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Portrait of an Honest Politician

The Story of a Small, Local, City Councilor

By Punkerslut

Image by SasaSi, CC BY-NC-SA License
Image: By SasaSi, CC BY-NC-SA License

Start Date: June 9, 2013
Finish Date: December 1, 2013

"...a man is not to be reverenced more than the truth..."

--Socrates, from "The Republic,"
by Plato, 360 BC

The First Dialogue

     Steve was a normal person in all respects. He has lived in the same town all of his life, he has kept the same group of people as friends since school, and even though he has changed jobs a few times, he still works for the company that first hired him. Steve was an elected councilor for Southwoodshire, located in Nottingham, England. He was also a lifetime member of the Libcon Party, and to them, his town was just another one out of dozens of small, former-mining towns throughout Britain which quickly dwindled to insignificance once every piece of metal and coal in its earth had been dug up.

     It was the insignificance of the little town, comprised of no more than 10,000 people, that made the Libcon Party prefer Steve as their local presence. He was well-known, which would make campaigning cheap and elections certain, and if he ever disagreed with the party about an issue, he wouldn't be in a position of office to do much of anything about it. Certainty without cost. The Libcon Party didn't have much to worry about in terms of election battles in Southwoodshire, while their opponents, the Rightleft Party, didn't have that type of deep connection to the local population.

     Steve wanted the job because he liked being around the people in his town and hearing their problems. He loved drinking at the pubs with the local townspeople, even joking with them that he was "doing political campaign work for my representative constituency." For him, it was drunken games of darts instead of going door-to-door asking people what bothers them and pretending to care; it was vodka and rum-fueled storms of dancing fury, all done to the beat of a mob cheering "Go councilor!", that made Steve want this job for the rest of his life. He didn't bother the party, and the party didn't bother him. Then, everything changed suddenly.

     A member of the Libcon Party requested a meeting with Steve by phone, showing up later in the day at a restaurant in Southwoodshire. There was no indication that they were going to punish him in some way for his public displays of intoxicated stupidity, but Steve was still nervous. If asked, he would say that he did understand the party's objectives and why they were important, but more importantly, he mostly agreed to them because he couldn't think of anything better. And personally, he never cared for the debates and arguments, which some party members referred to as "party work." It was certainly not the type of party work that Steve wanted to do.

     "How's your constituency doing?" Ron, the visiting party member, asked.

     "Quite well, actually," Steve replied, "And yours?"

     "Thanks, but, I actually don't represent constituencies," Ron said, "I once filled in for a retiring, town councilwoman, but that was only for a few months and I promised I'd never let myself do it again. Too many complaints to deal with."

     "So, what brings party problems to our small, little town?"

     "Well, I thought you may have read it in the political section of the news today," and as Ron finished his sentence, he looked up and saw the blank stare of Steve, so he continued, "Your district no longer exists."


     "Your district no longer exists," Ron repeated, "The bigwigs of the Libcons and the Rightlefts finally settled on an agreement in redistricting this area, which they've been trying to do for decades, you know that. Well, they finally have an agreement, and Southwoodshire is no longer a district with its own elections."

     "Well, who's in charge of Southwoodshire now?" Steve's voice was somewhat desperate.

     "See, the problem is Haxworthton needed to be expanded to encompass a more heterogeneous population all along the River Trent, but then that meant taking area away from Lyddbury and Newstockton. Lyddbury was eventually beefed up with some land from the Windcombeham, which they obviously could spare, but Newstockton was left as basically a skeleton, so they decided to merge it with Southwoodshire."

     "So, is this a good thing?" Steve asked.

     "Yes, of course," Ron replied, "That means that our party can now focus more intensively and with greater concentration on our problem areas." ( Problem areas is a term used for regions of the country where the people vote for the Rightleft Party.) "More importantly," Ron said, "The party certainly has not forgotten about you. There's a new district just waiting for your councilorship."


     "Yes, at Hambournewich."

     "That's hundreds of miles away."

