Whatever happened to Jimmy Stewart?
Perhaps Jack was having a midlife crisis. Or maybe he really believed he could make a difference. Whatever the reason, Jack decided about three months ago to run for Congress.
Jack is not his real name. He doesn't want his identity spread around. A few weeks back he was trying to figure out how he could make the name his parents gave him into a household word. Now he yearns for anonymity. Jack is afraid somebody will one day use his now-shelved political ambitions against him. And, who knows? He might change his mind and run after all. For now, however, Jack's plan to seek a U.S. House seat is on indefinite hold.
The story of why Jack wanted to go for Congress - then retreated from the idea - is instructive and sad. It tells us something about our modern democracy we may not want to hear.
The truth is, our man Jack is eminently qualified to be a member of Congress. As both an attorney and a certified public accountant, he understands pressing issues (taxation, for instance) better than anyone I know, including every member of the Georgia House delegation. Jack, who is in his early 50s, has been active in civic organizations and his church and is generally successful and well liked. But he yearned to do something more: to represent in Washington the interests of the small business guy - the fellow who carries the heaviest load and makes the republic work. But Jack had a problem or two, and .
Let's not get ahead of the story. This tale begins with Zell Miller announcing he would not seek another term in the U.S. Senate, and 6th District Rep. Johnny Isakson deciding he would leave the House to run for the Senate.
Several well-known political figures immediately declared their intentions to succeed Isakson. Among them: State Sens. Tom Price, Chuck Clay and Robert Lamutt, State Rep. Roger Hines and former Newt Gingrich aide John McCallum.
Jack looked over the prospective field and decided he might still have a chance to win in the 6th District, despite the fact that the other contenders are established public figures. He asked his wife what she thought. She said, in effect, "Are you nuts?"
Then he spoke with friends about his political prospects. They presented several arguments against running. Among them: "It would take $1 million to build name recognition," and "You don't look like a politician."
He interviewed two former statewide candidates, one a winner, the other a loser. The loser said, "The campaign was a bad experience. Asking for money is gut-wrenching." The winner said, "You could be a breath of fresh air with new ideas, but raising money would be very difficult until you could prove, by being in the runoff, that you were a viable candidate."
He talked to his pastor, who told him not to do it unless the wife said OK. She finally did.
He hired a freelance TV producer to make a tape of him going through a tough, under-the-lights interview. A panel scored his performance: 8 out of 10 on content, 7 out of 10 for appearance. Pretty good for a first-timer, but still not good enough to be elected in this field of candidates.
Jack asked a couple of professional political observers how they would rate his chances of winning. Their estimates ranged from a low of 1 out of 100 chances to a high of 15 out of 100. In other words, a very long shot.
Being an accountant, Jack sat down with a legal pad and added up the pros and cons. This is what he said he decided:
"Since I have no political experience and no name recognition, raising money for the primary would be extremely difficult. Therefore, I would have to borrow money and personally guarantee a loan for a great deal of money until I made the runoff. Once I made the runoff, then contributions would come forward. I am not willing to take that kind of financial risk.
"My family, though now somewhat supportive, would not want to subject themselves to what appears to be a very unpleasant experience.
"Without some kind of assurance that I had a chance to win, I would hate to ask people for money."
And just about all his advisers told him he needed to shave off his beard. Jack said he wasn't about to do that.
Too bad. He might have made a fine candidate and an even better congressman. But the days of Jimmy Stewart and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" are long gone. No-name candidates, no matter how wise or idealistic or qualified they may be, are not big box-office draws in the current political environment. We could say that is the new American political reality, except it's not new; politics has been this way for a long, long time.
You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160 or e-mail: email@example.com, Web address: http://www.billshipp.com