Ryan Hastman is a former Conservative Party of Canada candidate and a political commentator.

Dust, Sweat and Blood: In defence of the modern political campaign

Guest post by Ryan Hastman

Note: Sarcasm function is set to 8/10 for the remainder of this piece.

Thank you to my good friend Dave for the opportunity to contribute this guest blog.  As everyone in Canada knows, we are nearing the end of that most awful of all times: the political campaign. A time when kitschy candidates make their best attempt to interrupt your dinner and beg for your vote. When we all have to try to cope with lawn signs distracting from our natural scenery and the news being dominated by “this leader did this today and that leader did that” taking over the nightly news. Right? 

Please. All of you (political) ‘muggles’ (look it up) won’t be getting much sympathy from me. Sorry, maybe that’s a bit harsh. You’ll have to forgive me, like many other failed politicians before me, I worked hard and fell short, but lived to tell the tale.  The advantage is now I can use more humour and sarcasm in pieces like this.

Some of you may be familiar with a famous speech that many politicians and political types are always referring to: the “man in the arena”, a part of a speech titled “Citizenship in a Republic  given by the former President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt at the Sorbonne in Paris, France on April 23, 1910.

Here is the most frequently quoted part:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I’m sure other groups involved in intense projects have their own poetry to celebrate what they do. For many politicos, this particular speech really resonates. Why? Because win or lose, if done for the right reasons, politics is hard. No matter if a person is a hard leftist or the most right leaning libertarian, or anything in between, politicos expose themselves to many risks and costs that most people do not. There is a cost to your health, finances and to your family.

How many other professions submit themselves to constant criticism (“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better),  who submits themselves to scrutiny and public judgment while engaging in a highly personal zero sum battle that resembles intellectual war (credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming), yet knowing that at the end of it all politics and concerning ourselves with the polity is noble and important (who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause), spending their most productive years in the one industry where there is no second place (who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly)?

In what other important profession/activity do rational people seek to ask their friends and neighbours for help, votes and money, in fact are unable to succeed without doing so? With all respect to my “ivory tower” colleagues (read: political science professors), until you interrupt a regular citizen’s day to ask them for a vote, to volunteer or to donate their money, you do not understand how it feels to expose yourself to such rejection. On the positive side, working with regular folks – moms, dads, grandparents, working people, students, youth – who are setting aside the pressures on their own life in order to show up and lend a hand is rewarding like no other.

To someone who has been through the entire process of running for office, there is nothing as demoralizing as hearing about apathy.  For a typical candidate for office, the process is long and difficult – a nomination contest and then a general election – where their families, careers and personal lives are made secondary and everything is sacrificed for the cause. There are tremendous rewards, the most significant of which is the privilege of governing.  No one is forced to get involved, and I’m not arguing for sympathy.

Because I am in the club of people who have been through this, I feel empathy for those who have also stood in the arena. Even if I disagree with everything they believe, I have a respect for the folks who are part of the process. I will defend every last NDP left wing crank from attacks from the “critic” class.  They may be wrong, but good on them for getting involved. Before you criticize, have you volunteered?

But the next time you hear a “Reporter/ news anchor/ talk show content producer” make a comment like this one: “17 phone calls, 4 doorbell rings, and 5 pamphlets. Congrats #yycfoothills candidates, you’ve given me voter apathy,” remember this: Please think of the candidate’s family, which hasn’t seen her or him in months. Think of the busy volunteers, who sacrifice family time to make those calls and doorknocks. Think of the sign guys, God bless them, who drive around and do the thankless work of installing the signs that everyone loves to hate. I love the sign guys. And I even love lawn signs. Those kitschy, tacky signs that clog up all of our boulevards and make us question the judgment of our neighbours are a beautiful sight to me. I call them the blooming flowers of democracy. When you look at them, don’t see a lawn sign. See a unit of campaign resources. See the late nights spent building them and digging them into (often frozen) ground. See the sign crew driving around checking up on their signs, fixing vandalized ones and often straightening out their opponent’s signs too.

The only group that dusty, sweaty and bloody political arena-warriors discount more than the “ivory tower” critic is this: the political fluke. AARG!! It is hard to overstate how annoying it is for the fluke candidates who don’t work hard and still win. Maybe it’s jealousy. So sue me. To be clear, it has nothing to do with their background or age. It has everything to do with not working hard or respecting the political process.  If you win and didn’t try, we can’t be friends. Well, we probably can eventually, but I’m going to have resentment issues with you.


Ryan Hastman is a former Conservative Party of Canada candidate and a political commentator. Follow him on Twitter @RyanHastman.

7 thoughts on “Dust, Sweat and Blood: In defence of the modern political campaign

  1. anonymous

    This kind of school marmish rhetoric belongs in a sunday school pamphlet. True, there are a few people who have generous values, but not many. Most politicians are borderline sociopaths out for themselves. Didn’t you get the tweet?

    Reply
  2. Dave Hancock

    Well said Ryan! It takes commitment and hard work to get elected and more to get and retain the respect of your constituents. There is no shame in losing. It takes several candidates all working hard to offer voters an opportunity to engage and elect. I have lost and I have won. Winning is more fun but I was committed to every campaign and enjoyed the experiences – the opportunities to engage with Albertans about our shared future.

    Reply
  3. Heather Forsyth

    Well said Ryan one of the best articles I have read in a very long time. I’m extremely proud to say I know you and was sorry to see you not win the nomination. You would have been one outstanding MP.
    PS. I love sign guys, my sign guy for everyone of my elections was my husband.

    Reply
  4. Sue Timanson

    Very well said Ryan! Campaigns are hard work and take a ton of time and commitment. For those cynics who think politicians are all self-serving. I challenge you to get to know one, get to know their families, their mom’s, their dad’s, their brothers or sisters….and then tell me the Politician only cares about themselves. Oh, and where will you meet those family members? At the campaign office, early mornings and late at night. I’m proud of every single candidate who makes the commitment to put their name forward. (except, as you said Ryan, the paper candidates. But even now, I still have hope those newly elected paper candidates will recognize the privilege and responsibility they’ve been entrusted with and step up to the plate and serve well.)

    Reply

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