I was born in Detroit, to a father who wrote ads for Chevrolet in the 1950s and 1960s. Mitt Romney was born in Detroit, to a father who ran American Motors in the 1950s and 1960s. Figuring I knew some things about Romney that not everyone else did, I pitched a piece to Automobile Magazine.
In reporting "I love cars, American cars. I was born in Detroit," I learned that Romney and I have even more in common than I'd thought: Namely, loving fathers whose class and charisma we spend much of our lives trying, and inevitably failing, to live up to, even though they are dead.
But at some point, you do have to find your own natural way in the world. And as we've seen, Mitt Romney does not seem to enjoy running for office, and he doesn't seem particularly suited for it.
So why does he keep trying to square the wheel? His boyhood friend Phillip Maxwell told me he is still trying to honor his father's memory—and his father's religion—by becoming president of the United States.
I'd asked how, despite the claims of Maxwell and other loving childhood friends that Romney was the most principled man they knew, had Romney gotten such a reputation as a political changeling?
"Well, you've got to separate his principles from this incredible drive," said Maxwell matter-of-factly. "He's determined to claim the highest office in the land—to be the first Mormon to do it. He keeps that undercover because he doesn't want to frighten people."
There's a lot I would do to impress my own dad, even now that he's gone, especially now that he's gone. (Like writing a magazine story about 1950s and 1960s car culture in Detroit. During my reporting, I visited the old GM building where Dad worked, and had to hide a tear from the security guards.)
But running for president, even though my talents and instincts suggest I'm much happier and more useful doing something else?
You're welcome, America.
In a democracy, how do patriots reconcile the fact that they hate politicians? Those they have elected, and those they will elect in the future?
I happen to like politicians. Sometimes I like them more as campaigners than office holders. Other times I actually like them better in office.
But the truth is, I like them in general. As people. As in, gal sits down next to me at a dinner party, I ask her what she does, she says she's an elected official, I say, Great!
I've covered a number of politicians as a writer, and I recently interviewed seven, for the cover story in this week's Chicago Reader.* Also, I had a close friend who became an elected official, and I watched him work—in parades, at fundraisers, at Greek restaurants in small towns.
Here's what I like about politicians:
• They are willing to meet with people—dozens every day, hundreds every month and thousands every year—and hear about their troubles, from all their stupifyingly various points of view. Go ahead and chalk up the motive to getting reelected, but not before you ask yourself how many interviews you'd be willing to have to get a job.
• They don't think a lot about what they think—they think about what you think. This is what it means to be "political"; and the better the politician, the more political, not the less.
• They ask for what they want. A politician is used to looking right into your eye and asking for your support, for your money, for your vote. As Steve Goodman sang: That's not an easy thing to do. When was the last time you did it?
• They stand up and make speeches and try to figure out which words people like best. How can a communicator not like that?
• They work very, very hard. Just about every one of the ex-pols I spoke with for the Reader story said that life after politics is a breeze; and one of these guys is a CEO.
• They don't spend a lot of time thinking about what the perfect job for them would be. Politicians live a wild and unpredictable existence—at the mercy of mad electoral mood swings, at the center of constantly shifting power dynamics, always either in a spotlight or in range of a searchlight. If this makes them less introspective (or suits a less bookish type of person), well, what of it?
I don't wish everybody was a politician. I'm just glad some people are. Because somebody needs to be.
*Illustration by Ray Noland.
I ask the question in my latest on Huffington Post Chicago. (Thanks to Paul Engleman for getting me thinking about this, and thanks to Steve Crescenzo for the opening anecdote.)
The story I reported a couple of weeks ago for VIBE Magazine got timely after Jackson's recent nutty, whispered remarks. It's up with the offending video clip on VIBE.com right now. Or for text ....
Before she died in 2004, Kathleen Savio, the third wife of former Bolingbrook police sergeant Drew Peterson, repeatedly warned authorities she would be killed. Now her death has been reclassified a homicide. Why wasn't there a stronger response to her pleas for help?
He weeps, he insults, he builds lavish projects, and Mayor Roger Claar sees in his own journey—from chubby outsider to powerful Republican—a parallel to the booming emergence of his town.