I first met Mary Landrieu about eight or nine years ago. I was in my early twenties and had just moved back to Louisiana. She had actually offered me an internship and, once, even a job. I was flattered, but frankly, I wasn’t really sure if she was serious. I thought that maybe it was something she said to a lot of young people. Besides, I really liked my job with Mayor Roy. My loyalty was to him and to my hometown. I never even entertained taking a job in DC or anywhere else.
During the last few years, I’ve been critical of her a few times. I’m firmly in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and Mary is and has always been much more of a centrist and a moderate than I am. For folks like me, she has sometimes been frustrating. I disagreed with her vote on the Iraq War. I think she has been too slow to embrace marriage equality and sometimes too close to the oil and gas industry. Republicans and conservatives believe that she is merely a mouthpiece for President Obama, which is ironic to those of us, like me, who wish that she would be more supportive of the President’s agenda.
I am a single issue voter in this election, but that single issue isn’t abortion or equal rights or guns or climate change or energy or Obama.
My single issue is Louisiana.
I’ve met Mary Landrieu several times over the course of the last few years, but most of what I knew about her was based on what I’d read in the news. I just wish y’all could have seen and heard the Mary Landrieu I met today at lunch, and I hope you’ll take my word: This woman is fearless and righteous. I may disagree with her on some things, but I will never discount her love and passion for the people of Louisiana. I will never again question her bona fides as a champion of civil rights, because it’s absolutely impossible to fake what she expressed to me today. She spoke from the heart about racism and sexism and the need for all of us to come together. She talked about the toxicity and divisiveness of our political and media culture, how it manufactures outrage and discourages cooperation, compromise, and compassion.
I wasn’t interviewing her. I wasn’t wearing a press badge. I wasn’t there as a blogger. This was lunch between friends that I had the privilege of joining, the day before the election.
She was unguarded, and she demonstrated to me that she’s among the best in the country and that she truly, deeply, intensely cares about Louisiana. But perhaps just as importantly, she understands Louisiana; she recognizes that, to be effective, she must bring together disparate interests, forge coalitions, and negotiate compromise. But that requires clear-eyed, level-headed honesty, even if it sometimes forces us to confront some uncomfortable truths.
Some of y’all will never vote for her because of Obama, and a few of y’all don’t like her because she supports the oil and gas industry. It may be a long shot, but I really hope you’ll reconsider your position. To me, it’s naive and myopic. No one is perfect. You’ll never meet the perfect politician.
But what we need and deserve is a leader with the muscle to bring people together, and in a state as divided as Louisiana, no one has been better at cobbling together coalitions and representing a broad range of interests than Mary Landrieu. Bill Cassidy is running a campaign built on dividing us and scaring us and convincing us that Obama is the root of all evil. He may win, but if he does, he won’t be representing Louisiana; just like Jindal, he will be representing a rabid and vocal subset of national conservatives who relish in their anger, who hate government so much that they’re willing to destroy our shared civic institutions in order to line the pockets of the wealthy, who appeal almost exclusively to our collective fears- whether it’s Mexicans crossing the border or Ebola or terrorism or whatever topic du jour scares up enough viewers to keep Fox News on top and enough listeners to keep Rush Limbaugh in syndication.
Today, at lunch, there was a discussion of political heroes. “Mine has always been Eleanor Roosevelt,” Mary said. I asked her if she’d seen the Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelts, and she said that she watched every minute of it. She talked about how exceptional that family was and how inspirational Eleanor Roosevelt was to her. And as she explained the ways in which Eleanor Roosevelt- a woman who did more to advance human rights in the 20th century than almost anyone else- had been emotionally and psychologically abused by her own mother, she started to tear up a little bit– not out of pity, though. It was out of admiration for a trailblazing woman who endured the relentless cruelties of her own mother, among other things, and still, somehow, remained almost supernaturally strong.
We expect a lot out of our leaders. We subject them and their families to intense scrutiny, and in the age of talk radio, the Internet, and 24-hour cable news, we now take for granted a culture that continually, constantly enables a simplistic but cartoonish vilification of almost anyone and everyone who dares to enter public service. It’s not only unfair; it does a disservice to our democracy.
I already voted. And on the eve of the election, I can rest easily, knowing now- for damned certain- that I voted for the most effective, accomplished, and badass Senator from Louisiana in an entire generation. I don’t have to agree with her on everything; if I did, there’s no chance she would have ever been elected in the first place. This is bigger than me; this is about the future of my state and who will truly listen to all of our people.
I’m with Mary.