Well, not really. It’s not like the secret service gave me a gun and aviator sunglasses. And it’s not like there was any real threat from some gun-totin' lunatic. But if you look at it from a certain point, it’s true, I spent an hour or so as my own version of Burt Macklin, keeping the bad guys out of the Elks Lodge 2223 on Route 40 back in 2004, when Hillary Clinton came to the town of Greenwich, NY.
You see, back then I was a Democrat. I’m talking hard-core, rah-rah, let’s go Blue State voters, party-line Democrat. I’m a much more cynical (maybe “wary and wise” is a better phrase) and unaffiliated voter now, but back then I had John Kerry posters in my front yard, an American flag hanging from my porch, and I was on the Greenwich Democratic Committee in the small farming community of Greenwich, up in Washington County.
It was a lovely little town with a quaint Main Street, some antique shops, a coffee shop, a few diners, a small K-Mart, and three—count ‘em three—traffic lights. It was the type of town where people bought and fixed up old Colonials and Victorians, raised kids, joined local fraternal orders named after one mammal or another, and the kind of place where you wouldn’t be surprised to see a tractor drive down Main Street at any given hour of the day. I had moved there in 2002, and by the time the 2004 elections came along, I had lived in town long enough to know that I wanted to be involved in shaping it for the better.
I organized raucous fundraising parties with live music and more booze than anyone could drink, ran a bunch of voter registration drives, and set up a Kerry campaign booth in the town square during their summer festival, something that caught the local GOP way off guard from what a few of them told me (they didn’t think we should have “politicized” a town fair, although they had a booth up too before the end of the festival).
It was a great time, despite the election results later that year, despite how the wind went right out of my sails when Hunter Thompson killed himself, despite how cynical I became after dealing with the party system, up through the county committee and the state too. The national party members seemed decent, but if you’re just a town-level guy reaching out to the federal level party staff, everyone in between gets really pissy real damn quick. Rules and order, you know, nepotism and the old boy system. Gotta keep in line and learn to love that red tape. Know your place. Crap like that.
But despite all that, 2004 was a fun year for this young political junkie.
One event our town committee didn’t plan, but that we were happy to participate in, was a speech Hillary Clinton planned in the local Elks Club. Everyone was pretty excited since so few major candidates or politicians ever passed through. At the time Mrs. Clinton was our state senator and the Democrats I knew up there were fairly happy with her. I saw pros and cons and felt somewhat undecided on her. But when I arrived at the lodge, the place was packed, with pickup trucks and first generation hybrid cars from one end of the sunny gravel lot to the other. The bustling main room of the lodge was full of people jockeying for seats, and a member of Hillary’s security detail (something she gets as a former first lady) asked if I was the James Duncan on the committee. Since I was the vice president of the town committee, we walked through the lodge together and I pointed out all the exits, until we came to the kitchen, which has a door to a side lot where they received food deliveries.
This is the point where people tell me they don’t believe me, but it’s where the agent asked me, as a member of the committee, if I would stand by the door leading into the kitchen and make sure no one comes in or out. They just didn’t have enough men with them that day to cover every door; they were one man short, so no one in, no one out, and if someone had a problem with that, I was to call for an agent and they’d handle it.
I got one of those Mr. Grinch curl-grin faces in that moment. Just imagine it, with one word I could bring the entire might of the secret service agency down upon anyone I wanted! Anyone who cut me off in traffic or shot down my idea in committee, and WHAM, secret service kung-fu choke-hold time! Mwahahahaha! I felt the rush of power going to my head, the thrill of my hand hovering above the red telephone, the words “Bombs away!” on the tip of my tongue!
But in reality, I was just standing in a kitchen for about twenty minutes.
I even missed the speech. But I’d seen plenty of similar speeches before and after, and when the agent came back and asked if I wanted to join the rest of the committee to get a photo and shake her hand, I actually declined. I’ve never liked getting my photo taken with famous people. I turned down chances with future shamed former governor Eliot Spitzer, author Jonathan Lethem, the guys in AC/DC, and others. It just feels weird. It’s all very fake and cardboard. So I passed, but I thought it was cool as a 24-year old guy to hang with the secret service agents for a few minutes, and once I got home that afternoon I didn’t regret my decision.
I saved her life, clearly. Or something like that.
To be honest with you, I still don’t regret turning down that photo. I know she’s done a lot since then, some good and some not so good, and I know she has a strong lead on the 2016 Dem nomination at the moment, but last week, for the first time since 2005, I registered to vote not as unaffiliated but as a Democrat, and not for Hillary, but so I can vote for Bernie Sanders in the Dem primaries.
You see, 2003 to 2005 was my political junkie peak, the time when I had the most visceral highs and lows, when I felt the rush of election night crash into defeat, when I cried after my political and Gonzo hero Hunter Thompson died, when I saw how Dems sniped at GOPs for the same things GOPs sniped at Dems, when I heard Dems call Bush a fascist dictator and whispered about a third term or takeover, and much later I heard (and hear) echoes of GOP types calling Obama a fascist dictator, that he plans a takeover, on and on, all the same shit.
While the two parties do differ on a lot of issues, I saw that the parties and their core members seem to function almost as mirror images of each other, and that’s what really drove me out of politics. That’s what really made me sick—the game. It’s the same, no matter what team you’re on—the ploys, the name-calling, the mud, the filth, the hate. Yes, the issues matter, but I reached the point where they didn’t feel worth the slog through miles of horseshit in the party system.
And he may not have a real shot, but Bernie Sanders feels like he’s worth a few miles of horseshit. I’m not using this post or blog to rant or rave about any issues or convince anyone that I’m right and you’re wrong. Do your thing, I’ll do mine. I don’t want to change your mind and I don’t want you to try and change mine, not right here in this space (that’s a nice way of saying please don’t leave nasty comments). But this suddenly feels like that 1972 movie The Candidate, the one with Robert Redford, who gets talked into running for office knowing he can’t win so he gets to say whatever he wants without any consequences…and then suddenly, he wins. Not likely to happen in real life, but I made the switch from unaffiliated to Dem, not for the party, but to see if the party will finally step aside and let an individual run for office.
And if he comes through town, I might just step up and see about getting that photo.