     "Perhaps so," Ron said, "But the district at Hambournewich has been a Libcon stronghold for more than a hundred years. You don't even have to campaign professionally. Just show up, say that you're running for councilor with the Libcon Party, and you're guaranteed to be elected. They don't care who you are, if you do canvassing, if you show up to debates, or whatever. They just care that you're a Libcon -- or, I guess, they may care even more that you're not a Rightleft. You were recommended for the position as an ideal candidate, based on your past experience. You are interested, aren't you?"

     "Well, of course," Steve responded with some hesitation.

     "I hope so, because you seemed to be very happy with your job," Ron said, "Besides, the job of town councilor for Southwoodshire no longer exists. You've technically been unemployed since this morning, just not officially. There are some things you should know about Hambournewich, though."

     "Well, like what?"

     "For one, it's not the backyard of a post-industrial town agonizing over the death of native coal mining from over fifty years ago. Half of the population of Hambournewich are upper-class snobs who fight over who can send their children to a more expensive, prestigious school. The only front page you'll read there is whether the Gross Domestic Product is showing signs of increasing or decreasing. The voter is a sophisticate and an intellectual, or at least they think of themselves as such, and they demand their politicians to be just like they are."

     "Is that really different from Southwoodshire?"

     There was a calm silence as Ron swished his drink back and forth, creating a tiny mini-whirlpool. Then he spoke, "There are no bars or pubs that serve beer in Hambournewich -- there are only weekend wine tasting events and drunk book club meetings with intoxicated, self-righteous soccer mom's."

     A chill coursed through Steve's blood, uncertain whether his fear was truly from Hambournewich's character or simply in how Ron presented it.

     "You see, with your past and your ability to get the votes of the working class, we wanted to make certain that you would be willing to make the necessary changes to be the happy, pleasant, adorable, and most-importantly, vote-worthy representative of such humble geniuses," Ron said, "Like I said, the town has a deep-seated hatred for the Rightlefts They'll vote for any Libcon politician who walks into town, as long as that politician quotes Shakespeare liberally, wears a suit, and has a smooth, slow voice -- in fact, forget the Shakespeare, just dress and sound nice."

     There was another brief moment of silence as Ron looked at his associate, expectingly. "I'm absolutely interested in keeping my position within the party and the government," Steve grabbed the moment, "It's the only thing I've really done that I feel well suited for. Change to make myself more likable to the people? Not a problem. Majority rules and the mass of voters are always right. Who would I be to oppose them? Not their elected representative, that's for certain."

     "Good good," Ron replied, "I knew you would take this all in stride and with grace. That's the real basis of being a professional politician: carefully examine each problem and respond only with an eye toward how the voting public would want you to respond. Don't forget -- you're not simply a politician, you're a trusted craftsman at a trade, and what you produce from your labors is a candidate that the people will vote for."

The Second Dialogue

     Steve had sufficiently convinced Ron of his willingness to be as fitting as necessary for the people of Hambournewich, but he had his own doubts. One of the lessons he had learned from politics was always to appear optimistic when things looked good and skeptical when things looked bad -- always leave yourself an out for each situation, and never truly commit yourself to any one position. And a politician cannot escape their political instincts just because they are with their own party members. Today he played the optimism card.

     By the weekend, Steve had already said all of his goodbyes, gave all of his farewells to his former high school mates and his old girlfriends, stayed for an extended dinner at his parents' and thanked all of the locals who had done favors for him. The few active party members from Southwoodshire all congratulated Steve for "moving on up" and often commented to each other in front of him, "Well, if any of us were going to get chosen, we knew it would have to be Steve." At one point, he asked, "And why couldn't any of you have gotten the position?" The reply was unanimous: "Because everyone in this town loves you. If they needed a politician in another faraway land, they'd obviously grab the best and brightest around."

     The train ride was longer than Steve had expected. It was only when he was looking at the train schedule times that it fully hit him that he was really going to a "faraway land." A stonemason can bring their chisel, a carpenter their saw, a miner their pick, but a politician on the move must leave behind their voters, their faithful supporters, and their helpful party members. There would be new ones for him to learn from and hopefully master their skills, like a laborer who changes to a new tool with a little bit of caution and a little bit of hope.

     "Steve, Libcon Party Member, Hambournewich," he was greeted as he left the train by a man in a top hat and suit, reading from a small piece of paper, and then looking up, "I'm Quincy, a member from the party, here to help you settle in to your new post here in Hambournewich." He grabbed one of Steve's suitcases and hustled off his new acquaintance with little more than receiving a "Pleasure to meet you."

