Politicians On Parade
Proud to be a Card-Carrying, Flag-Waving, Patriotic American Liberal
June 4, 1996
When I was a working journalist, I covered many a Memorial Day parade, some with politicians, some without. I was always struck by the reverence and respect shown by those parading, and those witnessing the event. I never left an event with a dry eye, no matter how many I attended.

This year I marched as a U.S. Senate candidate in Memorial Day parades in Lewiston/Auburn and Portland, and I was again awe struck at the profound sacrifice that Memorial Day commemorates, the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom and democracy. As a candidate, I marched in those Memorial Day parades out of respect for those sacrifices made in the name of the marvelous democratic process in which candidates and politicians are key players.

I was somewhat taken aback, therefore, when the Portland Press Herald story on the event included criticism of politicians who marched and/or attended the ceremonies, saying that such a parade is not a place for politicians.

The whole intent of Memorial Day is to make sure that we remember that the freedoms and the democracy we enjoy within these borders was won and maintained at great cost in lives and loved ones, and that we should never take those freedoms for granted.

What better way to do that than to have those various parts of our democratic government most closely tied to those freedoms marching in respect?

The veterans' groups are, of course, the most obvious participants. But other groups are also appropriate.

Firefighters (and those shiny fire trucks) represent another group of Americans who, like the fallen heroes and veterans, put their lives on the line in the name of public safety and security. The high school bands, besides providing the appropriate music, speak to a free, public education and the hope we have for the next generation.

Voting and elections are part and parcel of the freedoms our fallen died to protect, and it is appropriate for candidates and incumbent politicians to represent that part in the ceremonies.

The fact that some smiles and waves are interspersed with the ceremonies in no way diminishes the seriousness of the occasion. There were more than a few smiles, waves - as well as politicians and veterans - at the memorial services for Edmund S. Muskie and Margaret Chase Smith this past year. Yet the overriding sentiments on those occasions - and at the Portland Memorial Day parade - were ones of respect, honor, remembrance, and love. And that's the way it should be.

Curiously, the issue of the proper place for politicians came up again at the pancake breakfast put on in Biddeford Sunday, June 2, to welcome the Children's Marchers back from Washington. We candidates were asked to do the duty by the York County Shelter programs which sponsored the event, and five of us (all Democrats) were happy to do it.

After spending two hot hours flipping pancakes on an outdoor gas grill for 600 hungry and road-weary marchers arriving in big buses, I went around and handed out some of my calling cards. Volunteers for the four other candidates running for Congress and Senate had been there before me, and campaign literature was everywhere.

I was stopped cold when I hit one of the county organizers of the march on Washington, who refused to take my card, and made it clear that he thought it was inappropriate for candidates to be politicking at such an event, trying to solicit votes.

I thought his attitude was rather curious, and pointed out to him that his group went all the way to Washington for the express purpose of influencing politicians. And here he had a group of candidates who clearly agreed with his position, and who wanted his support to get to Washington, because that way we would be in a position to actually submit legislation and cast votes for those issues of mutual concern to us both.

He was not persuaded, and said he didn't like politics interfering with the impact and energy of the event, which he said was designed to empower people to action.

Apparently empowering people to action in the voting booths was not what he had in mind, even though that process is probably the most effective means to the end he supposedly seeks.

Coming less than a week after the Memorial Day Parade criticisms, I was dumbfounded. What is going on here?

Do they really not understand how things work in this country? Do the people who elect the politicians to run the government and to make decisions which affect all of our lives really not understand how candidates and political campaigns fit into that process?

What kind of thought processes go on in those brains that they can so totally separate the ultimate sacrifices of our fallen heroes from the freedoms those loved ones died to protect, or the marching on Washington from the politicians they are marching to impress?

If our democratic system is so misunderstood - and these are not isolated cases - it certainly goes a long way toward explaining why this country is in the mess it's in.