I love working in (okay, around) politics, and believe it or not, I'm glad that my issue area is one I don't feel too passionately about. That may sound counter-intuitive, but it's a positive for two reasons: First, I discovered a long time ago that I'm a much better advocate if I'm unbiased. And second, when I'm being buffeted by unfavorable political winds (which is usually the case) it's a lot easier to keep up the good fight if I can live with just about any outcome. It all comes down to my boss's advice, which I consider some of the best advice I have ever gotten from anyone, anywhere, about anything:
"Have fun and don t take it personally."
Still, I often find myself on the margin of other issues about which I really do feel strongly: Health care. Civil rights. Education. Immigration. And it gets sticky when I find myself in a conversation with a lobbyist or legislator who has views very different from my own.
As a private citizen I can speak my mind (although whether I am brave enough, often enough, to do so is another matter). As a public servant and advocate, though, my options are limited.
For one thing, there's the law: As a public employee, I am prohibited from participating directly in political activity. So I can attend a gay rights rally, but I cannot publicly speak or sing there (alas, would that I were asked!).
But I'm even more constrained than that. I can't allow my political views about (for example) gay rights to compromise my role as an advocate for my agency (which does, after all, pay the rent and put beans on the table, along with doing important work).
So when I find myself in the middle of a really distasteful conversation, as I did today with a legislator and another lobbyist, I just smile, say something true-but-innocuous ("yes, health insurance really will be a big issue in November"), smile sweetly, and stuff another potato chip in my mouth. Preferably kettle-cooked. CRUNCH.
And then I go and I bitch about it. Right here. Right now.