In 2004, I got off a coast-to-coast flight on the day after the Presidential election and made a promise, after hundreds of thousands of miles on planes, to give up traveling on commercial airlines and writing or shooting photos about politics.
Today, 16 years later, I’m still writing and shooting news photos about elections.
It’s 6:45 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, less than a week before the 2016 Presidential election and I just wrapped up three hours of editing stories for a national political web site and writing a column about the election.
So much for promises to myself and my wife. Another election year with too much time focuses on the contest. One would think that I learned my lesson.
Of course, I did not.
I wrote my first story about elections in 1964, when Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater for the U.S. Presidency. Too many elections since that time, too many candidates saying things they don’t mean and making promises they never intended to keep.
That’s 52 years in and around politics, writing about it for 40 of those years and working within the system for 12 as a political operative in Washington.
Politics and government have changed dramatically since Amy and I arrived in Arlington, Virginia in 1982, in a rented Ryder truck with all of belongings, and moved into a condo less than two miles from the Pentagon. The following day, I went to work in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill as a press secretary and legislative assistant to Rep. Paul Findley, a Republican from Illinois.
In those days, government functioned with coalitions that spanned party differences. Politics, like the Mafia, was “just business” and few took it personally.
Now politics is primarily personal and deadlocked in partisan pandering. Politics has always been a dirty business but one with a general feeling that when the election was over, everyone shook hands and got down to work.
Now, candidates in this year’s Presidential election didn’t shake hands in the two of the three debates and the Republican Party that controls Congress has warned Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton that if she wins the election it will be all-out war on anything she wants to try to do.
In 1982, Democrats controlled Congress and Republican Ronald Reagan worked out his first budget with Speaker Tip O’Neill over several drinks in the White House and it passed easily in the House and Senate.
Congressional budgets are primarily a system of last-minute “continuing resolutions” and stalemates that have led to government shutdowns with each side blaming the other.
I broke my promises 12 years ago to stay away from politics, even as a newspaperman. Now I’m wondering if I should, or can, leave it alone after next week’s election.
Good question…and one I will ponder over the next week.