Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Every Hill

You may have heard the phrase, "Some hills are not worth dying on." Maybe you haven't. Maybe somebody I know made it up. Either way, it's a good phrase -- unless you happen to find a hill worth dying on. For clarification's sake, you could also say that some things are not worth fighting for, or you should pick your battles. Or you could just say "Give up and lie down in the dust like a dog because you're not going to get anywhere with this one, okay." Some BS isn't worth hiding behind.

No, I'm not writing this to sound resentful and angry. Frankly, I am not angry. I am thoughtful. I spent the last year and a half holding onto a dream, a principle. For the first time in my political life I fought the losing battle in full knowledge of what I was doing. Most of the time I don't think other people understand that. That would explain why they tell me I will never win no matter how much I do. That would explain why they say that some hills aren't worth dying on or I should pick my battles. That would explain the shakes of their heads. It's not that I go around spouting off about my political beliefs all the time. It's rather that I have some misunderstood beliefs -- I almost said unpopular, but that's not true.

Let me tell you a story. In the winter of 2004 I interned at a congressional office in Washington, D.C. The man I worked for was one of the few true fiscal conservatives to get into office in 1994 and not change into a big spender. He really cared about the issue of spending cuts and smaller government. There was one issue in particular that he wanted to cut so as to reduce the budget. It was a pretty unpopular stance, but he took his stand. I was given the job of getting the word out to the press. This is not a glamorous job in case you were wondering. I spent hours proofreading press releases and painstakingly faxing them to all sorts of publications in the hope that some reporter would write an article about the issue. It worked. We actually did drum up more discussion of the issue than my congressman had in previous years -- so the legislative assistants told me.

The day of the vote arrived and the congressman I worked for was on the floor of the House debating all day. You would not believe the phone calls I had to listen to when all his constituents decided to watch C-Span at once because they had nothing better to do. I tried to watch some of the debates but missed them somewhere between talking with the old lady who just wanted to talk about decency on television (she heard the f-word at midnight) and the old guy from Alabama who claimed the CIA was populated by commies who were putting cameras in walls to watch us (as if we do anything of that much interest to a government agency). Anyway, the congressman was brilliant.

At the end of the day he came back from the vote and I asked him how it went. He told me the numbers. To my surprise his initiative lost big time. I mean, it was a huge vote against it. I was stunned. All those hours I had put in trying to get support and it was over without any fanfare and without even a decent vote in its favor. Everything I had done was for nothing. And I had never suspected for a moment that my congressman was going to lose.

After he went back to his office (busy, busy man) I asked one of the other staffers why the vote in our favor had been so low. "It's higher than it was in any previous year," she said. "We never expected to win this one, but we make it an issue every year. Maybe someday people will get the message."

That's when I learned the most valuable lesson I learned over that long semester in D.C. Sometimes you have to fight the losing battle and show your face to all the world as if you know you're winning. Why be bummed out and down about something that you care about? When you know you're right you should be happy about that. And when you show others that you are going to fight the good fight no matter the condescension around you then they can think of nothing more to do than shake their heads as if you're an idiot. But they will never feel the satisfaction that comes with knowing yourself to have done everything you could for a cause that was well worth losing to advance. Some things are bigger than a full ballot box. I'll take my stand on that hill.


Tracy said...

Isn't discouraging though at first? I used to live and die on winning issues and never learned the long incremental process involved to get something achieved until a bit later in life.

I think I learned that a message has to find its moment in time...almost like Ron Paul debating away for 30 years in Congress while no one day people paid attention and...well...he still lost...oh well.

My hill is the income tax.

Esther said...

Yes, discouraging is a good word to describe it. It took me two times voting for Bush to realize that sometimes when you win you've really lost. I definitely prefer standing up for my beliefs to that business.

I agree with you on the right moment for the message. We haven't lost yet. This past year and a half was only one battle (I hope).