Dear Big Daddy,
The holidays are coming, and I’m dreading it. My Mexican immigrant parents are going to make me feel guilty in front of all the relatives. I’m the first person in my family to finish college. Both my parents worked two jobs to make that happen. They think I should be making six figures and helping support the family now, not in Democratic politics working for peanuts.
—Wasting my education?
Dear Hijo/a prodigal,
You and I have a lot in common. I too was the most successful member of a clan who had much. Though in my case, I might have accomplished that by the time I finished high school. When I was growing up, our ambition was to be poor—you might say we were destitute, except we couldn’t afford that many letters.
At least it sounds like your parents did right by you. My family never gave me much, but when the time came, they still wanted a return on their investment. I never knew when some long-lost probable non-relation might show up on my doorstep with a great investment opportunity and an empty stomach. Never mind that for most of my career I was so poor still that I was reduced to begging meals from lobbyists—if I had a penny, my relations would demand half.
Now you and I both know there’s money to be made in politics. The selling-out possibilities are enormous. But first you gotta have something to sell. You need to establish a reputation and make some connections ( i.e. get some dirt on folks) before you’ll get a big-money title like “political consultant” next to your name.
Though you seem like a smart cookie, so I’m guessing you tried that route long ago—and your mom shot right back with something she’d read about the dough first year corporate lawyers make. Moms can be like that. Give her anything—a few facts, some out-of-context statistics, three paper clips and a bottle cap—and she can weave it into a tale of how you are an ingrate who will never amount to much because you just don’t care what she went through working those long hot hours at the plant where they recycled disposable diapers and she had to walk through neck-deep snow and boiling lava on the some day repeat ad nauseam rinse.
All of which may be true, though never mind that your mom might not know what you’ve been through either. Even in these more modern, small d democratic times, college can be a tough place to navigate without an American middle class background. I cut my political teeth at USC in the 1940s. I led a group of working-class veterans trying to get an administration to listen to our needs—and that administration made the cynical but largely accurate assessment that they were going to side with the kids who were more likely to give them money in the future.
Which brings me to strategy No. 2—doing it for “the people.” Now I’ve had some unkind words for the masses in this column. This might seem strange, given that I was a man of the people. But I must confess that both “my people” and my big D party have disappointed me greatly over the years. They belong together, but have become estranged.
Now at the risk of sounding like a clumsy, politically incorrect dead guy who came of political age in the 1950s, a lot of this has to do with how effectively “my people” and “your people” have been turned against each other. I spent much of the later half of my career warning against this very eventuality. I told my party they were moving too fast on some of their rhetoric, even as I endorsed the general direction we were headed.
But I was also an early advocate of the idea that your political allies should be the people who share your economic circumstances, not necessarily your skin color. Your parents may not understand why you chose the path you did—but I do. These days, Latino immigrants have reinvigorated the unions, the grassroots and our party as a whole. Keep up the good work. This Daddy is counting on you.