A year from today, we will have elected a new president and a new Congress. (Assuming no Supreme Court intervention, which seems unlikely given the clear contrasts and high stakes of this election.)
At this point on the calendar, my thoughts turn not to the candidates, the issues or the primaries, but to the women and men who work behind the scenes. I was once in their shoes, and I admire what they do and are about to go through.
I had little ways of counting down to the election, and boy did I count down. Election day of the year before meant there would be no more first Tuesdays in November until the real one; then no more Novembers, no more Decembers etc. Christmas was marked not so much by the occasion itself, but by the anticipation that on the next one I would be free of that ringing in my ear and pit in my stomach. Then the caucuses, then the primaries, the conventions, the debates. One signal that it was almost over was always the tree outside an old office of mine — when the leaves had all blown off, uncannily almost always on Nov. 1, the election was just days away. Campaign operatives (and candidates and local TV stations) may be the only people in America who care if the first Tuesday in November is the 2nd (good) or the 9th (bad).
You count the days in campaigns because they are hard. If you do your job, you really will leave it all on the field, as the athletes say. There is immense satisfaction in that kind of effort. You will also probably fail in ways small and large, and for the high achievers who are often drawn to campaigns, that is especially hard. For some, failure is a new experience. My observation is that there are three basic ways people handle failure and doubt in campaigns: they go into a kind of catatonic, fetal position; they become really mean and arrogant; or they ask for help.
You will never have friends like the ones you make in campaigns, unless you’ve gone to the much more consequential and actual battlefield. When campaigns are over, it’s hard to re-enter life. It’s not just your adrenalin that’s off; it’s that you’ve seen certain things you can only share or sit in silence with the ones who went through it with you — again, a kind of mild PTSD syndrome.
There is nothing like winning. But there is also nothing like losing.
I have one small piece of advice for those who will serve the candidates. It is a quote from the Scottish mountaineer and writer W.H. Murray. Al Gore gave it to me. It has to do with overcoming a natural tendency to hold back when faced with a seemingly endless and insurmountable challenge.
“Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness,” wrote Murray. “Concerning all acts of initiative… there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves, too.”
Only 364 days left.