There’s More to Politics Than Meets the Camera’s Eye
Today I got an inside glimpse of what it means to be a politician and learned that this is one career I am not interested in at all. I also found out why you can’t really know much about a candidate from a fifteen-minute canned speech. At my age I am always thinking about what I want do and be when I graduate from college. That’s why I apprenticed myself to a photojournalist and see a lot of life from behind the camera. I intend to explore many different possibilities before I make up my mind. I often wondered what it would be like to become an elected official or even the President of the United States. That’s why I was thrilled when Bruce told me we would be photographing presidential candidates.
I would finally get a chance to see at least a little of what it is like to be a politician.
The first and foremost question on my mind was, “Is it worth spending years of my life learning about politics, or is running for office a terrible ordeal that would destroy my chances of ever having a normal family life?”
This eye-opening day on the frontlines of the political campaign scene began as a breezy, sunny morning at the end of February, 2004. This was to be a televised forum where all of the candidates from every party, except the Republicans, would be able to tell the public what they stood for. George Bush was, of course, unopposed for renomination. The forum was going to be held at the CBS television studios in Manhattan. Bruce was to pick me up around 9:00 a.m. to make the drive from Long Island into the city.
While eating breakfast, I tuned my TV to CNN and caught a special report in progress on the upcoming forum. Wolf Blitzer was explaining the procedure for the debates. I could not believe it when I saw that there was already a large crowd outside the studio. They were holding up colorful posters and cheering for their candidates. I always wondered if people got hurt while protesting! I had never seen any kind of political rally in person, and I couldn’t wait to see this one.
At five before nine I found Bruce waiting patiently outside in his car. I grabbed my camera bag, lunch, and suede jacket and hurried to join him. Just in the nick of time, I noticed a three-foot puddle from the previous night’s heavy rain and leaped over it to get to Bruce’s car. After I greeted Bruce with a high five, he warned me that many imbroglios might break out during this event but told me not to worry. I wasn’t worried. I hoped it might get interesting.
As we entered the Midtown Tunnel from Queens to Manhattan, we heard a radio report on the forum. Bruce’s prediction was correct. Ralph Saro of 1010 WINS radio, the all-news station, announced that a large brawl had broken out outside CBS headquarters. I was a little concerned about the possible violence but also excited at the thought of the photos I could take.
Ten minutes later, Bruce and I pulled into the press parking lot, about ten blocks away from CBS headquarters. Before I left the car, I set my camera to manual mode, and, since it was a bit hazy outside, I put my ISO setting at 400. I was ready to take a lot of pictures. When we arrived, there were at least a thousand people rallying for their candidates. It felt like the energy at a wrestling match. Metal police barriers held back the crowd from a narrow entry to the building, where candidates and the press could get in the door. A small group of people were chanting, “A vote for Sharpton is a vote for you, a vote for Sharpton is a vote for you.”
Most of the people were holding up blue and red signs supporting John Kerry. A smaller group held up pictures of John Edwards, and another, much smaller group supported Ralph Nader by cheering, “Nader, Nader, Nader!” What seemed funny was that I had just seen Wolf Blitzer on TV at home, and here he was in person, interviewing a few of the candidates.
Just as Bruce and I reached the entrance to CBS headquarters, the candidates began to stroll in, after passing through a metal detector. The first was Al Sharpton, who stepped out of his black town car dressed in a sharp blue and white pinstriped suit. I started to take pictures of Sharpton as he greeted the other candidates and shook hands with supporters. I thought to myself, “Hey, being a politician isn’t such a horrible job after all. Dressing up in suits and greeting an adoring crowd isn’t so bad.” I overheard one of the Secret Service guys say that John Kerry and John Edwards had gone in through the back entrance to avoid the crowd. After the majority of the politicians had entered the CBS door, Bruce and I followed, moving up to where the press was allowed to stand to photograph and film. We wanted to be right in front to have a clear view of the candidates. When I walked through the wooden doors to the hall, I saw about a hundred white and blue folded chairs, all lined up in perfect rows. I was ecstatic and couldn’t wait for all the politicians to enter. Five minutes later, the hall was filled with politicians, who seemed to all be wearing blue or red ties. I wondered if the colors had any significance.
The first candidate to speak was John Kerry of the Democratic Party. In his speech, he showed sympathy toward the soldiers in Iraq. His speech also covered his plans for our suffering economy, the war in Iraq, his views on abortion, and more. His words were clearly spoken, but it seemed to me like a verbatim rendition of a speech he had made on TV many times before. Next was John Edwards, Kerry’s future running mate. Edwards pontificated that we should get out of the war quickly so that all the thousands of men and women, mainly in the age range of eighteen to thirty, could come home and be reunited with their loved ones.
The next candidate to take center stage was Al Sharpton. He spoke in a stentorian voice and told the audience straight out what plans he had for the United States of America. One thing I noticed about Sharpton was that he didn’t seem to miss any topic; he spoke about everything. His main point, boiled down, seemed to be that we Americans must work to improve communities throughout the United States. I learned things I didn’t even know existed in America, including ideas on how to lower taxes by lowering Social Security contributions (FICA) and ideas on raising the Medicare tax to benefit the elderly. Sharpton even said he had intricate plans for making security higher at our nation’s airports. Next was Ralph Nader of the Reform Party, who spoke about the same topics as Kerry and Edwards. But at the end of his speech, when it was time for him to answer questions, what he said confused me. I couldn’t make sense of it.
After Nader, there were a few much lesser known candidates, including Michael Badnarik of the Libertarian Party, which I had never even known about the existence of, as well as Michael Peroutka of the Constitution Party and David Cobb of the Green Party. It seemed to me that each candidate had a slightly different interpretation of the same idea.
Each speech lasted around fifteen minutes, and after the last candidate, I was worn out and more than ready to leave. After a long day of taking pictures and hearing what the candidates had to say,
I was relieved to be going back outside into the fresh air. The thousands of people in the hall made the room stuffy and dry. Bruce and I packed up our cameras. On the way out I bumped into former mayor Rudy Giuliani, who greeted me with a firm handshake.
Bruce took a picture of the mayor and me, and then I took a picture of the two of them. I had never met the mayor before, and it was pretty cool to see him in person like that.
To run for the big political offices in this country, you have to be extremely brave, dedicated, and I think, thick-skinned, or else you have to be an egomaniac, and in either case, the richer the better. At least, that’s how it seems to me. And if you’re running for office in any kind of a close race, you can be sure the opposing party will attack you, using all kinds of lies. This even happened to Thomas Jefferson, so it’s hardly a new phenomenon. I once read that Jefferson’s enemies accused him of everything from being an atheist to wanting to make America a satellite of France!
One thing I know now, for sure, is that I do not want to go into politics. For one thing, I don’t want to have to go around the country delivering the same speech day after day, week after week, which all the politicians seem to have to do. I also don’t think I would like a bunch of people telling lies about me just to make me look bad. But the main thing I learned after my exposure to politics is important for me as a citizen: the fact that you can’t make up your mind about which person you’re going to vote for just by listening to speeches on television, or even listening to their speeches in person. You have to read up on the candidates and their positions on important matters, and also try to sift through the accusations and lies to find the truth. I decided then that, when I was eligible to vote, I was going to do my best to pick the right candidates. I hope other people my age will do the same, even before they can vote. Starting to become a well-informed citizen is the most important “homework” you can ever do!