The Boys on the Bus

11.03.08 5:57 AM ET

Back in September of 2007, I spent a couple days at a Republican retreat in an oversized Victorian dollhouse called the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan. Most of the Republican candidates came there to speak to state party activists, serving up stump pomp while waiters in white-tie tuxedos served drunk diners with pecan-coated ice cream balls. The whole contrived scene made me crazed, until I wandered into town one night, into a watering hole where a local lady was grousing about all the Republicans and tourists who come to the island every year to hang out at that hotel. "There is a whole other side to this island from the lilac fudge and the horses," she said.

I have remembered that quote ever since, because it captured perfectly what I loved about the campaign, our democracy, and my job. There is a whole other side, away from the attack ads and sound bites, away from the obvious falsehoods and rhetorical emptiness. There is a place in our system where regular people gather to tell candidates how they feel, to test the mettle of those who want to oversee the western world. There is a moment when each candidate has to stand in a room, with strangers whose only real power is their citizenship, and make the sale. And the people do decide. It often happens long before Election Day, in states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. I was lucky enough to watch it happen this time, and I came away totally convinced in the goodness of my country.