Vagneur: Turning off the political background noise

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

It was one of those great evenings, a book signing comprised of Western Slope writers, more specifically those from the upper Colorado River Basin. Old friends, new friends; bought a few books, sold a few boots. Politics don’t usually figure in such friendly scenarios, although, at one point, a fellow author asked me what my particular political persuasion might be.

Saving me the angst of a reply, another writer chimed in, “He’s a Democrat, for God’s sake. Read his columns, you’ll see.” I’ve been called a lot of things, but Democrat? Before you get all riled up about my inability to back that persuasion, rest assured that calling me a Republican wouldn’t be doing me any favors, either. This thing about being either/or (I’m talking politics, not sex) has always piqued my curiosity, particularly the willingness of some to fall on the sword of self-righteous indignation if necessary.

My memory seems to indicate that I grew up in a mostly Democratic household, although I was always cautioned by my father to cast my vote for the candidate I felt was best for the job, regardless of party line. Clearly, I remember that my dad voted for Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, simply because he didn’t think the other guy (Adlai Stevenson) could get the job done. Most of the country agreed with my dad, even though Stevenson himself did come to visit us in Aspen.

Aspen was never too big on politics, not as far as party affiliation goes, but it was prone to go off the rails over whom the most capable (or popular) contender might be. Jimmy Beck, a family friend, was elected to the Aspen City Council at the tender age of 22 or something, way back when, just because the town was tired of what was then referred to as the “old boys” network. It was a contentious race, won primarily because Beck had a maturity seldom found in politicians of any age, at any point in time.

Of course, there was the big hoopla over the sheriff’s race in 1970, the so-called “freak power” party trying to claim some relevant credence in a town that was mostly opposed to the idea, at least as evidenced by the majority vote in the election. Freak Power vs. Old Guard got a lot of press attention, but the idea of Democrat vs. Republican didn’t play in the run-up or the final results.

There have been more than a few friends who have cried on my shoulder during marital breakups, and I’ve had enough divorces in my own life to know that there are two sides to every story, even if one of them might appear to be in someone else’s better interest. Refusal to jump off the bandwagon and think differently from the fashionable mentality is to short-change your abilities as a negotiator and to come across as a tad narrow-minded.

Taking the liberty to bastardize a Scottish sheep-farming term, may I say it seems like more and more we become “hefted” to one or the other political or societal ideology and begin to lose the ability to think for ourselves? According to my friend Mary, “hefted” in Scotland means that sheep, if left in one area too long, become totally invested in the pastures they’ve grazed for years, and it is impossible to move them to new terrain. The senseless and seemingly endless posting of oftentimes inaccurate, dogmatic political memes on Facebook is a strong indication that those who post such stuff have become hefted to a particular political thesis, no matter its validity.

Have you ever noticed that most newspaper columns are about politics, particularly those syndicated columns? Let’s face it, politics is a likely subject because we’re inundated with political bulls— every day of the week, but very few can dissect it as well as Andy Stone. Or, go sit at the bar in your favorite watering hole and you’ll get a chance to vent your own political ideology without ever having to set pen to paper.

We’ve brought it on ourselves. Like unhappy tykes on the playground, we run to the government with every complaint, asking for equality, fairness, justice, guarantees, etc. Rather than taking responsibility for our own lives, we give responsibility over to an increasingly tone-deaf government, even if we don’t have a dog in the fight. By giving up a portion of our individuality, we’ve been conditioned to give unprecedented credence to politics. There are more than enough talking heads on television screens and in the newspapers to craftily color our thinking on every possible doctrinal discourse.

Maybe this election season we will find the resolve to turn off the background noise and focus on what might really be important. Maybe it’s too late.

Not that there appears to be much choice, but may the best aspirant win.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at