Understanding Politics, Reagan-style

Washington Post has a must read for anyone interested in politics. It’s a story about President Reagan’s “”pen pal”” he had during his time in the White House, a seven-year-old elementary student from SouthEast Washington DC. The two exchanged dozens of letters over the years, ranging from Reagan talking about his first trip to a communist country (China) to the student’s desire to ask his parents for karate lessons. The reason this is a must read for any politician is that people all too often think politics is about grander and greater things than the feelings and thoughts of one person. There are people in Washington who read only the national, international and editorial pages of the paper, skipping over the Metro section which deals with how people really live and throwing away the Style section (which isn’t that bad of a thing to do since it is all DC “”glam”” sometimes). I remember flying into Chicago a number of years ago following a vote on aid to the Contras in Nicaragua. I had had a particularly tough week at work on Capitol Hill dealing with all the phone calls and political debates on Contra aid (in the end my boss voted for it because Reagan twisted her arm). As we were on final approach to O’Hare, we flew over the grid rows of homes, each separated from the other by a fence or a pool and a boat or RV in about half of the yards. As I looked down, I did a little math. “”10% have been arrested, 30% have tried drugs, XX% have aids, XX% have cancer, XX% have no jobs. Do these people really care about what we do in Washington? Can they even relate to the world where C-Span is on in bars and people read Roll Call newspaper cover to cover each week. Which brings me back to Reagan’s pen pal. Here was a voice from a regular kid talking directly to the most powerful person on the planet. The day to day things that affected this kid were brought to the table of the West Wing. Oh so many in Washington compartmentalize out that part of their life (i.e. the living part) so they can perform their duties more professionally. That’s why (thankfully) most bureaucrats and political appointees will never become elected officials. Which isn’t a bad thing I guess….]]>

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