My first career was working on Capitol Hill. I walked into it a bright eyed “Mr. Smith” going to Washinton.
I didn’t leave it four years later as a jaded cynic exactly. I still had it in my head that I might be fit for a political career. But the longer I was away from D.C., the more the allure of politics faded.
After D.C. I stumbled into a job working with college students and gradually grew into appreciating making a difference one young friend at a time.
Eventually, I stopped even following politics very closely. I don’t watch TV news. It seems mostly inane and insulting. Skimming the headlines on The New York Times keeps me up to date, and social media is filled with the absurdities of the current political process.
And the headlines now point to a process that attracts seemingly the most shameless, vacuous people imaginable. The news I have seen looks to be something from a Saturday Night Live parody instead of actual public discourse.
Maybe that’s why I was so heartened by this conversation on The Late Show this week between Stephen Colbert and Vice President Biden.
It’s worth watching. These men have a remarkable, touching conversation on national television on what is supposed to be a zany talk show. They talk about heart-wrenching loss and faith and healing as these two men are uniquely able to do. (Biden lost his son to cancer recently, and lost his daughter and first wife in an accident at the beginning of his career in the Senate. Colbert’s father and two of his brothers were killed in a plane crash when Colbert was ten.)
Biden has a well earned reputation for connecting with authenticity and heart and often delightfully unscripted goofiness. He’s being urged to run for President, and you can see in this conversation with Colbert that he’s almost physically agonizing over whether he’s whole enough after the recent death of his son to even consider it.
This kind of vulnerability is so rare in most public officials and office seekers. What passes for bold candor in politicians lately is not courageous or vulnerable at all.
Colbert, by the way, keeps elevating his craft. He’s offering smart and savvy and challenging entertainment and ideas. In a society addicted to click-bait and wowed by lip-sync battles, who knows if there’s a place for the kinds of conversations Colbert is having. I hope so.
And I hope there are more Joe Bidens out there who have the courage to be real and show some heart as they attempt to truly lead.
You can rue the political process and tune it out for your own peace of mind. But we still need men and women of real character to have the courage to step into the fray and bring integrity and empathy and honest-to-goodness vision.
Don’t settle for less in those you entrust with the public good.