Wyclef, Be Careful What You Wish For. You Just Might Get Elected

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Krist Novoselic is the former bassist for Nirvana. He writes about music and politics every week on Reverb.
I'm grateful I have the time to work in politics, but I do draw a line: I won't be an elected official. I almost took the leap a few years ago, but after wading in a little, I stepped back. Another music figure, Wyclef Jean, also is known for his activism, mostly with a charity that helps people in Haiti. Now he's waiting to see if he's eligible to run as president of that nation. If he gets the green light, I wish him well, and my advice to him is simple: Be careful, you might actually get elected!

In 2004, a buddy of mine, an elected official, said I should run for lieutenant governor of Washington. The plan was simple--the incumbent was a Democrat who was unpopular within the state party structure. At the time, our state exclusively used a partisan primary system, in which voters had to choose either a Democratic or Republican ballot. Our idea was to appeal to partisan voters in the Democratic primary. If the plan worked, I would then exploit my name recognition in the general election.

So I jumped in and made a media splash. Somebody even told me they spotted the news on the CNN ticker on a TV in a hotel in Thailand. I hired a campaign manager and started to be a candidate. I drove her crazy, because all I did was talk about election reform and how the state needed proportional voting. After running for a couple of weeks, I realized that I couldn't get elected if I focused so much on a single issue, and I dropped out. If I wanted to be elected, I should have just spoken about jobs, families, and schools--the usual things that politicians spout.

But another thing bothered me. I couldn't shake the feeling that somehow I was gaming the system. I had voted for the incumbent Lt. Gov. Brad Owen before. Perhaps if I were more of a cynical opportunist I would have seen the plan through, but I don't think I'm that kind of person--I don't feel like one.

The name of the game for me is personal meaning, and I wasn't going to find it as an actual politician. I think that many go into politics for the pomp. You can see people like California's Gov. Schwarzenegger reveling in the juice of being that state's head honcho. I already get recognized enough in public. It was the fame and name recognition that was going to give me my shot at public office--why on earth would I need more people to recognize me?

Wyclef Jean looks good in a suit and is already exuding the politico image. He's a successful person, and I'm sure if elected he could handle the job. Haiti has many problems, and I think to do some good, a person would need to be compelled by some kind of personal meaning or true sense of good. But such a lofty notion is no safeguard against the cynical opportunism that dominates politics.

Good luck with your campaign, and the election commission decision on Friday, Mr. Jean. If you're running because you can get it done for Haiti, great. If you're doing it for the pomp and glam, drop out.

 
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