     "The party has gone through the trouble of providing us with a rented car for the upcoming campaign. You need to be constantly on the move," Quincy opened the door for Steve to the passenger side and then got behind the steering wheel. "Your responsibilities here will be very different from those in Southwoodshire. I'm sure that Ron briefed you on all of that when he came through."

     "Of course," Steve replied, "He had an intimate view of the people and the city, and no good politician could ignore that advice."

     "And good politicians always get elected," Quincy replied, "Are you hungry after that long train ride? I know I could eat. Let's go downtown, I know this place that's out of the way."

     "Sure, where are we going?"

     "Bartucci's, it's a restaurant," Quincy said, "It'll give us more time to get to know each other, and there's a few party issues we need to discuss."

     "Party issues?"

     "Yeah, like how we're going to sweep the election out from under the Rightlefts when they're ramping up campaign funding and when our councilor in this district just relocated to one of the newly created districts. Those kinds of party issues."

     "Ron never mentioned anything about Hambournewich's last councilor," Steve said, thinking that maybe he should've kept the comment to himself. He definitely didn't express his next thought: all politics is picking up and putting together pieces of information that you find.

     "Hey, every district has its issues that you have to confront, and someone as regionally active as Ron probably wouldn't even have that insight. You get what I mean?" Quincy receives a nod.

     "We have some benefits here for the professional politician, too," Quincy argued, "The local population despises the Rightleft Party. They absolutely hate them and every slimy, greasy candidate they put up for election."

     "So, what's different this time?"

     "Sometimes people vote for a party that they absolutely despise, when they're too timid and afraid to put in someone without any local roots or connections. It is our job today, as politicians, to terrify that fear out of them. Terrify them with gloomy ad campaigns, characteristic distortions, and somehow even shine a good light on you, just enough for people to think that their choice in the issue actually matters."

     "Are you going to tell me how I can get in touch with the roots of the local people?"

     "You better damned believe it," Quincy said, "I've been consulting for politicians for more than a decade. When I'm done with you, you'll become something that the people will want without even knowing why they want it."


     "A finished product," Quincy replied, "Don't think there is anything human in the politician besides the person being the politician. You're an actor and they don't want you, they want your display -- as a politician, they want your politicalness, as a skill."

     "What does politicalness involve?"

     "You should know," Quincy said, "People want someone in charge of their neighbors, but never themselves. They want someone who can come down grudgingly hard on those who give them problems, so that they can continue in their meek facade while hiring wolves to devour anyone who they don't approve. Nobody wants to fire old Joe, the seventy-year old mechanic who can't quite remember one tool from the next, but wouldn't it be great if you could hire someone to do that? The person you'd hire would have to have that skill, though -- politicalness. It's what you need to have to get elected anywhere. You wouldn't be here in Hambournewich unless someone in the party thought you had that skill."

     "Garbageman of the community, and nobody else wants to get their hands dirty," Steve said.

     "In some communities, that's precisely what it is, but we're not that far from civilization yet," Quincy said, "There are still certain requirements, especially from such a community of middle-class managers, engineers, accountants, and university professors. You need class, intellect, sophistication, even beauty and grandeur, and I'll make sure you have all of these things. But there's one thing we have to do first."

     "What's that?"

     "Eat! I'm starving," Quincy pulled over, and the two men walked into a restaurant carrying the banner "Bartucci's Pub and Grill." They sat at a round table, and Quincy was the much more relaxed member of the party.

     "What was the most important thing to the voters in Southwoodchop? What did you do for them?"

     "It was Southwoodshire, actually," Steve replied to the start of a new barrage of training and questions, "And I did everything they needed. I was there at football games as a symbol of the local people, I was there when anyone was elected student body president to shake their hand, and I was there at religious buildings on every major holiday. Make an appearance with the people, be with the people, finally, be identified with the people, even when it means drinking at a tavern late at night."

