Occupational Hazard, or Why every political consultant needs a therapist.
Call it an occupational hazard for political consultants. A key component of the job description is reconciling the competing mindsets of strategist and target market. This is a delicate balance for the type of folks drawn to this type of work, who tend to be too close to the fire to smell the smoke. It’s no surprise that many of us struggle with depression and burnout, usually borne in stony silence because we’ve been conditioned to treat any weakness as a state secret.
We’ve also been conditioned to believe that voters are stupid, yet we make decisions based entirely off of polling data. We’ve been conditioned to believe that it’s impossible to win elections without becoming a subsidiary of one special interest or another. And we’ve been conditioned to believe that special interests aren’t special interests at all — as long as they’re on our side. It’s a fairly schizophrenic life, when you think about it…
I wish I could tell you I had the secret sauce to flip the script, but I don’t. I’ve done what I can to cut through the haze of local elections as a volunteer, an organizer, a consultant, and ultimately a candidate. I feel like I’ve upheld my values at every turn — even at the expense of my political, financial, and mental wellbeing — and I’ve tried to impart those values upon the candidates and activists I’ve supported and mentored.
But the truth is I haven’t moved the needle at all. Our leaders are still hypocrites, the lowest common denominators of privilege, wealth, and quid pro quo, beholden to affluent campaign donors and the consultant class. Our city is still plagued by institutional racism and backwards policies that make it harder and harder for anyone to know what’s really going on. And our local politics are more divisive than they’ve ever been.
Of course, I know it’s not about me. It’s not about any one of us. It’s about all of us. We have let this happen. We have abdicated our collective responsibility to uphold the covenant between the government and the governed. We rule by independent expenditure and executive order instead of public engagement and building consensus. And we demand accountability through recall and referendum instead of working with our leaders to ensure equity and transparency.
So, where do we go from here? It’s a binary question: Do you want to be a part of the problem, or a part of the solution? For me, it will always be the latter. And while I may not be “in the game” for a cycle or two, you can rest assured that I’m plotting my next move and building an army to march into the next battle. Because the minute we stop fighting, we stop living.
Call it an occupational hazard.