Some weeks ago, I received a handwritten note from an old friend. Back in the days when I had served in elective office, and when I chaired Newt Gingrich's campaigns, this man had always been there for me. He put up campaign signs and raised money for me. He even allowed me to act as Gingrich campaign treasurer by putting my name on some of Newt's financial disclosure forms. He did so knowing that if we screwed up somehow, he could go to jail.
As he himself would describe it, he was just a regular guy who believed in a certain brand of politics and in certain politicians to see them through. But he was smart and, more, wise. He had the kind of common sense you would instinctively turn to when the fancy consultants and political big-shots could not or would not tell the truth.
His recent letter to me read simply that he had only a few months "left." He told me how much I had meant to him. He went on with praise and other words of genuine friendship. I phoned him, but the number had been disconnected. It's now been another month, and I still can't find him. No one seems to know where or how he is. Although he may be gravely ill, I can't know for certain.
Reflections about my friend inevitably led me to reflections about politics in general. If you have ever actively backed a candidate, donated money, or -- God forbid -- run for office yourself, you'll understand the sentiments that follow.
Elective office is generally for those with big egos, and that's OK. Big egos aren't illegal or even necessarily immoral. And if a politician ever says they don't have one, you've likely got a liar on your hands.
Politics is by nature a collection of people. They come together with a common goal: lifting one person up and over everyone else, and into public office. They give heart and soul to this one person. They do it for a cause bigger than themselves.
Frequently, their efforts amount to mundane tasks. But when you participate in the big league circles of politics, the name of the game often becomes giving and raising huge sums of money. Some who contribute or work to raise cash are rewarded handsomely, providing their candidate wins. Any of a number of appointments can fall into the lap of the loyal campaign supporter -- appointments to commissions, panels and government jobs. Maybe even an ambassadorship, if you've backed the new president of the United States.
The drone workers of the campaign, however -- the average Joes and Janes who work the phones and post the yard signs and decorate the ballroom for the fundraiser -- they usually get left behind when the spoils are dispensed. If they get so much as an invitation to the swearing-in, they're usually flattered.
My reflections made me ashamed. Somewhere a friend may be enjoying the last of what's "left" to him, as he put it. I feel ashamed of myself for not being there now for him. More, I feel ashamed of the much bigger fish that he also helped, but who likely have forgotten him, too.
Well, my friend, you are not forgotten. I won't write your name because I have no idea if you would want that -- and for fear that I could be wrong in assessing your current situation. But I remember you and cherish the friendship we have.
Folks, politicians and their satellites aren't bad people. That said, don't ever fool yourself into thinking that an elected official is anyone's best friend but his or her own. You can side with them when others won't. You can trudge through the hot sun erecting their campaign signs. Or skid through ice and snow as you drive them about. They may be truly grateful, and they may consider you a friend. But they will always put themselves first. And that goes too for glittery TV hosts, prestigious newspaper columnists and other assorted blowhards (including the small, gasping blowhards, like me).
Readers, I know this week's column isn't the dripping read meat that so many like to see. But it's still important for those of you who know and possibly even love politics to realize that -- be you Republican or Democrat -- for most every smiling face you encounter in the political arena, there are countless sincere people who helped put and keep that smile on that political celebrity's face.
And to my dear, lost friend: I don't know where your residence is, but I still know two places you "reside" -- in my mind and in my heart. The good efforts of people like you are what keep this nation afloat. Some of us even recognize it.