     "Good approach," Quincy replied, "Give people what they'll want and they'll buy it. It's all a basic market economy. Let me describe to you the kinds of goods consumers around here are interested in. People around here need more than just that gimmicky type of church stuff. They want to see you at PTA meetings, wine tastings, book clubs, conventions that are scientific, social, cultural, or somehow not totally self-interested. You shouldn't just be showing up to shake the hand of the new high school student body president -- you should be talking to his parents at that weekend's parent-teacher conferences."

     "That does all seem a bit different from Southwoodshire."

     "You've been promoted from community-man to man-about-the-town. Congratulations."

     "Is it really a promotion, or more of a departmental switch?"

     "Look at it how you like," Quincy said, "It's what the party provided you with when your old district turned into several tiny little pieces of other districts around it. When the sacrifice had to be made, it was your old town, so instead of letting your political skills rot away in that town without so much as a town crier position available, we got you this district -- Hambournewich."

     "I really think I could get along and learn to respect these people who live at Hamsandwich."

     "It's Hambournewich. And anyway, here's the schedule. There's a charity auction you need to speak at, an educator's convention with some high profile citizens, a book club reading at an overpriced bookstore, and the wine tasting, which will be held here, at Bartucci's. That will get us to a good point. It's just a few weeks of becoming known to a population whom you've still never interacted with -- after that, we will be more selective about your appearances. You need to be in the public's eye, but that also has to be the right public's eye. You'll do well, Steve; just never let anyone tell you that a Rightleft can do the job better than a Libcon."

The Third Dialogue

     It was the week of the politician's introduction to his constituency, a time that politicians of old would pass by with handshaking and kissing babies, at least if you believed the photos in the newspaper.­ The first event would be an appearance at a charity auction, which the party even provided a small stipend to make sure the new potential mayor didn't look like he was entirely outside of the crowd. Knowing that he needed to establish contact with these people, Steve grabbed every chance he could to talk with the locals.

     The conversation, though, was not something Steve would participate in voluntarily if he had the choice. Discussion ranged from issues like school funding statistics, zoning tax policies, and economic regulatory restrictions. Each of these talks started out with either a quote from some French playwright, a story that sounded suspiciously made-up, or simply a series of fast-paced, quickly-stated complaints, usually just about two public status-seekers nudging each other in their struggle to reach a plateau beyond the masses.

     Like many political talks, Steve saw the responsibility and took the advantages of being the listener, but the melodramatic performances of these middle-class citizens, some full of complaints and others boasting with compliments, required his constant attention. He was constantly changing his facial expressions, looking alert and then concerned, appearing at once as a soft listener and then again as someone who can stand firm on an issue, even when there was no issue at all. Standing around a punch bowl, waiting for arguments between citizens to end either in ignoring each other or one person walking away, the event was far more draining on Steve than any other political event he had attended. It was burrowing into him.

     Not even the presence of Quincy could help the situation, especially since he appeared busier than Steve, making rounds through the social cliques at a much more rapid pace. There was a smoothness with Quincy, who entered into conversations with just the right comment during an ongoing conversation, making himself well known and in a quick matter, and leaving with a joke or comment that added to the amusement of his listeners without requiring any commitments or compromises on his part. More than once he burst into a social group without even noticing Steve as one of its participants, but he always seemed to make up for this with a warm, memorable introduction.

     Once finally released from the grip of social involvement, the two party soldiers had the solace of their own dialogue once more. It was in the solace of a car ride that they would have their debriefing.

     "I hated that," Steve said, "Every move I made, from the casual dipping into the punch bowl with the ladle to the height I raised my eyebrows when told a punchline in a story, everything I did was a facade to win them over as friends and compatriots to the Libcon party. For some reason, I felt they wouldn't have been won over if I had a few beers before initiating conversation with them."

     "Precisely," Quincy replied, "You're a very good politician. The people want someone who they believe would want to discuss social policy at every single hour of the night -- they want someone who would get up at 3 am to have a conversation on how to make recycling collection in the city more efficient by a few percentage points. You convinced them of that."

     "I wasn't very honest with those people."

     "Those people wanted something from you, and you sincerely and honestly gave precisely that to them. You didn't withhold a single thing, no matter what they asked for or how they asked for it. You're a completely honest politician. Not one grain of truth was withheld from them. Even I would trust you if I were them."

