Sunday, March 21, 2010

Crash and burn – live and learn

Well, after all the build up and all the mental energy and all the self-generated hype leading-up to last night’s inaugural public appearance, one thing is clear: there is a long row to hoe.

My appearance at the Morrow County Township Association can be summed-up in another simple cliché: baptism by fire.

Naturally, since the office I am seeking is one of vital importance to both the people who reside in the counties comprising Ohio’s 4th Congressional District as well as the nation as a whole (because the legislation on which members of the House of Representatives vote will affect all American citizens), I want any occasion where I will be speaking in front of a crowd to go well.

Since I have not had to engage in the art of public speaking in more than a decade, I knew in the days leading up the event that it truly was a matter of hoping for the best yet bracing the worst.

Despite my recount of how the speech went to my wife when I got home, she kept doing one of the things that makes me love her beyond what words can adequately convey: “Honey, you did great.”

If by doing great you mean crashing-and-burning, then it undeniably was the performance of a lifetime.

What I hadn’t properly considered in advance of appearing before last night’s session of the Morrow County Township Association is that essentially everyone in attendance was going to be a member of an opposition camp, not just Democratic Party candidate Doug Litt. The crowd consisted of township supervisors, township clerks, township treasurers, township trustees, a small handful of Morrow County commissioners and candidates for running for seats on it, and other local office holders. All those gathered were elected officials and special guest candidates.

These aren’t just people who typically vote Republican or Democrat. When their name appears in print anywhere it usually is followed by an “R” or a “D” – folks who have a stake in the game. The only non-partisan attendee there was a local judge seeking reelection to what he described as being his last term on the bench that he plans pursue.

And, here I was the lone soul in a room (by my personal estimate) of at least 80, people trying to promote the message, “Vote third party.”

If I was hoping my speech was going to go-over well, essentially I had about the same chances as a Somali pirate in the crosshairs of a Navy SEAL sniper.

Once I was handed the microphone and identified myself as a Libertarian, I looked up and saw a collection of facial expressions that people tend to get at a party right at that moment when that guest arrives – the one who was invited out of a sense of obligation since he is their friend but no one actually wants to show-up because they know at some point he’s going to get drunk and spit in the punch.

That’s when the nervousness really kicked-in.

I knew going in I was going to be nervous. I had hoped, however, that speakers were going to enjoy an opportunity to stand at either a podium or table-top lectern equipped with a microphone stand. When you’re nervous about having to speak before a crowd, having that surface onto which to lay your paper or notes and not needing to hold the microphone offers you a bit of an edge in terms of being able to hide it to some extent.

No such advantage was to be found. Addressing those gathered meant standing almost right on top of the people seated at the front, with the MCTA board to my back, having to juggle my speech on paper and the microphone.

I tried to break the ice by commenting, “I can’t guarantee how interesting this speech will be since I haven’t had to do anything like this in roughly 12 years – when I was in a public speaking course in college.”


Seeing as how Morrow County is in principally an agriculture-driven area – which here in Ohio tend to lean predominantly conservative – I then whipped out my teleprompter joke (“if someone’s willing to donate a teleprompter, that’s a corner this campaign ought to be able to turn”) as my next measure to win-over at least part of the crowd.

You could hear the crickets chirping in the background.

It was at that point – when that joke bombed – a voice in the back of my head (you know that one we all have which finally speaks up right at one of those seminal moments our lives) said to the rest of my brain, “Aw, crap.”

The further I went into my speech, the more my left hand – holding my printed speech papers – began to shake. And then my right hand – clasped onto the microphone – began shaking at the same pace. By the time I reached the three-minute mark (the speeches are timed quite aggressively but humorously at their quarterly meetings) I could feel my face flushing more and more.

To me, what also adds to the comedy of the situation is that I had so carefully crafted my comments and so diligently chosen what message I felt I needed to get across. Not having a college degree in a field such as economics or law, not boasting of a profession that carries with it a great deal of clout, and not having diddley-squat in the way of connections coming into this race, I knew as soon as I made this decision to run that my campaign efforts cannot be about me. My candidacy needs to be centered on how critically we need a third party such as the Libertarian Party in America’s political landscape, that my top priority if I’m elected to Congress will be to restore the Constitution as our government’s guiding hand, and that it is the principles and guiding values that are most important in a candidate at this point in our nation’s history.

Ultimately, in this informal, small-town setting, that’s not what anyone was interested in hearing. They just wanted to know about me – who I am, not get a dissertation on how the two-party system has gone awry in America. Oops.

However, there is one gleaming bright spot on which I can hang my hat regarding my Morrow County appearance. There was absolutely no media coverage of it. Not one camera was rolling to capture my ignominious glory.

The speech I had planned last night and the points contained within it will have their time and place along the campaign trail. And I still believe that, for the most part, the message they carry must serve as the focal point of my candidacy for all the reasons laid-out three paragraphs above.

I just have to let go of worrying about how intellectual I come across and simply be me. If I do possess a sufficient enough intellect to sway the masses, then I have to have faith it will show.

For now, it’s time to work on a better teleprompter joke.

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