This weekend, I went home to my hometown of Centerville for our big annual Pancake Day festival. Although you've probably never heard of it, and it probably didn't bring in as many guests as the Dave Matthews concert in Des Moines, it's still a pretty big event for the southern part of the state.
The big parade starts with a cannon blast at 1 o'clock sharp, every year. In addition to all the Pancake Day Queen contestants, the local celebrities and the business floats, the parade usually brings a few local politicians or political candidates down every election year. In 2004, when I was still in high school, I marched in the parade with Dave Franker (remember him?). In 2006, Pancake Day marked the first time I had seen Dave Loebsack in person.
This being an odd-numbered year, I wasn't expecting to see any political candidates beyond our statehouse representatives and whoever is running for mayor this year. I was surprised then, to see Bob Vander Plaats round the corner of the parade route, shaking hands.
He walked alongside his billboard on a clean, white pickup truck that might have belonged to a local farmer but was too nice to be a true “farm truck”. Alongside him walked about six or eight people in crisp, white Team VP t-shirts handing out baseball card-sized campaign cards. (The cards had the usual Republican boilerplate about “principled leadership” and “fiscal responsibility”, along with a brief bio.) As he neared my seat, I rose out of my comfy lawn chair and shook his hand. He said “Hi”. I said “Best of luck.”
And I really do wish him the best of the luck. I wish him the best of luck with his wife and his four boys. I wish him the best of luck with his professional and business career.
His political career, though, I hope stalls like an 18-wheeler in a mountain pass.
Why, then, did I shake his hand? I may disagree with darn near every idea the man has, but I respect him for running. Running for office, be it for school board or Senate, is a deeply courageous act. Republican or Democrat, those who run run out of a sense (however misguided that may be) of civic duty.
Between the anti-Bush protesters of a few years agoand the tea-baggers of a few months ago; between the Glenn Becks and Keith Olbermanns of the world, I think it's too easy to see everyone as partisans and not as people. It's the little common human decencies like shaking hands with people we disagree with that keeps our democracy healthy and sane.
That's why I shook Bob Vander Plaats' hand this weekend. I hope you would have too.