     "You wouldn't trust me anyway?"

     "You're a professional politician. You should know to not get politics mixed into the job. Anyway, the important thing tonight is that you appear fully and completely like an honest, trustworthy person."

     "Are you sure?"

     "Of course I'm sure! Without honest people like you, we wouldn't have a political party at all -- we would only have a conspiracy. Anyway, you're honest in the eyes of the voters, and that's all that really matters. Or, more specifically, you're honest in the eyes of the people who most influence the voters."

     "How do you mean?"

     "You spent the night talking to university professors, restaurant and club owners, and even a few people who work in media," Quincy said, "You can't spend your time visiting every little hovel and shaking every homeless person's hand. For every rich snob who lectures classes, or creates the social atmosphere of the town, writes headlines, or somehow has a hand in culture -- for every one of those people you talk to, it's like talking to twenty or fifty normal people, you know, real voters. It's the electoral college of influence. The way the game is designed, you have to play it this way or lose."

     "I never spent too much time with any well-known townspeople in Southwoodshire."

     "That's because there weren't any there. Average income in Hambournewich is more than three times that of Southwoodshire. At party meetings in your old town, there was talk of 'the folk,' while at party meetings in this town, there's only talk of 'the clientèle'"

     "I didn't appear as an intellectual sophisticate like they are?"

     "God no!" Quincy retorted, "Intellectual sophisticates have too many deep and dark secret pleasures, and they wouldn't trust someone in authority like themselves. They might want a spouse like themselves, but not anyone sitting on city council. They want someone they can trust -- and you got their trust perfectly, because all you did was talk to them and listen. And at any time you get pushed into a corner where they want you to make a promise, just promise them that you'll look into it."

     "I knew that rule from day one," Steve replied.

     "Look, if those people really wanted someone who could get drunk on ten beers and dance like an idiot, they'd go back to the tavern in Southwoodshire where you established yourself among your first electorate. People don't want that here, which is why it's very far the hell away from your old district. Just give them what they want, and they'll pay for it. That's our job, it's what we do. And these people want you to be an honest city councilor, civilized and amenable to the cultural products of civilization, which these citizens believe themselves to be."

The Fourth Dialogue

     While alone in his apartment, with the night shadows cast across the land, loneliness for home sunk in. Steve called his father.

     "Hi, Steve! I've heard about the financing crisis at the general hospital. Have they put you in charge of that? Is that what you're working on?"

     "No, no, I've been campaigning most of the time."

     "So, the breakdown in negotiations between regional governments and the federal government, is that what you're keeping busy with? It must require a lot of time and patience to handle all of that stuff."

     "No, I'm not actually working on that, either."

     "The roads! And the road system, with all of the new construction going on and bridges going up left and right -- that's what you're doing, right?"

     "Dad, it's more complicated than that," Steve said.

     "How do you mean?"

     "Well, I'm sort-of taking care of all those things you mentioned, by taking care of something bigger that will eventually solve those problems for us that you mentioned." And then he heard himself saying something that Quincy would have said: "It's what politicians do." Steve never realized the vagueness of that statement until he was saying it to his father without thinking about it. The rest of their talk was dry, dreary, dull, and relatively short.

The Fifth Dialogue

     "A charity convention is easy," Quincy lectured Steve in a car ride through Hambournewich, "Everyone's there already to buy something, so may as well roll you out at just the same time. The wealth of people who show up to those conventions is roughly about the same as that of the people you want to vote for you. Influence the influencers, they'll make sure every peasant and homeless thinks you're trying to do your best, or at least good enough to deserve their respect."

     "What are we doing today?"

     "Tonight I've got you scheduled to speak at an educator's convention. It's important because being here will grant you easy access to the local teachers and professors. Basically, everyone who knows someone important in town will know people at this convention."

     "I'm interested. So tell me, why do they organize this convention?"

     "For the most part, it's a bunch of teachers and substitute teachers who want to be known as 'academics' and 'scholars' for a single day, a sort-of vacation for adults who imagined their adulthoods would have more glory than they their childhoods promised. They're getting their fix of meaning something to society, even if it is only for a single day. And then tomorrow it's back to grading algebra homework. The topic is something like enhancing public civil service through education."

     "Should I be expected to learn anything today?"

     "God no!" Quincy replied, "That would be outside of our jurisdiction. Tonight is about appearances, or more specifically, about doing what we do as professional politicians. Nobody's just going to make up the minds of those people to vote for the Libcon candidates; that's what we're going to have to do."

     "No lessons, understood," Steve replied.

     "If you're going to learn anything, it'll be the same boring complaints and irritating droll that you were exposed to at the charity convention," Quincy said, "Know when to smile and when to look concerned, and they won't give a damn about what goes inside your head at all. And if anyone asks about the upcoming wine tasting event, just make sure to say you like Port."

     "Port? Is that even the most fancy wine I could use to impress such high-end voters?"

     "No, not really," Quincy replied, "It actually is sort of an inside-joke from the last wine tasting event. You won't really have to say much more than that. You'll get the swing of things around here in no time. And remember, you're not even interested in these people as voters. You're interested in them as influencers. One vote doesn't mean a thing, but one damning lecture, one critical news review, one librarian recommending pamphlets that tear down the Libcon party and our platform -- just one of those and your candidacy is in jeopardy."

     "And this is much easier than going directly to the voters, right?"

     "Now you're learning! Either you can have a quiet conversation in an air conditioned building with food and liquor available, or you can deal with the hoarse screams and the filthy stenches of mob democracy. At least you can breathe through your nose when you're campaigning at a convention center or an auction. If you deal directly with the rabble, you have to deal directly with some people who don't exactly take care of themselves. Let them get convinced to vote for you by the newspapers, the televisions, and, with the grace of god, the university professors, too."

     "Is it possible that some voters might escape that net of influence?"

     "That issue is already resolved tactically," Quincy said, "That net of influence is absolutely guaranteed to catch 60% of the vote, with the worst possible circumstances. But in a town as academically and socially bound together as Hambournewich, you can be certain that percentage reaches as much as 80% to 90%. If there was anyone outside of that net of influence, it wouldn't be worth our time to get to know their problems anyway. Do that if you want to lose the election, but you'll have the solace of knowing, at least, that the few 10 or 20% who actually did vote for you did so because they believed in you, instead of because some dominant personality-type influenced them into voting for you."

     "Dominant personality-type?"

     "Sure, that's why the net is so tight," Quincy replied, "Not everyone can be harassed into believing that there is a candidate worth voting for; sometimes, television sets and newspapers themselves are too passive to penetrate into that mindless lull that fills the thinking space of the average voter. You need someone who leads the others, like a manager or a popular friend, to read the papers and the newspapers, and then explain to their unthinking comrades why they should vote for us. There are the intellectuals at the top of the influence game, the dominant personality types who interact with the voters just below them, and then the great, mass of unwashed rabble. The only way for a politician to win is to interact with as few people as possible while guaranteeing their victory."

     "We are far away from Southwoodshire," Steve said, "That's for sure."

     "New challenges, new tools, new skills," Quincy replied, "Even stonemasons switch between different types of hammers. You simply need to switch the way you handle people whenever you're susceptible to the scrutiny of the public. All right, we're here at the education convention. Look smart."

     Handshaking, brief introductions, short stories, laughter, concern, complaint, and every type of social coercion -- to Steve, everything that was happening that night seemed like a complete reiteration of the charity auction. There were the fake smiles, the tacky jewelry, the gaudy clothing, generic conversation, generic appearances, generic human beings. The only thing that was new this time was the speech, and that went off perfectly well. Fortunately for Steve, it had nothing to do with education; all he really needed to do was to congratulate some of the lead members and speakers at the convention, pay some verbal tribute to the local schooling system and its employees, and make one comment about someone else's presentation to prove that he was listening. But then, something ripped apart the perfect serenity of that politician's outing with his city -- the opposing candidate.

The Sixth Dialogue

      "What the fuck is he doing here?" Quincy leans in whispering to Steve without changing the exuberant politician's smile from his face, "I'm supposed to know where he is at all times, I should've known that he was going to be here. Someone in the party must've screwed up."

     "You really think this is the party's fault?"

