Slaying the Monster

I was 16 years old and away at school when I first got involved in a political campaign. It was 1948 and there was a model election with students choosing up sides, making speeches, and voting. I sent off to Democratic headquarters in Washington for materials and was rewarded with a thick packet of stuff including dozens of campaign buttons (I still put one on come election season) and a handsome black and white portrait of Harry which has sat on a shelf in my office ever since.

I think there were three of us for Harry Truman in a student body of about 125. The balance was so one-sided that a campaign was started for a mythical candidate – who won. But as a senior, I had radio privileges in the headmaster’s office and was able to crow over Truman’s victory the next morning.

The next year I was in college and signed up to work for the local Democratic party. I did some neighborhood canvassing and visited the Democratic representative in Washington. I also worked my way up to leader of the Democratic party in the model senate and served one term as president of the senate. I majored in public and international affairs and was planning for a political career – until I went to seminary.

As one who leaves infallibility to God, it doesn’t fit my theology to have clergy telling parishioners how to vote, so political activism took a back seat for the next fifty years. I did join a protest outside the American Embassy in Tokyo when Nixon and Kissinger invaded Cambodia, and talked to the Charge D’Affaires about it. But otherwise I tried to be an equal opportunity critic of political events and personalities.

Then, last June, I retired from parish ministry. Two weeks later I spent an afternoon at campaign headquarters making phone calls for a Democratic candidate hoping to oust our 12-term congresswoman, Nancy Johnson. Johnson is 71 and Chris Murphy is 33. It was youthful idealism versus a politician once respected for her integrity but increasingly a part of an administration that was at total odds with a prophetic view of world events. It started out as a quixotic attempt but the polls began to show a real contest and finally a statistical dead heat.

I intended to get back to the campaign the next week, but an asthma attack prevented and it wasn’t until late in the campaign that I could get back into it. I did write letters to editors and had four of them published in three different papers. And then, over the last weekend, I spent another morning making phone calls, this time from home, spent an afternoon canvassing an urban neighborhood in Torrington, went to a rally for the candidate in a city park, and on election day spent a couple of hours handing out literature at a polling place in Torrington. Ground level politics.

At the rally, Murphy told us that when he began his campaign 18 months earlier that he thought he could win but he wanted to do it “the right way.” There were nasty commercials for Johnson accusing Murphy of supporting terrorists and raising taxes. Murphy made a commercial in which he said, “Nancy Johnson’s not a bad person, but she’s lost touch with us.”

I was in Torrington Tuesday night when they opened the machines and called out the votes: 742 to 546 for Chris Murphy. That seemed like a good omen, so I decided to drive on down to Waterbury and mill around in a ball room and await results. The assembled crowd was much like the people I had seen in campaign offices: mostly very, very young and obviously very new to the process – but full of energy. There’s a new generation that cares, and that’s good.

I met two people I knew: the first selectman from Cornwall and the recently retired Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in Hartford. He’d been doing the same work I had: phone calls and canvassing.

Returns come in quickly in a place like Connecticut and before 10 pm a cheer went up. Johnson had conceded. The dais began to fill with a motley crew: lots of young people, the Attorney General, and others unidentifiable to me. And then, not long after 10 pm, came the candidate. “Never think you can’t move mountains and do the impossible,” he told us. He introduced his parents and “my best friend, soon to be my wife,” thanked us for our efforts and told us to enjoy the evening; there’s work to be done tomorrow.

The final tally was not even close: 56% to 46%, and some 26,000 votes more for Murphy.

What’s all that got to do with Beowulf? Slaying monsters? That’s maybe a bt of a stretch, but it brightened my day and might do something for yours.


CarolineNovember 8th, 2006 at 9:45 pm

Yes, indeed! That’s good news!

AnonymousNovember 9th, 2006 at 5:52 am

Great thanks to you and to all the thousands of other callers and canvassers, poll watchers and determined voters – good news indeed.

AnonymousNovember 9th, 2006 at 6:31 am

yes, great news! And now it’s looking as if there’s a glimmer of hope here in VA as well.

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