to my nascent run for the Senate. After all, I'll have met the residency requirement for governor in another five years, and I wouldn't want to leave a Senate seat early to run, would I?

Thursday, November 04, 1999

while you're sleeping

Dear Evangeline,

As I write this letter, you are nearly one week old, and sound asleep at your mother's side. It's going to be a few years before you can read this, and even longer before you understand exactly what I'm feeling right now.

This letter is one of the hardest things I've ever had to write. I've made my living from words for nearly four years, but they're failing me now. Nothing can describe the sublime joy and wonder I have felt since 3:36 p.m. Oct. 30, 1999, when you were born.

You were born weighing 8 pounds 14 ounces, and when they told me you were a girl, I felt so excited my heart could have burst.

I guess the best way to describe what I'm feeling right now is "surreal." Babies are something that happen to other people, generally people who are older than your mother and myself, or at least it's always seemed that way to me before. I've long wanted to be a father, but somehow I don't think I ever really believed it was going to happen.

But now you're here, and a week after your birth, I still haven't settled down. I can honestly say that I have never felt this strongly about anyone before, except for your mother. There is nothing I wouldn't do for you, and no danger I wouldn't face to keep you safe.

Now that you've been born, I do all sorts of positively saccharine things. I sit for minutes, doing nothing but watch your chest rise and fall, as though the fate of the entire world hung on each breath.

I still feel a sense of wonder as you kick and squirm about whenever you wake up, or when you stretch your teeny-tiny limbs, wrinkle your little face, and cry.

I never thought I would say something so patently ridiculous, but I even enjoy changing your diapers. I enjoy it even at 2 a.m. when you drag me, sleepy-eyed, from my bed, and you choose that moment to christen my bed and my hand.

Then there are those other times, those what-if moments when something doesn't seem quite right. You'll understand these better when you become a parent yourself.

Your mother and I went on an emotional rollercoaster your first few days because you weren't eating well. Last night, I was on one again because you hadn't dirtied your diapers for about 14 hours.

Both of those are completely ordinary in newborns, but I wasn't comfortable until I was assured that nothing was wrong. That's just the way parents are about their children, I guess. I'll try not to embarrass you unduly when you reach middle-school age, but if I do, please understand that I mean it for the best.

Over the years to come, you and I -- and your anticipated siblings -- will do a lot together. I'm sure I'll let you down, and there'll be times you'll wish you had someone different for a father.
But I want you to know that I'm always going to be there for you, and that you always will hold a top place in my heart, along with your mother and future siblings. (I admit, your wedding day will be hard on me.)

There are a few things you'll need to know:

First and foremost, the visible world isn't what it's all about any more than the hokey-pokey is. It's hard to grasp, even at the age of 29, but the only reliable measure of character is how far ahead of ourselves we place other people.

The most important thing I can tell you is to serve God and love him with all your heart. The second-most important is that you can do that only by loving other people as much as you love yourself.

Thirdly, suck the marrow from life, but don't choke on the bone. Enjoy life as much as you can. There are always more people to meet, more places to go and more things to do.

All of them have something you will sorely miss if you don't find them -- particularly the ones everybody else ignores. Seek them out, but stay true to the values your mom and I will try to teach you.

That's about it right now. Later on, we'll get into the specifics of brushing teeth and washing behind ears, making good friends, and what to look for in boys you want to date.

Right now, I'm happy just to change your diaper when it's dirty and listen to you breathing as I hold you against my shoulder.

Right now, I just want to treasure that moment, and enjoy it while it lasts.