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[Comments] (2) Living In A Submarine: Four years ago and change I was working for a presidential campaign. We'd just had a bunch of primaries that generally didn't go the way we needed them to go and it was time to start thinking about packing it up. But we didn't actually pack it up for another week. I want to say something about that intervening week. I'm not sure what.

When I play it back in my head as a movie there are three key scenes. The first scene is kind of farcical but describing it would be cruel to no real purpose, not even the purpose of telling a funny story. The second is a human-interest scene that I won't tell because I have a superstition that if I tell you I'll lose the good karma.

The last scene is at the end, when we learn that the Kerry campaign wants to recruit the Clark tech team. We've got jobs in Boston if we want them. Josh Hendler says yes. I say no. I'm exhausted and Kerry isn't my candidate and I've learned that political work is not for me. I go home.

But here's the reason I joined the Clark campaign in the first place: to stop 2005-2009 from happening the way they did and will happen. I joined the campaign because I knew I couldn't live with myself having passed up the opportunity to see what my marginal contribution could do. In February of 04 that goal is still operative. I'm offered a second chance, and I pass it up. I give up, and everything happens as I fear it will and I wonder whether my marginal contribution could have stopped it.

That's the movie playing in my head the past four years. It's cool that techniques we developed have been refined but that's cold comfort.

Let's go back to that intervening week. Given that I'm going to go home, why not do it on Wednesday and save a few brain cells? Why wait for the slow wheels to process the obvious implications of the electoral math? I don't have "that thing inside you that makes you act like the bad news isn't happening". I do have two cheesy reasons: loyalty and honor.

Working on a political campaign was like working on a submarine. (I got this analogy from a fellow campaign worker who'd served on a submarine, though I don't think he drew the analogy explicitly.) You're in close proximity with the same people every waking hour, you develop bizarre social codes and dialect (I don't know if that happens in submarines, but it should). And maybe the submarine starts to sink, but you know that if you take off and abandon your post it's going to sink like hell.

For a job at a company that argument doesn't mean as much to me. But I'd taken this job to harness myself to something bigger and more meaningful than my own life. As will anything bigger than one's own life, it burned me out. But this is what I mean when I fumble for words and come up with "honor": I had to complete the sacrifice. It wasn't what I thought I'd be sacrificing, and I didn't get what I wanted in return, and there are many things I could have done differently, but that's why I did what I did.

(I got all this ritual/sacrifice language from Jim Macdonald's Viable Paradise lecture; I haven't suddenly converted to Hinduism or something.)

Here's what I'm really saying. Life will burn you out and leave you dead. You have to complete it. The logic of sacrifice doesn't make sense in the same way that life doesn't make sense. But the goal of a sacrifice can make sense, and that's how you give meaning to your life. Pick good goals.

I need to go to sleep. Eh, sure, I'll publish this.


Posted by Tony Steidler-Dennison at Tue May 13 2008 13:50

I stayed on in the final week before Tennessee for several reasons.

1) The Pragmatist: I wanted to experience some political work outside the "submarine." The opportunity to do real on-the-ground political grunt work in Nashville was fascinating and, ultimately, pretty enlightening.

2) The Idealist: I didn't really want to leave the submarine. More accurately, I didn't want the sub to pull back into port because I knew I'd have to walk down the gangplank right back into the same world I'd left a few months before. (Yes, I missed my girls desperately, and was glad to be going home. But, in the big picture, it seemed that the bigger world had barely even noticed us.) The oxygen in the sub was artificial, but mighty intoxicating. It was easy to convince ourselves that change was actually a tool in our arsenal. The frustrating feeling that awaited outside the sub was that nothing we'd done was going to be enough. And, I knew that in the final week.

That was the "honor" for me in the final week - taking the fight to the end, despite knowing the eventual outcome, just because that was the commitment I'd made. That seems much like your own honor.

The cost of that honor? An utterly disgusted dismissal of the remaining 2004 political cycle. The reward? The heat-tempered acquaintance of fellow submariners and, well, the honor itself.

Posted by Evan at Tue May 13 2008 19:09

Did someone ask Leonard for an example of a paralipsis? :)

This is a great post, yet I'm left wondering about the first two scenes. I'll fill in the space with my own imagined scenes.

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