Wanted: A Reluctant Warrior
If you spend enough time in politics, don’t be surprised when people ask you to endorse their political candidacy for this or that office. In a fashion, it is a compliment. After all they must think that people actually care what you think about their campaign. Honestly, I can’t imagine why. It wasn’t like I was a major political figure. I did—and I think I still do—have a certain following. But I can assure you none of those folks are hanging by their fingernails waiting for my endorsements of people they’ve never heard of.
That said, I do try to make myself available to speak with candidates who are seeking political office. That doesn’t necessarily translate into an endorsement, but I feel I have a duty to help people of my political persuasion as they launch into the political process, particularly if I think they are serious candidates.
Normally when I meet with someone, I try to assess how serious they are in seeking office. As such I have some set questions I ask to would-be politicians. Here are some.
Why do you want to seek this office? That’s a fairly basic question. But you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that most people answer saying “I really want to make a difference,” or “my passion is to serve people,” or “I fear for the future of my country,” or “I want to be a voice for the people.” One day I hope someone will say to me “I don’t want to seek this office, but I think I must step up because we are on the wrong track.” No one ever says that. Ever. They are all about winning, so why show hesitation. Hold that thought.
What is it that you want to accomplish? I love this question because it gets right to the issue of, well, the issues. I really do not care how passionately you want to be something. I am far more interested in what you want to do. And once they give their laundry list of goals to lower taxes, and grant more freedom and opportunity, I renew my point by saying, “Fine. Campaigning is child’s play compared to governance when you have to take all of your bumper stickers and somehow fashion policies and laws that enact what you say you want to do.” Most want-to-be politicians have given this very little thought. And frankly, few of them ever have the details I’m seeking. Yet, asking the questions, listening patiently, and then quizzing them on the specifics is helpful to them if for no other reason than to have them admit “Gee, I’ll have to think about that more.” Correct. Sometimes I say, “Write yourself a letter detailing what you want to accomplish.”
When you are done being a politician, and one day you will be, what do you want people to say about you? It should not be a blinding flash of the obvious—a BFO—that most people getting into politics do not think about this. They’re all about being passionate, service to the people, a voice for the downtrodden, and the rest. All good. But the reason I like to ask this question is it cuts right to a key issue for me, the character of the candidate. I have known many legislators; I did not respect all of them. But the ones that I did find particularly good were the ones who were willing to keep their integrity intact, treat people with dignity, listen, speak wisely, and act with principle. More importantly, they were people who kept their word. And even when I didn’t agree with them, I knew I could trust them. Put another way, they did the right thing when no one was looking.
We are in that campaign season again after redistricting in Virginia and people are calling me. But frankly, the call I am waiting for is the person who starts like this.
“Delegate Lingamfelter, I really don’t want to seek this office. I have more than enough to keep me occupied. But I know I have the vision and gift to do this job as it should be done. I just wish I knew someone who would do it. But I don’t see them stepping up. So, I feel I am called to this. But honestly, I’m ready to step aside if someone—anyone—will just step up and embrace the founding vision, do the hard work that we need done, even if it isn’t completely popular, and keep their word to the people in the process. But I’m here seeking your advice and your thoughts. What do you think?”
Here will be my response: Have a seat. We have a lot to talk about.
It’s time for some reluctant warriors.
L. Scott Lingamfelter is a retired U.S. Army Colonel, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates (2002-2018), and author of “Desert Redleg: Artillery Warfare in the First Gulf War.” You can read his weekly updates at www.copybookwarrior.com