This election has been different for me than any prior. But not in the way you think.
Thirty years ago, on the afternoon of my eighteenth birthday, I drove my silver, two-door, four-speed Volkswagen Rabbit to the Devon, Pennsylvania, post office and registered to vote.
My experience as a journalist to that point included little more than two seasons covering the local soccer team for The Suburban & Wayne Times; plus a single, under appreciated interview with REM’s Michael Stipe for The Syracuse University Daily Orange.
Still, such was my youthful sense of journalistic objectivity, that I chose not to affiliate with either party.
Today, the neighborhood is covered with red, white and blue signs for everything from City Council to US President. Not so ours. No signs. No flags. No affiliation. We remain independent.
Still, elections have made major moments in my life.
My MTV News career began at the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago when I walked into the United Airlines Arena, passed the pinstriped news networks, and introduced myself to the long-haired guy in a Rolling Stones t-shirt. He hired me a few weeks later.
I’ve covered every US election since in all sorts of permeations: Street Teams on MTV News; real-time analytics on MySpace; data visualization on Twitter; FlipCams, iPhones, Facebook Live.
And over the years, I’ve met everyone from Barack Obama to Bill Clinton, Gloria Steinem to Roger Stone, Brett Baier to Tucker Carlson, Tom Brokaw and Walter Cronkite.
Still I find politics in general to be distasteful: the pork, the filibustering, the gridlock. The division.
And elections are worse: super pacs, super-spreader rallies, attack ads. There’s a LOT at stake. People behave badly. Things get nasty.
In “Mister Rogers & Me,” Tim Russert tells, “You don’t have to be loud for people to pay attention to you. That’s something Mister Rogers taught. You can walk into a room and be respectful and be civil and have very strong views but learn how to disagree agreeably.”
“That’s the thing that baffles me about Washington as we sit here and talk,” he finished. “We all learn these same lessons, but somehow people come here and forget them.”
His words hold up now more than ever.
None of which is not why this election has been different for me than any prior.
For starters, the democratic presidential candidate lives nearby. We often see him around, usually just a motorcade, or a few Secret Service vehicles parked outside. Once, he and Jill were at the local pizza joint as we celebrated Elsie’s birthday. Recently, he announced his running mate from the high school across the street (where I shot the “Walls (No. 3)” music video), and accepted the nomination just down the hill. Most of Wilmington knows the Bidens in some way.
On top of that, we moved across the street from Senator Chris Coons, and his wife, Annie, who we’ve gotten to know a little bit. I avoid asking Chris about Nancy Pelosi or Mitch McConnell, but I relish seeing him in action up close.
Because you know what action looks like up close? Walking and talking. If the Senator’s in town, you’ll find him talking on his iPhone while doing laps around the neighborhood. For hours. Or doing a standup in his front yard during dinner. Or leaving for a military deployment while the rest of us sip coffee and read the Sunday Times.
What I’ve seen is shoe leather, eye contact and elbow grease
And finally, last week, I helped run our Community Associations’ first Zoom meeting. I helped line up our agenda, communicated with the speakers (The Mayor! Our Councilman!), updated the website, and distributed the minutes. Frankly, it was a lot of work on top of work, on top of this, on top of — but for the first time, I saw local politics up close: water leaks, roads repairs, school zoning.
Whatever you feel about the issues or candidates, seeing politicians as actual neighbors — real people who mow the lawn, walk the dog, jog around the block, eat pizza — is wildly new for me. A metropolis of 10 million people is often anonymous. Here, they’re no longer caricatures, abstractions or sound bites. They’re real, regular people.
Heck, we’re all real, regular people.
The coming days are likely to be stressful. We may find ourselves in limbo between two dramatically disparate views of America.
But in this the end, at the absolute simplest, we are neighbors.
“In times of stress,” Mister Roger reminds us, “The best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”