Will Allison: Let’s Begin the Conversation

Hello there! My name is Will Allison, and Jonathan has quite generously offered to let me blog at RP. I thought I’d use my inaugural piece to fill readers in on who I am, and where I am coming from.

You might be wondering…who? Well, first and foremost, I am a proud native son of Louisville, KY. I grew up in the Highlands, in a family that passionately mixed politics with the arts. My father was a civil rights attorney, my mother an actress and acting teacher. If we weren’t at Actor’s Theatre, we were at a rally at Memorial Hall. One of my earliest memories is watching my mother perform in a one-woman show, portraying the South African anti-apartheid activist Ruth First. I guess you could say that experience was emblematic of my parents’ activism, and the values they taught their children.

Both of my sisters entered the arts, so as I became a teenager, I tried to take a different path, focusing on writing rather than politics or the theatre. However, I was quickly drawn back to the stage, attending the Youth Performing Arts School and falling in love all over again with Euripides and Stephen Sondheim alike. Assured I would become the next Ralph Fiennes, I journeyed far after high school from Louisville to Boston to continue my acting training. I had some great moments with Pinter, Brecht, Kaufman, Shakespeare and others. Assured I would become the next Philip Seymour Hoffman, I journeyed (not so) far after college from Boston to New York, to take the world by storm.

Well, that didn’t pan out so much. So, I turned back to the other family business.

Jane Hoffman

In the spring of 2002, I joined Democrat Jane Hoffman’s campaign for Lieutenant Governor of NY State as a junior staffer. It’s worth pointing out that joining any Democrat’s campaign for anything in the spring of 2002 was a risky proposition at best. The city was still reeling from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. George W. Bush had poll numbers in the stratosphere. Locally, Republican Rudy Giuliani had gone from disgraced philanderer and failed Senate candidate to “America’s Mayor”. And Gov. George Pataki was cruising to re-election for a third term with more money than any opponent could compete with. All three men were wielding 9/11 as a deadly political weapon, and doing it brilliantly (if cynically).

But Jane was a compelling presence on the stump, a dedicated Consumer Affairs Commissioner, and a highly telegenic figure. As the summer campaign wore on, we felt we had at least an outsider’s shot of upsetting the establishment candidates in the race. That feeling ended the day Jane announced she had become very ill with a rare eye disease, and the campaign would have to end. A campaign without a victory is by its very nature a sad place to be, but I can’t recall a sadder way to end a campaign than that.

From there, I moved on to Carl McCall’s campaign to unseat George Pataki as Governor of NY, working as a researcher. McCall was a genuine public servant, without a glimmer of scandal in his career, and as an example of his management skills, presented to the voters a highly regarded tenure as NY State Comptroller. Pataki was a moderate Republican who possessed another rare skill: the ability to bore the electorate into submission. Unseating a powerful, well-financed incumbent requires passion, and Pataki’s brilliant campaign managed to convince everyone there was just no need to get too passionate about this one. Pataki buried McCall by 15 points on Election Day, 2002, joining a tide of GOP midterm victories across the nation that culminated in a Republican takeover of the Senate, and the eventual march to war with Iraq. It was one of the most disillusioning moments I’ve experienced in my lifetime, and it temporarily shattered my faith that politics could be meaningful.

Putting my actor hat back on, I hit the road. My 25 year-old self was cast as a 12 year-old boy in a nationwide tour of The Giver. Veteran actors will tell you this kind of thing is quite normal! 120 days later, 20 pounds lighter, and -$20 in my bank account, I returned home and jumped into Shakespeare, playing Henry VI in an anarchistic production that was as fun as it was bizarre. Backstage, I developed a lasting friendship with another actor, proving just how small and interconnected the world of politics and theatre can be: Ross Beshear, the nephew of the current governor. Escaping the fun but paycheck-less underground New York theatre scene, I hit the road again, tackling another national tour. However, at the end of it all, missing my lady, my cats, my bed, a day not spent driving 100 miles to the next venue, I decided to pack it in, come home, and get a real job. That’s right: I became a blogger.

I launched my website Today’s Lies in the summer of 2006. I had worked in campaigns, but found my idealism drained. I still wanted to be involved in politics, but at an analytical level. Blogging was the perfect venue. I remember that my first post was inspired by Senator George Allen calling his opponent’s tracker “macaca”. That certainly got things going. It was a thrilling ride all the way through the November 2006 midterms. The Democrats took back the House and the Senate for the first time in 12 years. We elected the first female Speaker of the House, a brilliant woman who would go on to match Sam Rayburn’s legacy as one of the most effective Speakers in history.

I continued blogging on through the 2008 presidential campaign, one of the greatest political battles ever witnessed. That political contest was, of course, the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Here, we had two of the great political figures of our time, duking it out for months and months on end. Obama had the organization, the money, and the talent, with a specific appeal to a younger generation. Hillary had the establishment, the tenacity, and in some ways, a more personal connection to her voters, and especially a deep loyalty among older Democratic voters. I was an Obama supporter through the primary for a whole host of reasons (and of course, the general election), but I held Hillary Clinton in very high regard, and had many fascinating debates with her passionate supporters during that race. To this day, I run into Clinton supporters from that race still not over it. Not by a long shot.

While blogging at The Recovering Politician, I intend to write about life in New York City, the arts, and especially politics from a progressive viewpoint. Though I am a lifelong and loyal Democrat, I promise to be honest with you, and to call out Democrats when they deserve some calling out, and to praise Republicans when they deserve the same.

Our nation’s political climate seems unhealthier now than at any other point in my lifetime. When I see people shouting down Congressmen at town hall meetings, I don’t see an angry person. I see a frightened person. One of the reasons for that, I believe, is that many people in politics have stopped accepting each other’s given motives. Many of us seem to believe that the other side is not merely wrong, but actively seeking to hurt our country. Republicans aren’t just merely wrong in believing that lower taxes will spur the economy, they plan to loot the Treasury and return us to the 19th century. Democrats aren’t merely wrong in believing that higher tax rates on the wealthy will generate a greater public good, they plan to impose a Communist dictatorship on the United States. There is much less acceptance that both sides have the same goal: to make this country an even better place to live.

We may disagree on what “a better place to live” actually means. We certainly may disagree on which policies are best suited to get there. But I believe our political climate would be far healthier if we at least began the conversation with this implicit assumption of each other. I feel that is what Jonathan is doing here at RP, and it is an assumption I promise to bring to my writing here. Please let me know when I fail my own standard. To Jonathan, and the RP community, thank you for the opportunity. I hope we all see more of each other!

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