I have never had much love for politicians -- those scoundrels to whom we have delegated the dirty business of government. Then about a month ago some sincere people came to enlist me as a candidate for the U.S. Senate from Wyoming.
At first I scoffed at the idea. But like the robin, we are conditioned to respond to the distress cries from our neighbors, and some even scolded gently like a mother to an errant son. "All these years you have taken from your state. Isn't it time for you to return something?" Besides, the idea of being a U.S. senator can be very seductive. "You would be one of a hundred -- and think of the forum -- a whole world to speak to! Think of the opportunity to effect change, to do good!"
I began to approach the question of my candidacy like I might investigate any case. Was it just? Could I win? I talked to many party leaders and to many people. Most encouraged me. I began to swell. I admit it. I began to see myself as a leader who might shed blessed light in these times of darkness, a voice for the common man, somebody who could make a difference. Never in our state's history had our economy been so devastrated, our people so depressed. Our country was desperate for clear vision, for deep and devoted public servants.
I asked my closest friends for guidance, for advice. Could I be effective in Washington? Yes, they believed I could. I turned to my family and to my partners. Should I do this thing? I could see a certain sadness in their eyes, but if I decided to make the sacrifice, well, so would they. And that is love.
Then I began to assess the price. I would have to leave my home, the place of my birth, the mountains, the solitude, the peace. I would no longer own myself but belong instead to the people and to the unyielding political process. For over 35 years I had honed my skills as a trial lawyer, a writer, a teacher. It was satisfying. I stared out the window of my library and suddenly, as if they had appeared as an omen, I saw three great bull elk with massive antlers come lumbering through my back yard. When they came to the west fence they stopped, and then, effortlessly, they hopped over and proceeded on their way without the slightest deviation from their course. What did it mean?
I talked to senators and to staff members of senators to learn what the job of a senator was like. I read books. The fantasy I held of a senator's life is different from the reality.
Iwould spend 10 to 15 percent of my day in travel to and from work in deadly traffic. My usual habit of rising before the sun to write and to study would give way to early breakfasts with colleagues. I would have a staff of 20 to 30 to supervise, scores of bills to study, hundreds of letters to answer daily. I would become the tour guide of the Senate for visiting Wyoming citizens. I would answer the calls of my closest supporters even in the middle of the night, for how else could I demonstrate my loyalty? If I were to retain my growing senority for Wyoming's benefit I must preserve my base. Therefore, I would fly back to Wyoming to speak to the Chamber of Commerce in Gillette and the next weekend at the Rotary in Green River. After all, I would belong to the people, and must never let them conclude I had gotten too big for my britches and had succumbed to Potomac fever.
By evening I would have suffered through a meeting every ten minutes, rushed to the Senate chambers to periodically vote, toughed through party caucuses and committee meetings, survived 15 boring, self-serving speeches, endured half a dozen delegations, fought off the swarming lobbyists who haunt the halls and frantically answered 25 telephone calls from people with their own urgent axes to grind, and, when shredded and shattered and used up, I finally arrive home, I would yet have some cocktail party to attend across town hosted by an important colleague.
It is the endless, most empty process of politics. It is not necessarily evil. But it is the method by which we have chosen to govern ourselves. Some love it, and others are smothered in its ooze and its sludge.
Finally, the question came dowm to one simple thing: could I stand the work? I watched Imaging in her sewing room busy on a new creation. Not only did she feel the pleasure of the finished product, but the joy of the work itself -- the feel of sharp scissors through cloth, the whir of the needle making straight seams. And so it has been in my own -- the great pleasure of getting ready in a case, of a singing cross-examination, a stirring final argument -- the passion for what I do, for who I am. I have always told young people, "Follow your passion. Build on what you have done -- that is the secret to happiness which is also the secret to success." Then I realized I must follow my own advice.
Some have a passion for politics. It is not mine. I am not a man who derives pleasure from the forming of consensus, from the back scratching and socializing and compromising so essential to the political process. It's not that I am unfriendly or above it all. It's just that I don't endure that process well. I was never "one of the boys." I cannot tolerate the morass of meaningless detail, the insanity of endless interruptions, the flood of correspondence, the empty procedure, the maddening bureaucracy. I retreat from my own office to my library where I have my peace, time to reflect, to create. Fortunately I know who I am. I am an advocate, not a politican, a warrior, not a statesman. In the end it is the process that would defeat me, for I demand my freedom -- the freedom to take a stand, to make enemies if I must, even to be obnoxious if, indeed, it seems to serve the case. For freedom is the ultimate power.
And I understood anew that I was fortunate for another important reason: I am a man with a passion of my own, a path of my own; and yes, I now know what it meant when those three great bull elk came up to the fence and stopped for one brief moment and then hopped over, never once having varied their course -- not in the slightest.
Gerry Spence is a trial lawyer and author who lives in Jackson Hole, Wyo. He is known for having represented the estate of Karen Silkwood in its suit against the Kerr-McGee Corp. This article is excerpted from the Jan. 3 Casper Star-Tribune.