I once knew a guy who grew up obsessed with politics. His dad was a politician, as was his brother and so was he. Having achieved public office, both through election and appointment, early in his career, he was known to be smart, tough, aggressive and ambitious.
Then one day he quit. He had experienced a minor setback, but not the sort of thing that would end his career. In the past, it would have been a mere bump in the road that would have triggered thoughts of revenge – started him conspiring for a comeback and launched his psyche in orbit.
Instead, he quit, not just seeking office but politics all together. He just flat out was not interested anymore. He liked to chuckle at a tattered newspaper article in which a columnist had once predicted that he might be a future governor. I realized how severe his departure had been when, several months later, I happened to see him and, just to make small talk, I asked what he thought about an upcoming election. Not only did he have no thoughts but, to my surprise, he wasn’t even aware of the election. In the past he would have been pulling someone’s strings in the campaign but now he was totally zoned out. Instead he had found a new favorite topic, poetry a subject that was about as totally opposite from the person that he once was as possible. He was far more interested in pentameters than precincts.
Out of respect for the privacy that this person wanted in his life I have chosen not to mention his name; but I thought about him often while watching David Vitter in the recent gubernatorial race. The senator seemed like a man obsessed. In that sense he is like Bobby Jindal, someone who was young and bright and who achieved political success right out the gate. Unfortunately in moving from one conquest to another he never got a chance to feel the breeze or to sniff the jasmine.
Vitter’s campaign tactics, including making the President the source of all evil and linking that to his opponent, were maddening. Sure his infidelity issues hurt him, but he had overcome them in the past. What hurt the most was his growing reputation as someone not to be trusted,
His campaign sank to its lowest last week when he contrived statements about Syrian hostages and falsely claimed that he had alerted the president weeks earlier. His techniques relied on meanness and deceit. His opponent fired back but it was more in self-defense borrowing from Vitter’s style.
Had Vitter won Saturday he would have become the most powerful politician since the days of the Longs. Not only would he have controlled the Republican Party in Louisiana but he would have had influence over the election of the state’s two senators and probably most of the congressional delegation. He would have ruled state government up and down.
Yet, he walked way from it all. His election night announcement that he would not run for another senate term took away the tension that surely would have arisen. Now Vitter has a chance to rebuild his life. He is still bright and relatively young. There is plenty time to feel that breeze and smell the jasmine. There’s also time to climb a mountain, buy a boat, fly a kite, write a book, start a charity, feed the hungry, lobby for good causes, maybe even write a poem.
Most of all he might have salvaged his own well-being. Instead of being a political broker, he broke away from politics. That may have been the most courageous act of his career.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book web sites.