Saturday, September 20, 2008

Beyond Politics

When I announced my candidacy, the Deseret News reported that "the son-in-law of Hugh Nibley announced his bid to run for public office." I was a bit frustrated with the story. Not that I mind being associated with Hugh Nibley--he was more than my father-in-law; I consider him the father of my spiritual self. And as Hugh Nibley's biographer, I got to know him better than most people ever did. I have never been ashamed to be introduced as Hugh Nibley's son-in-law. He was, for me, a true hero.

But when the Deseret News reported that it was Hugh Nibley's son-in-law who was entering this race, I felt they had overlooked my own qualifications for running: that I had worked for almost a decade in Washington, DC for the U.S. Congress and that for most of that time I worked for both sides as non-designated staff. I not only gained experience learning how government works and about the issues of importance to citizens, but I gained experience working with both parties and with very diverse personalities. I felt my own qualifications were being somehow diminished by the focus on my relationship with my famous father-in-law.

But I have been rethinking that original frustration. I think Hugh Nibley had a lot to say about politics that made a huge impact on my life. One of his essays that most impressed me was called "Beyond Politics." There, Nibley observed that politics can "bring out some of the best in human nature," including "energy, dedication, courage, loyalty, selflessness, zeal and industry." But he also noted the darker side of politics--the "dirty tricks and shady deals, payoffs, betrayals," the "scheming" and "Gadianton loyalties." Nibley challenged us to move "beyond politics," to put partisan behavior and self-interest aside and work for the common good of our community.

I lament that campaigns inevitably end up mudslinging: name calling, innuendo, distortion of each side's record, honest misstatements being played up, all for political gain. But when the mud starts flying both sides end up dirty, and the community ends up the real loser; we end up more divided upon partisan lines and with less trust for whoever wins. Call me an optimist, but I honestly believe most people who get into politics do so for good reasons and that there are good people on both sides of the aisle. I believe this because I've worked with some of them side-by-side. I've seen their tireless service and their good hearts. I've also been saddened when these individuals' reputations have been muddied in campaigns. It happens all too often in American politics.

Don't get me wrong, campaigns should be the place to lay out differences between the policies and ideals of the two sides, and incumbents must stand behind the record of votes they have cast. All that is fair game. But I wish we could raise the level of discourse.

When my biography of Hugh Nibley was published, I received praise from two LDS U.S. Senators, one a Republican and one a Democrat. Both loved Hugh Nibley and were inspired by his life and words. I felt good that I had managed to please both men--bipartisan support in the Senate is not an easy thing to achieve. But it also meant that my writing had built bridges, that I had not alienated either man. That is my promise to voters this year. I promise to bring consensus building and openness to government.

Two of Hugh Nibley's greatest virtues were his independence of thought and deep loyalty to community. He spoke his mind, but he always affirmed his commitment to his community, his church, and his God. It’s those very virtues that I’d like to bring to the Utah state legislature. I promise to be an independent voice, not beholden to either party or to any special interest, and keep my loyalties reserved for the community of Utah valley.

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