     "It's easy to blame a bureaucrat, so I'm doing it," Quincy said, "But anyway, why the hell would the opposition even show up here? I never figured that guy for being the college-grad type."

     Steve cleared his throat, "Uhhh?"

     "Look, nevermind. Just don't intervene unless the situation prescribes it. Be political. You understand the trade."

     Steve examined his opponent, this being the first time he actually saw his opponent. He, too, was accompanied by counsel from his own party, the Rightlefts, and his advisor looked like that amicable combination of friendliness and professionalism, just like Steve felt with Quincy.

     "Well, why shouldn't I intervene?" Steve asked, "Wouldn't an ambitious politician look good, like I could solve some of these people's real problems?"

     "If they had their problems solved, then what need would they have of you?" Quincy replied, "We should leave. It would make this campaign hell for both parties if there was intensive aggression between the candidates right from the start." Steve's opponent looked probably much like himself, plastic professionalism veiled over inexperience and mixed feelings. He was going to let Quincy know how he felt.

     "They don't want to elect me," Steve said, "They want to elect trustworthiness, scholarly interests, culture, and all of the things that I am not. It's just about carrying the right social symbols that make people want to write your name down and throw it in giant bucket. It's not about me, it's about this gimmicky fraud of a personality I put up for them."

     "Now I think you're getting it," Quincy replied.

     "Actually, you're right," Steve said, "I really think that I am getting it now. It seems that for a role like this, you could pretty much have scooped up anyone and put them in the right clothes, give them the right direction, and then hoards of voters would swing to support them."

     "So, this is a conversation about you now?"

     "They don't want me for who I am. They want me for who they think I am. For who I really am, for what I mean to me, that never enters into the question for them."

     "And why should your private matters ever enter into a question that is as specifically and strictly public as a city council election? Nobody ever ask you to become a politician so that you can better express your own personal self onto the world. If you want that, become an artist. You're supposed to be a professional politician."

     "I'm a professional liar. You want me to interact with these people and I can't even respect them. They'd vote for someone carrying a book without a cover and occasionally saying something in Latin. How can you really want to place me in a situation where I am surrounded by these shallow people on holidays, at award ceremonies, and during every social obligation that a city councilor can have?"

     "Are the people of Southwoodshire all that more deeper than the people around here?" Quincy asked, "I didn't know there were so many conversations going on in that tavern about nuclear physics and international diplomacy."

     "They knew how to elect a politician who they could actually trust."

     "Hambournewich can learn to trust you," Quincy replied, "It can learn to trust anybody, just like you said, put on the politician's costume, make the rounds, spread the influence, and get elected. You enter into it as much as an artist enters into a sculpture, and so far, you've been giving these people a masterpiece."

     "I don't want this," Steve said, "It's not who I am. I'm not going to bribe the voters with an image of a human being so far removed from who I am. And, yes, they are electing just a politician, a city council, a mayor, a governor, or a president, but that individual also happens to be a person, too. In this case, it happens to be me."

     "You bribed the citizens of Southwoodshire with your public drinking, your drunk dancing, your comradery and friendship and all that. What's different here? Was it easier? Is that what you're missing?"

     "It was easier because being someone I'm not is too draining on me, especially when it needs to be done all of the time and for all of the people. That's what Hambournewich would mean me for as its city council -- that constant fear of saying the wrong thing or falling out of favor with the local university dean or something that crushes it all, turns everyone against you, and makes all of your friends forget about you. That's why I can't do it."

     "What?" Quincy said, "You're quitting?"

     "I have to."

     "Why did you even get into this business of politics if you were afraid of lying?"

     "You nailed it earlier," Steve said, "Because it was easy for me."

     "Just as easy as walking out on the job, I guess," Quincy became sore.

     "Not walking out -- walking upright for once," Steve replied.

     "Before you do anything, before you make any decisions, you should talk to Ron," Quincy said.

     "I'm certain about this decision, I've made up my mind," Steve said, "I can meet with Ron so we can handle whatever remaining party affairs there are. I don't mind that at all."

     "Remaining party affairs?" Quincy said, "You're a remaining party affair now." The conversation ended there.

The Seventh Dialogue

     "I understand you want to leave the offer for candidacy the party has given you in Hambournewich," Ron spoke slowly, "This greatly discourages me. Can you imagine the type of world we would be living in if every Libcon politician stepped down and allowed the Leftrights to govern this country?"

