Back Road to the White House

8/18/2011

The pistols are poppin’ and the power is down
I’d like to try somethin’ but I’m so far from town
The sun keeps shinin’ and the North Wind keeps picking up speed
Gonna forget about myself for a while, gonna go out and see what others need

Bob Dylan
Thunder on the Mountain, 2006

Can you believe the politicians in convoys of luxury buses crisscrossing Iowa to prove how much they’re just like the people outside they’re choking with diesel fumes whilst standing in sun-scorched lines to get a glimpse of them? Palin, Bachmann, now even Obama. Nauseating.

Nothing says “I’m one of you” like a bus with overstuffed leather seats, plasma screens and an endless supply of fizzy water and finger food. I’m practically verklempt by the compassion. These people just give and give and give.

But the presidential wannabes’ rural travels inspired a thought. A thought so profound my brothers and sisters that I implore you to join me in a quest to make it so.

Let’s take every one of these politicians and drop them penniless in the most remote backwater hollow in America. Give them 30 days to find their way to Washington. No handlers, no speech writers, no hair, makeup or wardrobe people. No PAC money, no fizzy water and finger food and most of all absolutely no TV cameras and staged photo opportunities.

Let’s make them spend some quality time listening to real people. Let’s have them figure out how to earn a few bucks for the fare on a real bus. One with a bathroom that smells like reprocessed Taco Bell with a seat beside an inked-up 17-year old girl with a two-year old who stares a hole right through you.

Maybe along the way they’ll meet a few of the 59 million Americans that don’t have health insurance. Folks who’ve lost their jobs and or homes. Folks who’ve lost hope. Scared, angry folks. Folks who know what the politicians won’t dare say. And that is that America is indisputably in decline.

Maybe while they’re picking up roadside rubbish to make a few bucks for lunch at the meat and three they’ll think about leadership and those they aspire to lead. Maybe that’ll lead to the realization that leadership is about inspiring, not inflaming. Reassuring, not scaring the bejesus out of people. That success requires creativity and cooperation, not boilerplate partisan prescriptions.

What I have absolutely no doubt they’ll discover while standing along a tar and chip road somewhere will be a kind stranger who’ll take pity on them and offer a warm meal and lift to a truck stop along the Interstate. I’ve met them myself.

Maybe the candidates that survive the ordeal will make it to DC with a fresh perspective on the presidency. Perhaps they’ll have learned that it’s a position that belongs to the people of this great nation, not a trophy like a mounted moose head.

We’ll hope the journey has inspired them to serve all of the the people of this land, not set them on one another. Most importantly, we will hope that the candidates’ egos and ambition will have been tamed, but not diminished. Because the task surely demands boldness. But boldness that comes from humility and generosity of the spirit, not honed by playing visiting rock star in a luxury bus in Waterloo.

Where else but America? Best cover of Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain” ever.
Wanda Jackson & Jack White.

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