Out and About (Sort of): Meet-And-Greets by Howard Freedlander

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Since the latter part of 2017, I’ve attended about 10 “meet-and-greets,” a political staple that enables candidates for public office to meet, greet and convince people, gathered in a private home, to support their campaign. I could have attended more.

It’s a longtime tradition that follows a certain pattern. Neighbors and friends, usually of the same political persuasion, chat among themselves, eat finger food and drink beverages provided by the host, listen to a gracious introduction and then settle back for about 10 minutes as the candidate talks about his or her positions and plans according to a mental script. But that’s not all.

Questions—some easy, some pointed—then ensue. This segment may last asking as 20 minutes.

Then chatter and eating resumes.

I can’t speak to as to whether similar gatherings happen in other countries. I consider the meet-and-greets the most basic form of democracy. The process is open and transparent (though an overused word these days). It’s comfortable. It’s informative. It’s polite.

A candidate, wherefore seeking a local, county or federal office, must be precise, clear and prepared. Attendees have their pet causes and peeves. They expect straightforward answers. They eschew vague, self-serving answers. They are trying to get the measure of a candidate.

If democracy values participation, then these gatherings, which come in all sizes and grandeur, are invaluable in generating informed opinions. So simple, so important.

Now, obviously, candidates are seeking funds and friends. No campaign can succeed without either. Votes are vital. Donations are welcomed, sometimes required, at these gatherings.

As of this column, the general election is three weeks away. Hard-working, ambitious candidates will face the electorate’s final judgment. The charm offensive will end. Lawn signs will come down. Television ads will cease. Glee or sadness will accompany the results. Spirits may dim.

Though I generally have enjoyed the many opportunities to meet and listen to earnest candidates, I have my own pet peeve. My irritation won’t matter after November 6—except to me.

I believe that the question-and-answer portion can sometimes be the vexing part. Some well-intended questioners feel compelled to give speeches before asking their blasted questions.

These people must tell the candidate—and the rest of us—how knowledgeable they are, and their credentials—as in their life experiences—before they ask their questions. Often, the answer is shorter than the preamble. My patience is limited.

I want to hear the candidate talk and explain and persuade.

My style is different. I simply ask my brilliant question. No self-important speech. Why would anyone be interested in knowing the background behind my question, and why I feel so utterly capable of voicing the searching query?

Who cares? Answers matter.

Now that I’ve gotten that annoyance off my back, I must express my admiration to those steadfast and patient men and women willing to run for office. Their lives are disrupted. They must repeat their stump speech over and over again. Electioneering demands are relentless. Their “niceness” button is always on.

The 2018 election is nearing its end. I will miss the meet-and-greets. I will miss the good conversation.

But not all the questions.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

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