I was a lonely 17 year-old, and my Progressive Conservative MLA welcomed me with open arms.
Fast forward 10 years (to 2005), and I still held those same beliefs - but, in many ways, I was still viewed as "too young to have anything intelligent or useful to add to the conversation". While the fringe parties in this province routinely threw 20-somethings to the wolves as candidates simply because they couldn't find anyone else, I would show up at campaign offices, federal and provincial, and be told by volunteers with important titles that my skill-set was best suited for dropping off fliers and pounding signs into lawns. Important tasks, to be sure. The kind of things that have to happen to win an election, absolutely. But this wasn’t what I wanted to learn how to do – I wanted to learn how to go from door to door with a candidate, and talk to people, engage with them, and change their minds – or my own – on a given issue. I wanted to apprentice, with the idea of someday using what I had learned, combined with my own knack for analysis, political thought and speech, to run for my “dream job”.
In late 2006, I noticed a conspicuous lack of coverage in the media on the PC leadership race. Members of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta were going to be choosing a new leader and, by default, a new Premier for the province – and no one seemed to be talking about it. I couldn’t find any coverage on the television, or in the newspapers, and the internet had a smattering of information, but not a whole lot. So I researched. I surfed all over the internet, trying to dig up information about these people who wanted to be the leader of the province that was the beating heart of Canada’s economic engine. And when I was done... it occurred to me that, while I was satisfied that I had found the information I needed to help me make an informed choice, a lot of the voting members of the party wouldn’t know HOW to find the information I had found.
“This should all be collected in one place”, I thought to myself. And the idea of this blog was born.
I originally intended just to cover the selection of the new Premier, and then to slink away. If I could at least show up on a Google search, and help a single member of the PC’s make their decision, I’d call it a win.
I took the name “The Enlightened Savage”, because as a provincial employee, I wanted the freedom to write what I actually thought about the leadership contenders without worrying that someone I spoke against would win, find my name on a list of provincial staff, and promptly fire me. The inspiration for my use of a “pen name” was actually Samuel Clemens, who on February 3rd, 1863, at the age of 27 years, signed his name for the first time as “Mark Twain”.
I thought the name really encapsulated what I was trying to prove to the outside world, and to the smaller world within my own political circles... that a self-identified conservative wasn’t automatically a mindless, brown-shirted barbarian incapable of rational thought and discussion... and that a young person without “all the right connections” or a PoliSci degree could analyse policy and strategy and political trends, and stimulate meaningful discussion rather than the mindless, partisan back-and-forth you hear from so many of the party faithful.
I had been writing for a week, and Googling to see how many more “buzzwords” I’d need to drop in before the Google Spiders listed me high enough to be found by my targeted “single party member”, when something extraordinary happened... I found a posting on another blog – talking about MY blog. The blog in question was named “Phendrana Drifts”, and the author (Duncan Wojtaszek) was talking about my posting in a complimentary way.
“Another thought on blogs, I have a new flavour of the month in blogs, the Enlightened Savage. He is spot on in many comments, and I can only hope he will continue blogging about Alberta politics past Nov. 25/Dec. 2. He is setting a furious pace, with a superb analysis of Dinning today, and a good one on Hancock yesterday.”
I’d look a little further, and see that the day before, 6 days into my “blogging career”, there was ANOTHER post on a PC insider’s blog, about this “new kid on the block”. This one was from Ken Chapman, one of the “heavy hitters” among the provincial political blogs.
“I have just read a Blog, The Enlightened Savage that I think has some of the best comments, insights and profiles of the leadership candidates. It is definitely worth a read.”I didn’t even know what to do... I was simply floored. Here were people who had never met me, who I’d never spoken to, who seemed well-connected within the huge apparatus of the PC Party and they were complimenting my content. My insights. My ANALYSIS. My ability not to regurgitate press releases, but to read the data and come to conclusions – the very same skills that, under my own name, had been so casually disregarded because of my age and a lack of conventional political bona fides. They weren’t impressed by WHO I knew, but by WHAT I knew. I’m proud now to call Duncan and his wonderful wife Allie friends of mine. His kindness in pointing me out to the masses is something for which I will always be grateful. Ken Chapman is forever going to be my “blogfather”. He went out of his way to meet me when he was next in Calgary, and although we haven’t had a chance to sit down and really talk one-on-one since then, we’ve stayed in contact through other means - he is the model for me of what a true PROGRESSIVE conservative should be.
The blog changed everything. I was writing, and people of influence were agreeing. They were engaged. They wanted to talk about ideas, and strategies, and they thought I had something to say that they should be listening to. They wanted to talk to ME, and to hear MY ideas and opinions, about matters of importance. Some of the more intrepid among the MSM actually found me... I even got invited to do some in-studio analysis on CBC Radio on municipal election night 2007, and some more for the 2008 federal campaign. Naheed Nenshi helped me get booked to do a spot of analysis on CityTV for election night during the 2008 provincial election (I need some work on my “on-camera” spots – hairy, at best).
