The Hill Life: Dispatches from the Trail
Oct 24, 2012
I’m a big fan of your blog–I’ve been reading it for over two years now, ever since I started working in DC. Though I work in the nonprofit sector, I’ve always appreciated your posts on Hill life because my boyfriend is very interested in that career path.
I was hoping you could speak a little about life on the campaign trail, because that’s where he is right now. And man, I’m starting to feel like a widow over here. We’ve been together two years, and all I’ve gotten in the past three weeks are superficial gchat messages and about an hour total of phonetime. He tells me he’s too busy or tired to talk. I understand, but I feel like he can spare 15 minutes before sleep to at least say hi over the phone. Maybe not everyday, but many of them?
I know you’ve worked on campaigns before. Am I being unreasonable? I supported him doing this but now I feel like I’ve been forgotten. I need a reality check!
Thank you for your consideration,
When you’re working on a campaign, particularly as a grassroots or field staffer, there are many busy days that start at dawn and end long after the sun has gone to bed. You’re on your feet all the time, you don’t remember when the last time you ate was and your Blackberry is constantly blowing up with tasks that need to be done yesterday. And the stress level is usually a bouncing ten, especially the closer you get to Election Day.
Plus, as a junior member of the staff, you have all of your work to do–herding volunteers, making calls, coordinating lit drops–and then, all of the work your superiors give you. So you basically do two jobs, neither of which has banker’s hours.
That being said, all campaigns operate on a kind of shared mindset (delusion?): You leave the office while other staffers are still working, even if you have no work to do and no one else has any for you to do, and either a) the world will completely fall apart in your absence or b) everyone will notice that you’re gone and think that you’re slacking/unnecessary.
I’ve seen campaign staffers sit in their offices for hours playing Farmville because the press guy is still burning the midnight oil and they don’t want to admit that they’re not hard at work too. I’ve heard staffers badmouth the finance guy for going home at 8:00PM, even though the only thing they’ve done since he left is drink beer and shoot the breeze. It’s the campaign trail equivalent of peer pressure; you leave, you stop working (or “working” as the case may be), you’re a traitor.
To sum up, your boyfriend probably is very busy, especially if he’s new to the campaign trail. But you also need to remember that as a campaign worker, he lives in a sort of alternate universe where the stress of the collective weighs heavily on every staffer and the party line is “be/look busy or be thought of as useless.”
So here’s my advice, you only have 13 days until Election Day, tough it out. No need to stop to upset the apple cart so close to E-Day. When he gets back give him a couple of weeks to decompress and then talk to him about it. Once he steps out of the campaign Borg Cube and gets some perspective on his experience, you’ll be able to talk about how his behavior made you feel and how you can both do better in the future.
If you try to talk to him about it now, while he’s deep in the campaign experience, he won’t be able to hear you or respond with anything but a treatise on how you don’t understand what he’s going through. Because, truth be told, you don’t and he won’t either until it’s over.
Campaigning doesn’t leave you with a lot of time/energy for self-reflection.
Politics isn’t a career, it’s a lifestyle choice. You’re signing up for long hours and high stress for as long as you can hack it. But too many budding politicos get sucked into the same selfish illusion: That our work is so important that it must be placed above everything else. This group-think is often reinforced by more senior staffers and bosses because you could never get someone to work a 90-hour week doing menial labor for 25k per year if they didn’t believe that their job was a grail quest ordained by God himself.
All staffers need to learn to see the forest for the trees so that we don’t burn out or become emotionally stunted adult-children. Having a relationship, esp. if you’re a politico, is all about give and take. But one partner can’t expect the other to be understanding about the pressures of the life, if they’re not making a concerted effort to carve out time for their loved ones as well.
Let me leave you with one final thought from a dear friend who has the most important/time consuming political job I can think of: Everyone is busy, that’s no excuse. If something is important to you, you’ll make the time.