The youthful enthusiasm and uncompromising combativeness of Ron Paul’s 20- and 30-something Maine delegates to the Republican National Convention were not only entertaining, but also reminded me of myself at that age.

I was an aggressive take-no-prisoners young Republican activist who enjoyed a good political fight, whether at a state or national convention or a local town meeting.

It embarrasses me today to think back to some of the political campaign shenanigans I pulled with my friends in those days.

And I wasn’t much better when I got elected to office. During my five years as a member of the Winthrop Town Council, my aggressiveness isolated me from other councilors and made mine a lonely ineffective voice. I didn’t do much better in three years as a Kennebec County commissioner.

Eventually, however, I moved from combat to compromise, learning that you can get much more done when you respect your opponents and listen to all voices. The passion of politics gave way to the practicality of serving the public.

Good government really does require an open inquisitive mind and a willingness to work with those who do not share your views.

It took me too long to figure out that I was not always right (and it may be a surprise to my wife to know that I figured it out at all).

After I moved to Mount Vernon and got elected or selected to various town boards, I finally got the hang of it. Actually, it’s harder to be hardcore when you are debating your friends and neighbors.

It’s fun to engage in debate at town meeting, but when the gavel comes down at the end, it’s time to pull together to make our town the very best it can be for all of us.

Nastiness has to give way to neighborliness. And I’ve never believed that good fences made good neighbors.

Many of these young Paul enthusiasts eventually will learn these lessons, too, or simply burn out, frustrated with their lack of success and unwilling to change their approach. They’ll also learn there is a time for campaigning and a time for governing, and these are two very different things.

Politicians often mix up the two. Leaders do not.

In fact, I have known quite a few elected officials who enjoyed campaigning a lot more than they enjoyed governing. And that’s a problem. When you measure everything in victories and defeats, nobody wins.

But I do still love the excitement of those unscripted moments in a political convention when the boring speeches and rulish folderol gets sidelined for a bit of political theater.

Maine’s Paul delegates gave us that. You had to love those lobster clothespins on their noses! Good for them!

I’ve attended two Republican national conventions, both filled with plenty of excitement inside and outside the convention hall.

In Miami in 1972, I joined hundreds of thousands in the streets protesting the Vietnam War, while my brother Gordon was inside, as a member of the Maine delegation.

The night I got tear-gassed, I had a ticket to the convention, so I was able to stagger, half-blind, into a bathroom in the arena to wash out my eyes.

In 1976 in Kansas City, I sat in the balcony where, shortly after visiting with us there, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller found his phone shut off when he tried to challenge something from the floor. He ripped the phone off the wall, leading to a famous newspaper photo of him standing with the phone and a bit of cord held high, still shouting at the convention chairman. I loved it!

There is a time and place for that kind of fun before we accept the serious responsibilities of governing.

Those who don’t understand the difference leave the citizens frustrated and oftentimes appalled.

Like now.

Most people I know have turned off and tuned out of the ugly fierce political combat that now passes for a presidential campaign.

The only speech I listened to at the Republican convention was Ann Romney’s. I thought she did a superb job. I’d vote for her.

I want a national leader, someone I can vote for with assurance that he knows the difference between campaigning and governing. Alas, the two major presidential candidates have been selected, and I’m still looking. How about you?

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or georgesmith [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at

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