No one other than my close friends and family even had the time of day for me and my political ideas under my real name, but when I wrote under a pseudonym, in the public domain, people were noticing. People who KNEW I was The Enlightened Savage were introducing me, by my given name, to MLA’s – and those same MLA’s would ask, when the discussion turned to political blogs, “who do you think this Enlightened Savage is?” 18 months later, I "outed" myself to the same MLA who had taken me under her wing at age 17. To say she was floored would be a bit of an understatement. She asked me, “where are you GETTING this stuff?”, and I told her “It’s just how I see things.” She remains a wonderful mentor, politically, and an example of everything that is right about politicians. Without the blog, I’d still be delivering her fliers and delivering her lawn signs, proudly. Now, I discuss policy and strategy with her – just as proudly, but far less sweatily.
This blog has helped me make the connections and hone the skills I needed to achieve my goal. I intend to run to be a Member of the Legislative Assembly for the Province of Alberta. I have 3 years of writings (440 posts, as of this writing) that I stand by, as if they were a voting record. I believe that, when I ask the voters for their trust, they have a right to know what I've said, and hold me accountable for it.
The odd thing is, I never REALLY considered this to be an “anonymous blog”. I was writing under a name other than the one I had been given at birth, but so do many others – the fact that I didn’t choose something innocuous like “John Smith” is what gave it away, but many reporters and television news personalities don’t have their birth name as part of the by-line – it’s the content that makes them reputable. I wanted to think I was providing good content, keeping the rumours and “anonymous sources have indicated...” down to a minimum. I was accountable for what I wrote as The Enlightened Savage, and for what appeared here - hence, my moderation of the comments to the posts – because people knew where to find me and hold me to account. Right here, at this blog. Just like "Dear Abby" gets her mail, even though her given name isn't "Abby".
My concern with revealing my identity, though, has never been the public-at-large. It has been some as-yet-unknown overzealous middle-manager somewhere in my department who is going to try and curry favour with their favourite MLA by closing my one-man office and putting me out of a job, "solving" a problem for that MLA because I criticised them at some point. I'm not scared of the PC party - I'm scared of a faceless “true believer” supporter trying to protect his own version of party doctrine at the expense of my job – an important job that I do very well.
There’s been a lot of conversation in the past few days about the future of this blog. Whether I’d reveal myself, disappear, or remove the blog altogether. I want to thank Jane Morgan and Brian Dell for their discretion to this point. They didn’t HAVE to give me the time I needed to figure out what to do – but they did it anyhow. We don’t agree on everything politically, but this small act of compassion speaks to the quality of character that both of them have.
The first post to this blog was on Wednesday, November 15th, 2006. In that post, I mentioned that “I hope to provide as balanced an approach as I can to the issues of the day, while at the same time making it clear where I stand”. I’d like to think in the past 3 years, I’ve managed to do that.
I also committed to the idea of “holding my own to a higher standard”, and standing up for people and groups who are often marginalized in the political discussion, particularly if that discussion is happening to the right of centre. I have done my best to deliver on that commitment as well.
I’ve tried to use this blog to talk not just about how politics IS, but about how politics SHOULD be – how it MUST be if it hopes to keep up with and stay relevant to the changing face of our civilization. If the voters won’t engage with those who seek their consent to rule, then WE, as politicians and those who wish to serve and lead, have to do a better job of giving them something with which they will WANT to engage.
I can proudly say I’ve rejected only a handful of comments on any of my 440 posts. Having YOU be part of the discussion is what has kept me doing this – let’s be honest, I’m not interesting enough to talk, uninterrupted, for 3 years straight. My favourite posts have been the ones with the most comments, because it means we’re actually talking WITH each other, instead of me just talking AT you. I haven’t gotten many posts that reached what I call the “daveberta line” (most of Dave’s posts seem to get at least 20 comments), but the conversation has been important to me nevertheless.
I’ve made an effort whenever possible to “give the rub” to other bloggers, whether they were already established (see my unsuccessful attempt to help DJ Kelly win a Canadian Blog Award) or just starting out (Shane over at CalgaryRants is not, in fact, me – I have been known to wear the mask around the house, though).
I’ve tried my best to make you think, make you discuss issues with your fellow citizens, make you laugh, and (sometimes) make you mad.
The only thing I haven’t given you over these past 3 years is a name.
And now you have one.
My name is Joey Oberhoffner. You can call me The Enlightened Savage.
And if you think this blog was interesting before... brothers and sisters, you ain’t seen NOTHING yet.
This blog – and this blogger – aren’t going ANYWHERE.
Viva la Nación.