Last week I went to a dinner where Herman Cain, one of the Republican presidential candidates, was speaking. He spoke well, clearly articulating ideas that were far outside the mainstream of Republican politics, and making them palatable in the process. He was well received, and warmly applauded by the end of the evening. Still some of the men and women I spent the evening with were firmly convinced that he was a long shot at best.
There are times when being a long shot is an advantage. For an aviation enthusiast who advocates for aviation industries and activities in a decidedly non-aviation centric world, that’s worth remembering.
I was aware Herman was in the race, of course. He’d received a smattering of media attention to that point, and was included in the televised debates — albeit always from a position on the outer fringe of the camera’s wide shot. Like all long-shot candidates, he was relegated to the periphery of the main stage. He was included in the debate, but only to the extent that was necessary. There was very little effort expended in following up to Mr. Cain’s points, regardless of whether he expressed a conventional view or a radical one. He got his minute of air-time, then the host moved on.
In effect, he was being tolerated. Herman Cain had just enough name recognition to get into the field of players and stick there. However, he was effectively deemed an also-ran, a man of no real consequence to the outcome of the process. The media included him, but did not embrace him.
And then the Florida straw poll votes were counted.
Herman Cain, a man who has never been in the spotlight of this campaign for more than a fleeting moment, beat the bejeezus out of his competitors in what is arguably the most important swing state in the country. The presumptive winner of the nomination and the previous presumptive winner didn’t garner enough votes between them to equal Mr. Cain’s total.
Sometimes things don’t go the way the media machine plans them. That’s important for the rest of us to keep in mind, too.
A political campaign, like life, is a distance event. It’s not always such a good thing to be considered a winner right out of the box. As an example, try to remember how revered your football quarterback and head cheerleader were when you were in high school. Ten years later, reverence isn’t quite the word you would use to describe how most former quarterbacks and cheerleaders are viewed by society.
Peaking early isn’t always a plus. More often than not, that early rise to success becomes a detriment to later successes. It’s the geeks and the brainiacs from high school who seem to go on to do great things, not the much cooler jocks. The unpopular kids fill out their bodies and their minds a little slower than the rest, but they learn to focus on the goal and not the bumps in the road between where they started and where they hope to finish. They become mission oriented, they learn to take a punch and come back stronger — whether the punch is literal or figurative. And they have an impressive tendency to win out in the end.
That’s the way of the world for we aviator types, too. I rarely walk into a meeting where I’ll be advocating the benefits of aviation to find a friendly audience filled with pilots, mechanics, and airport administrators. More often, I’m on the outs. I’m the weird guy with the peculiar ideas pushing the benefits of an industry nobody else in the room truly understands. And that works for me. I think you will find it can work for you, too.
Because the reality of being an aviation advocate is that I can show real employment opportunities that nobody else at the table was aware of. I can illustrate the educational benefits and social organizations that are touched by aviation and aviators, in some way. Like a magician unexpectedly pulling a real live rabbit out of a hat, we who understand and believe in the power of aviation can astound our audience with information they had never even dreamed of — and then we make the deal even better by allowing our audience to become participants right along with us.
Herman Cain may not be the next President of the United States. Then again, maybe he will be. Whatever the outcome of his race, he’s taught the rest of us a valuable lesson as he fights his way to the top of the rankings. Just because nobody thinks you’ve got half a chance to win, that doesn’t mean you can’t, or you won’t. You have to believe in yourself, you have to stand up tall and speak your piece. Then let the world judge you on your character, your accomplishments, and the merits of your argument. They just might surprise you.
You just might surprise them, too. So get out there and raise a little, Cain. He did it. You can, too.
Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.