     "I don't see how that would be such a great issue, Ron," Steve said, "Only two years ago, the Leftrights held a majority in the city councils. All of the Libcon politicians stepping down then wouldn't have made a single dent on issues which were strictly decided by party ideology, which somehow can be any and all issues."

     "You're sore of politics? Is that it? Too much stress from all of the public appearances, right?" Ron tried to be friendly, "You know, we offered you that candidacy in Hambournewich because your old district was annihilated in the law books We were trying to help you out the way that you helped out the party."

     "I appreciate all that you've done for me," Steve replied, "But when my old district was vaporized in the congressional books, my congressional self was vaporized along with it. I can't be a politician anymore."

     "You're going to let those Rightlefts wrest control of all government infrastructure from the people?"

     "My decision was made because of politics, but even so, it still goes far beyond that question."

     "So why did you make the decision to leave?"

     "I simply can't be who I want to be and keep this job. That's it."

     "Even a carpenter gets new callouses when switching from an old project to a new project," Ron said, "What makes you think that any other choices in your life won't be just as difficult as winning the Hambournewich election?"

     "It's not about them being easier or simply or requiring less work," Steve said, "I'll take those other choices and run with them, taking full responsibility for everything I do, as long as it's my choice to do it and I get to do it how I like."

     "That is what's making you break up your long friendship and association with the Libcon Party? Because you can't do things how you like?"

     "That seems to be the case."

     "You're being a revolutionist! And what is the revolution that you support? Is it Socialism, or Communism, or Nationalism, or maybe something as bland as Humanitarianism and Love? No, your revolution is you yourself -- you want to express yourself as an artist and an architect in your role as politician. That's what your revolution is about: yourself. It has nothing to do with soldiers dying in foreign lands, workers being gutted by dangerous machinery, or children in the streets who can't find a home. You are your own Revolution! Politician without a cause!"

     "If the people wanted Socialism and Anarchism and Revolution, then I'd let them have it."

     "Don't ever let something like that slip out in public! That will be your last as a politician."

     "But that is precisely who and what I am, the person, the human being, not the politician. Like you said, my revolution is about making this role of city council fit me as a human being, rather than to make myself into a shape that fits into the role."

     "You do that and the people will make out of you a washed-up politician without a political party in the world to back him in the elections. Stick to that hardline position of individualism long enough and you'll end your days as a writer, or maybe even a philosopher. Next time you're interviewed by a news station, you can guarantee that your subtitle will be 'Local Man'."

     "You don't even need a politician for this job, or at least the human being part of a politician. Just grab a nice suit, sprinkle sophistication and popularity around it, and you've got someone people feel confident in electing."

     "Organizing a huge party to defeat the equally organized Rightlefts requires that a group of people sacrifice themselves, the things they want, and sometimes, when it comes down to it, even who they are, to get victory. You obviously no longer feel the appreciation that one normally would have for their role as a public, civil servant, because if you did, then you'd stick to this candidacy no matter what, like it was the last inch of land to be ripped out from the hands of the Rightlefts."

     "This isn't a war, and the Rightleft Party is probably as self-devoted as we are," Steve replied.

     "Self-devoted?! Now if you've had a bad day on the campaign, go cool off on your own time, but a real politician knows what words to use and when."
     "I haven't said an honest word since I got into this town, so I'm going to say something sincere now: I quit. And it's not me the politician that quits -- it's me the person, the simple human being, or just 'Steve'."

     "Fuck you, Steve. You think this is just about you?"

     "This time I do."

The Eighth Dialogue

     There was only one last conversation Steve had to have before leaving Hambournewich: a call to his father.

     "I'm not a very good politician, Dad. I quit."


     "It was too deceptive for me. I started because it was easy and it fit me as a person. But now, it's just too much deception."

     "Do you think your quitting will have an impact on anything?"

     "I don't know, Dad," Steve said, "They might be too untouchable and perpetual for anyone to have an impact on them."

     "Does that mean you're coming home, then?"

     "Yeah, Dad," Steve said, "I'm coming back to Southwoodshire."


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