The most common question newly-interested concerned citizens ask me is: “What can I do?”
This is the first of an ongoing series of columns dedicated to the nuts and bolts of effective political action. I intend the series to start at the very beginning: Where do you start if you have no experience, no leader to turn to, nothing but a newly-ignited passion to defend and restore liberty?
From there, each column will progress through the process of developing an effective local organization that can control the local political environment and significantly impact that of the state.
But before getting into the procedural details, it’s important to explain some fundamentals.
Ask a member of the political class, “What can I do?” and you’ll almost certainly be told: “Get involved in a campaign. They’ll show you the ropes.”
The first problem with this advice is that many campaigns, especially high-level campaigns such as for governor or congressman, are run by lazy consultants that have no clue what to do with volunteers. They are more interested in raising money, spending it on advertising, and (often unbeknownst to the candidate) making a handsome commission on the ad buys.
If the volunteer isn’t tasked with mindless work like stuffing envelopes, he’ll be given a phone or door-to-door app where he’s asked to robotically read a candidate survey and report the results–which are usually “not home”, “bad number”, or “refused survey.”
(I use the old-fashioned “he” but I mean both sexes.)
The volunteer will soon tire of performing what feel like worthless tasks. Being emotionally invested in the campaign, however, he already has “skin in the game” and will soon answer the campaign’s requests for financial support.
If the candidate loses, the volunteer’s time and money is lost, with no lessons learned and no meaningful relationships established. Soured by the experience, the volunteer decides he’s done his duty and moves on with his life.
If the candidate wins, what happens next is often worse: The candidate the volunteer believed to be Joe Goodguy turns into Senator Twoface.
(Why is this so common? I’ll explain in a future column, but if you can’t wait, pick up a copy of the essential book, What Makes You Think We Read The Bills? by the Senator H.L. Richardson, from whom I borrowed the funny names. It’s explained in Chapter 12. Senator Richardson passed away last year. The conservative movement lost a master strategist as well as a delightful writer.)
At this point, the volunteer will either throw up his hands in frustration, or become an excuse-maker for the politician’s bad behavior. Instead of imposing his will on the political establishment, he becomes a servant of the political establishment.
The concerned citizen set out by asking the political establishment what to do, and the political establishment’s answer proved totally self-serving. The concerned citizen set out to defend his values, and in the end was taken for a sucker.
Occasionally, a volunteer demonstrates enough talent and enthusiasm that the campaign offers him a job. The pay is almost always lousy. The Republican Party is notoriously abusive to staffers. They are intensely pressured to “produce results,” which usually means generating a large quantity of phone calls or knocked doors to report the good numbers to donors. The incentive to make up fictitious results is great.
Ever wonder why so few College Republicans stay involved in the party after they graduate? Ever wonder why Republican Party lists are so inaccurate? Now you know.
Having now covered the political establishment’s answer for what you can do, let’s examine the other common mistake.
Many people understand intuitively that getting involved with a politician might not be a good idea. But they want to do something, and search themselves for ideas.
What most people come up with is education. “If only more people knew the truth, our side wouldn’t be losing.”
On the surface, the logic makes sense. We’ve all developed our own beliefs through some process of education. We think we can replicate that in others. We see the mass media infecting the public with outrageous lies and feel compelled to combat them.
But this thinking has severe problems.
First: Education alone will never achieve certain essential goals for political success. Education will not find the outstanding candidates we need for so many public offices.
Great representatives need a grounding in constitutional and moral principles and the courage to do what is right, even if it is unpopular and even in the face of threats. But they need much more than that. They need the communication skills and charisma to get elected in the first place. They need the time, financial security, and fortitude to run for office without compromising their families.
The right combination is rare, and on top of that, they have to be in the right district at the right time–and be willing to run.
Education will never find quality candidates.
Second: People seeking to “educate the people” aren’t the great teachers they think they are and rarely reach the right people.
Most people’s idea of education consists of posting or sharing articles on the Internet. Who do they reach? Mostly people whose minds are already made up, on their own side or the opposing side. They’re either preaching to the choir, or debating the opposition with nobody watching.
And frankly, few of us are skilled writers or debaters. Mass media personalities are expert propagandists.
Third: Public opinion does not make policy or win elections.
Americans overwhelmingly hate foreign aid, illegal immigration, and tax increases. Has that made any difference? Of course not.
The vast majority of Americans vote for the same political party, Democrat or Republican, no matter who the candidates are. Elections are determined by voter turnout and the small (and shrinking) number of swing voters.
Fourth: Education isn’t what shapes public opinion anyhow.
People are not the intellectual creatures we think we are. We are emotional; we rationalize our opinions to fit our emotions.
People respond to social pressure. The left are masters of social pressure. If a conservative points out that welfare programs consistently backfire and encourage ongoing poverty, the liberal responds: “Why do you hate the poor?”
This is why the left doesn’t debate the merits of Trump’s policies. Republicans tout Trump’s accomplishments: record low unemployment, higher personal incomes, extricating us from no-win wars in the Middle East, etc. Democrats don’t debate these points; they simply paint him as a racist and sexist.
To sum up: Education doesn’t change minds, public opinion doesn’t decide elections, and elections don’t decide policy.
All of this is not to say education has no role in politics.
But Andrew Breitbart had it right: Politics is downstream from culture.
And even then, culture doesn’t change public policy in and of itself.
Now that you know what doesn’t work, in the next column I’ll discuss what does.