View Full Version : Culture of careerism scuttled a political bid

02-28-06, 07:09 AM
Posted on Tue, Feb. 28, 2006
Culture of careerism scuttled a political bid
By Paul Hackett

When I got back from Iraq last year on March 18 after a seven-month combat tour with the First Marine Division in exotic cities like Ramadi and Fallujah, my wife arranged for a small group of friends and family to meet me at the Cincinnati airport. There, a good friend told me that U.S. Rep. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) was about to resign and that I should run for the seat in southwest Ohio where I live and grew up. At first I thought he was kidding.

But as I stood there in my desert utilities, tears running down my cheeks, my wife next to me, one kid on each leg and one in my arms for the first time in almost eight months, I thought of my service in Iraq, and the idea made sense. Service in Congress, as I saw it, would be a natural extension of service to my country in Iraq.

It has taken me 11 months to finally make it home from that scene at the airport. What I learned in the process is that, even though I'm a big Bruce Springsteen fan, I was not born to run. Serve yes, run for office no.

Somewhere along the way I became something I'm not: a political rock star. But I only wanted to help my country.

While I didn't win the special election for the House seat, democracy triumphed. For the first time in more than two decades, Second District voters had a real choice.

I was OK with the voters choosing my opponent, Jean Schmidt, and happy to head back to my private life. Our campaign invigorated the Democrats in a state where the party had fallen on hard times. With the special election, we began to believe our party could return to brighter days by returning to our roots: limited government, fiscal responsibility, strong national defense, and fair trade. Think of the party of FDR that with its blood, sweat and sacrifice fought to forge a 20th-century world-leading nation.

After the special election, the phone kept ringing, and I was soon being recruited to run against U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, a two-term Republican incumbent, by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), the party's point man for this year's Senate races. I was flattered, but I really did want to get back home, literally and figuratively. After seven months in Iraq followed by five months on the campaign trail, I had a good life waiting for me.

The calls kept coming. Schumer and Reid said, "Your country needs you." We Marines take service to country seriously. Leadership, service, commitment.

Their wives called my wife with the same message. Several "career politicians" looked at this race and declined to take on DeWine, including my eventual primary opponent, U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown. Despite the odds, I was willing to take up the challenge.

For me the Senate race was another opportunity to serve my country and my party. Maybe together we could turn the corner. Maybe I could help the Democratic Party become a new and vibrant party. Maybe I could help lead us back to the party that doesn't simply aspire to deliver greatness but the party that actually has the commitment, leadership and will to fight for what it believes in: peace, prosperity and the freedoms that define America.

In the end it wasn't meant to be, and I was confronted with the clash between my culture of service, commitment and leadership, and the politicians' culture of careerism.

Was I screwed? Maybe, but that's life. There were a lot of political machinations, mostly behind the scenes. Much made its way into the press, including an ugly whisper campaign regarding my service in Iraq perpetrated by Brown. Brown has denied this, but county party chairmen told me about the rumors and where they were coming from. Brown had initially told me he would support my Senate campaign but then changed his mind. Again, a clash of cultures. That's politics. But that's not me. My word is my bond.

Schumer and Reid, the guys who said my country needs me, had a change of heart. There was never any explanation given. Schumer, in particular, actively sought to undermine my insurgent campaign, in part by calling up my donors and telling them not to raise money for me, which is like a doctor cutting off oxygen to a patient. He also worked through others to get state and local politicians to publicly urge me to quit.

Again, that's politics. Was it worth it? You bet. In less than 11 months, we changed the debate on Iraq, inspired at least 11 other Iraq vets and countless non-vets to run for Congress, and invigorated a state Democratic Party to believe in itself again.

Now let's all believe again, in the promise of America, the last great hope for peace, equality and freedom.
Paul Hackett (plh3@zoomtown.com) is a lawyer who recently dropped out of the U.S. Senate race in Ohio.