Most people do not like politicians. One poll from last year showed only 27% of Americans thought elected officials “care what people like them think.” Seventy-one percent disagreed. People generally think of politicians like insects: necessary enough to maintain some larger system we all rely on, but annoying enough to avoid whenever possible.
Whenever I think about why this is, I’m reminded of how politicians get their jobs in the first place. They sell themselves! They look for whatever TV camera they can find and tell whatever story they need to tell. Now, close your eyes and think of the person in your life that brags about himself/herself the most. The hero of all their stories. Listening to your problems only long enough to think of some way to bring the conversation back to them. At the root of our system of government are elections that seem to disproportionately reward those very people; those who tell the most plausible and polished stories of their past heroics and grand future plans -regardless of truth – wind up with titles like Representative or Senator all too often.
Of course, that’s not all elected officials. There are plenty of service-oriented people idealistic enough to see some void in their community and step in unselfishly to bang their heads against the wall for as long as is needed to fix it, or at least improve it. For those people, elected office can be a great fit.
Enter Jake Wilder, whom you know as “Jake News” (at least if you listen to Idiotville Podcast you do, which you should!). He’s Idiotville’s “token millennial,” where he plays a role as the butt of most jokes, nearly always without complaint. He takes the jokes because he knows that we know the real Jake. So let me tell you about the guy we know.
Jake did not have a smooth, easy childhood. His dad famously made a habit of selling things that either didn’t belong to him or were illegal to possess in the first place (ask him about the time he walked into Cobb’s second hand store to find his own grill for sale). His dad was thus in and out of his life, and his family moved around quite a bit. They struggled to make ends meet.
Statistics tell us that most people brought up under those conditions struggle to get out from under those conditions. Of course in America anything is possible – but that doesn’t mean the odds are with you. In fact, statistics tell us the best predictor of a person’s future wealth is his/her parents’ wealth.
So, what does it say about a person who grows up with all of those headwinds blowing in his face but who nevertheless manages to arrive in his 30s with a stable job, a healthy marriage, a house in a nice Wesleyville neighborhood, and two beautiful kids? Kids who will no doubt grow up taking for granted so many advantages he never had. What does it say, when someone like that decides to spend a chunk of that hard-won free time to give back to his community?
To me it says, win or lose, Jake has already won. He’s among the group of people who get into public service to provide the public a service. He’s thoughtful about what it means to live and to work and to pay taxes from each paycheck and to spend dollars wisely because he remembers what it’s like not to have enough. Even if you disagree with him, I think you have to respect that.
If Jake Wilder isn’t elected to the Wesleyville Borough Council, he’ll be fine. He’ll return to a happy life and Erie’s favorite podcast full of friends who give him crap for everything under the sun, and he’ll give back to his community some other way, at some other time. But he’s exactly the type of guy I’d want representing me. The vote is Tuesday, May 18.