Back in 1999, I wrote this piece to recruit potential members of what I called “The Pragmatic Party”. It was a party beyond ideology and all the other nonsense people drone on about – a People’s Party for a cynical age.
Naturally, it went nowhere. Since I wasn’t surprised, I wasn’t upset. But when a crappy looking attack piece tying Obama to Bill Ayers hit my mailbox today, I had to laugh. After all, this was exactly the kind of nonsense I knew how to innoculate against. As this campaign descends into a pitiful series of lessons from Tactics 101, I thought it was time to re-run my original piece from Columbus Day Riot on how to run a Pragmatic Campaign. Here it is with only the introductory paragraph removed.
If you’re a real Pragmatist, the odds are your opponents have more money and a set organization that comes from being deep in bed with special interests. You need to figure out how to run an insurgent campaign. Being a cynic, I’ll just mention the mechanisms rather than the positions — the rest of my columns are really just fodder for positions on specific items anyways.
Issues are relatively unimportant to the Pragmatic Party, and are not worth outlining here. This is true for two reasons:
1. If you don’t have a few things that put a “fire in your belly” already, you have no business running for office in the first place, and
2. Issues come and go, but the Bozo that got elected remains. What’s more important are people skills, intellectual ability, and yes, character. While the media likes to drone on about “issues”, the voters are actually smarter and realize that it’s not as important as the skills and philosophy of the person involved.
It’s not your “rightness” that counts, it’s your brain. Demonstrate that you have a consistent philosophy and a thought process that includes critical thinking. Show that you care and are organized. Demonstrate a firm grasp of reality. The rest is just window dressing. Besides, the best way to spend the early part of a campaign is by listening to the voters of your district and finding out what is important to them. You can preach about your “one big idea” all you want, but if it’s a snooze you lose.
Write a book or a brief pamphlet describing why you’re doing this. Oh, don’t worry — few will actually read it, just as hardly anyone remembers that Clinton had one called “To Renew America”. The point is that you wrote a book — meaning you have ideas and you are organized. Keep in mind that if it’s a 3-page single spaced screed with little punctuation you’ll look like a crankshaft, so stress the organization of it and maybe throw in some good anecdotes and stories.
The only people that will see it are what I call “Thought Leaders”. Every office or neighborhood has someone who actually follows this stuff, and is well versed in what’s going on. Come election time, other people ask them their opinion and accept that it’s colored to a certain viewpoint, and discount accordingly. You want the “Thought Leaders” to praise your intellect and honesty. That’s about all it’s good for, so don’t sweat it too badly.
A good website with clean design is a must. No, you won’t get a lot of converts out of it, but those “Thought Leaders” will read your stuff. Speak to them. This can be a good place to publish your “book” with a tree-like organization.
The most important thing about the internet is how you identify who is on your side, and how you get them the stuff they need to do the work for you. Use mailing lists effectively with regular updates to keep them connected. Have position papers and cute little posters on your site for them to put up and circulate.
The internet is really only useful for identifying and reaching the people who support you already. However, this is the most important thing in any campaign. This can make the internet a critical part of any insurgency.
Modern American newspapers are just like dogs — they like to pee on every issue to stake their claim to it, and their loyalty can easily be purchased. The former will be a problem for you unless you can find an issue or two that is so screwed up that pragmatism looks like “a breath of fresh air” (often not hard to dig up). To purchase the loyalty of a newspaper, you just have to take out a few ads once in a while if your race is visible enough to do this. Besides, they are often pretty cheap.
These ads should be funny and brief, like a good political cartoon. The idea is to have something that people will put up at work, and this really goes to identifying your existing supporters. If someone who reads the paper starts sporting your stuff on a regular basis, it’ll impress a lot of people.
Newspaper endorsements are critical in many races, because people rarely have seen enough of a person in “lower” races to have a direct opinion. Courting the editorial board should be a high priority if your race is not all that visible.
If your race is big enough to warrant TV ads, odds are you are in trouble. If you do run ads, make sure that they are funny and memorable. If your opponent may get a chance to smear you, remember that there are thousands of good positive ads but only one negative ad. Run a negative ad against yourself first as an inoculation.
Show grainy black-and-white footage of yourself looking sinister while a deep voice-over talks about how you just don’t like puppy breath, and then you are seen turning away when offered a li’l dachshund. Have ‘interviews’ with some crazy person with dozens of dogs stating that he or she just can’t vote for someone that doesn’t like puppy breath. When your opponent runs real ads that look about the same, they’ll be a hoot.
There isn’t a race in America that doesn’t depend heavily on face time, either at parades and picnics or just door to door. You’ll do tons of walking, which is why a lot of the details aren’t yours to sweat. This may seem like a huge waste of time, but it’s critical that you do it. Finding out what people are really thinking should constantly make you a better candidate. Showing people that you have good people skills is a must, because it’s really what the job is all about.
If the idea of knocking on every door in your district makes you break out in an allergic rash, then you can forget about running right now. Any election isn’t a 50 yard dash or even a marathon — it’s one of those obscure “racewalk” Olympic events where people wind up looking really dorky at times. If you can maintain your poise through that, you’ll take it.
The Other Stuff
Everything else that people get worked up about, like polling and lit drops and lawn signs, will come naturally if you do a good job of identifying your supporters. The organization comes from someone who has already run a campaign, and either can be bought or was the first person you convinced of your intelligence. A candidate doesn’t sweat that stuff if he or she wants to remain sane. Farm it out.
These are the things that can make a Pragmatic Party candidate win. Some of it you have to deal with now, others really can wait. But it’s really good to have the whole plan out in front of you and get some idea where you are going — because a real Pragmatist is a strategist at heart.