This was a remarkable year.
A year that was peopled by thousands.
A year that found me:
In countless county and neighborhood fairs;
In Capitol Hill offices and parties;
At high school football games;
Marching in parades on Memorial Day, July Fourth, and Halloween, surrounded by enthusiastic supporters and some not-so-well-wishers;
On the pages of the New York Times and the New Yorker, on Blue Jersey, the Huffington Post, and the Daily Kos;
In campaign caravans rushing from Alpine to Phillipsburg;
In a union hall speaking to a hundred or so sheet metal apprentices, after investing five years of their life mastering their trade, unsure now if there will be work when they graduate;
In spacious living rooms, sipping champagne and munching hors d’oeuvres with governors and senators;
In Ringwood, touring a desolate track of land poisoned by Ford, surrounded by the Ramapo Mountain Indians who were this land’s owners, its victims, its defenders.
This was truly a remarkable year.
And what I heard wherever I traveled this year was that people, whether affluent or impoverished, young or the retired, Republican or Democrat, were worried — worried about their children, worried about their future, worried about our country.
Political campaigns these days have a way, too often, of getting lost in the contest between the two individuals vying for the seat. They become something closer to a food fight than a comparison of ideas and issues and alternative visions for America’
s future. They become a competition about “Gotcha,” and in the process the more personal accusations drown out the political differences that really do matter. There are many reasons why this happens in this political climate, many reasons why this happened in the congressional race between Scott Garrett and myself, but that analysis is for another time and another place.
This race for the United States House of Representatives in NJ-5 should not have been about Scott Garrett or Dennis Shulman. It should have been about the contrasting political ideology and moral vision of the opponents. It should have been about the future of America. It should have been about the soul of our country and of our district.
It should have been about global warming and alternatives to oil and gas — whether we should support increases in fuel efficiency and investment in wind, solar, and bio fuels.
It should have been about stem cell research — whether we should provide the scientific community an incentive and the freedom to do the research here in the United States that could offer hope and cure for people with Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s, and spinal cord injuries.
It should have been about taxes — whether any representative who voted for a war that is costing us ten billion dollars a month, who voted against the Alternative Minimum Tax every time it came to the House floor, and voted for every one of the Bush budgets could honestly claim to be a fiscal conservative and a tax cutter.
It should have been about healthcare for children — whether there was any moral justification for a congressman or congresswoman who makes more than 165 thousand dollars a year accepting a premium healthcare plan paid fully by federal funds for his or her family, but votes to deny healthcare to a family of four who makes twenty-five thousand dollars a year living in Dumont or Cresskill or Newton.
It should have been about reproductive choice — whether the people in this district agree with the incumbent that abortions should be illegal even when the pregnant woman was a victim of rape or of incest.
It should have been about our sacred responsibility to our young men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan — whether we should support any congressman or congresswoman who would vote against medical benefits and other needed services for our disabled vets, and against tuition and housing benefits for those who returned to us able bodied.
Instead, sadly, incredibly, ridiculously, our election was about whether I was patriotic enough or in league with terrorists, and whether Scott Garrett had a farm or just a tax dodge.
Would the results on November 4th have been different if this election were about the comparative moral vision and political sensibilities of the candidates? I don’t know.
But what I do know from this extraordinary year of my life is that everyone I met, irrespective of where they lived in the district and where they sat on the political spectrum, believed that the past eight years have been disastrous years — that these have been years when our great and beloved nation has lost its way, and that we, as a nation, are certainly better than this.
Although I will not be taking a seat in Congress in January, I am hopeful about our country. I am hopeful that, with a new president and with Scott Garrett’s positions becoming even more marginalized in the House, that our country will again find its way.
To all, in this past year, whom I have touched, and who have touched me: