I believe that competence matters. That’s why I tried not to avert my gaze as the blazing sun bounced off the apartment door in front of me. I faced the peephole as cheerfully as possible, in case I was being studied by the undecided voter on the air-conditioned side of the door. It was already 91 degrees, 10 degrees above normal for October in the Vegas Valley. Luckily, the young woman on my list was home and two sweaty minutes later, I had her answer and I moved on. Then I made sure that my campaign sticker was still straight on my polo shirt – a habit leftover from my past life, 22 years of military service and centering uniform name tags.
Just a few days earlier when I told my boss and another guy at work that I was going to canvass for Barack Obama, they both looked at me like “Why bother?” Sticking one’s head up in this highly-charged partisan atmosphere didn’t seem prudent for a middle-aged man. Jokes flew about bulletproof vests and what to do if an Obama hater came at me with a knife. I noted that I’d taken a ju-jitsu class at UNLV last year, so I’d be OK if the attacker came at me from just the right angle.
My Korean wife was also not thrilled with my hitting the streets for Obama. In her culture, it’s always important to try not to offend others. But I’d been an independent voter all of my adult life. Staying in the Switzerland-safety of the middle is a bogus option sometimes.
Competence is not perfection but striving to be as knowledgeable and proficient in the job at hand as possible – while not relying on spin and obfuscation. To me, the proficiency and seriousness of Obama’s campaign epitomized this value. And that realization meant there were no more excuses – I’d have to enter my zip code in the Obama Web site, grab the sunscreen, dig out the Camelbak, get off my weekend couch, and hit the streets.
As it turned out, canvassing wasn’t particularly dramatic — mostly a lot of walking and stair climbing with only a couple of door slams. Eighty-five percent of people either were not home or not opening the door.
But over the course of three weekends, I met all kinds of people I normally never would have talked to, and the only hazards were yappy canines streaking through unseen doggie doors. In fact, the best 30 minutes I had out there was a very civil discussion with a small business owner who grilled me about taxes, health care, both wars, a bit of everything.
Ultimately, I don’t think I persuaded her, but I could tell by her sincere, probing questions that she too believes deeply in a shared value of competence. So it really doesn’t matter whom she voted for – she gets it, which is validation enough for me that as a nation, we will not just survive today but prosper tomorrow.