Does politics make the man?

HoCEarlier this year, I binge-watched both the British House of Cards series, and the American one.  When the new season of House of Cards was done, I went on to  The West Wing, which I’d never watched back in the day.

What I think as I watch the storylines unfold, is that many of these people are unpleasant.  For every time I want to hug Leo McGarry (ok, maybe more so for playing Tommy on LA Law before), I consider how Josh Lyman is a spoiled and privileged brat that has no concept of how millions of people actually live.

westwingNeurotic Toby makes me crazy. But not so crazy as the trade-offs and back room talk, the gossip and deals, the lifeblood of politics.

This is ironic, because I grew up in a home where politics was a staple of everyday life. I spent many years going door to door for candidates, dropped off by my dad, George Wright, with a handful or leaflets and a “Have fun!” He eagerly took me to vote for my first time, in a state primary. The ladies who ran the polling place were so excited I was there, because they’d all known and worked with my father for years. They proudly handed me the Republican ballot. Of course, when I told them I was a registered Democrat, there was quite a little fluff about it. I guess I’d forgotten to mention that.

One year I got to be a page at an Ohio Republican Convention of some kind. It still didn’t fascinate me. But it certainly fascinated my father.

When I was too young to notice, he let his drive to become part of that glam world of “who’s in the know” take him so far as to have an affair with another politico and leave my mother. He was a delegate to the Republican convention that nominated Goldwater in 1964. He was chair of the Ohio Young Republicans. In his later years, he switched his affiliation to the Libertarian party, and ran the county group here in Pennsylvania. He went to the National Convention in the 1990s–and we got a July 4th trip to Washington DC out of it. He ran an Ohio gubernatorial campaign. He loved it. All the talk, the planning, the scheming–much more Jed Bartlet than Frank Underwood, mind you–but still, he got all that back-room stuff. He could talk about it for hours. When he lived in Meadville, he went to all the commissioners’ meetings, and city council meetings, and ran for the school board.

But the other thing you notice when you watch these programs, and it may or may not be true for everyone in the world of politics, is that george-Beth1these are lonely, workaholic people.  My father wasn’t much different. Perfectly at home in a room full of suits, chatting about mills and taxes and upcoming elections for miles around, he was in his element.

Visiting with a family full of small kids? Not so much. Even occasions like graduation, he was uncomfortable with the hugs and emotions.

Is that what it takes, to be able to stomach some of this wheeling-dealing that goes on? The removal of emotion from the equation? I wonder.  Going through his possessions after he passed away a few years ago, I found so many treasured items, gavels, certificates, all from that world he never got to give himself over to as a young man. If he hadn’t married my mother, if he hadn’t had children, would he have run for office and moved up the ladder like these characters, too? Did we hold him back from a future he would have preferred?

As much time as I spent with my father in his last years, I still never felt I really knew him. And that’s a shame.

 

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