Archive for August, 2007

Reminiscences – Debate 101

August 14, 2007

 

Sometimes I’ll buy a cup of coffee, and I know I should wait to drink it because it’s hot. There’s steam wafting from the cup, the container says, “Warning! Contents are hot!”. Yet despite the evidence, I convince myself its drinkable, take a sip and inevitably scald my mouth. That’s what the political process in Iowa has been like for me. I know the media is misrepresenting reality; I know that politicians buy votes; I know the voting process can be manipulated. But knowing something doesn’t always prepare us for the experience.

On the morning of August 5th, my first thought as I went out to my car at 5:30 am was, “Holy Smokes, that’s some kind of thunderstorm!” I didn’t give it much thought because I was on my way to the debate. The Debate! It was my first real political event, and I was excited to see how things really work.

I arrived at Drake University along with the rain. My first impression as I walked up to the “free speech zone” was of the contrast between Dr. Paul’s supporters and Mr. Mitt’s fan club. Dr. Paul’s supporters were spread all along the block holding signs, whooping and hollering – laughing at the rain as if to say, “C’mon give me all you got!” Mitt’s kids were huddled together, looking miserable. They were all college age and the guys were wearing frat boy uniforms and the girls were in photogenic short shorts. I wondered if they all got the same memo entitled, “How to dress for debate success! Go team!”

And then I saw the big red things on their hands. What the heck? No…. are those… mitts? I wonder how much they paid a consultant to come up with that one. “Ok. Let’s go through this one more time. Mitt… Mitts. Get it?”

After a while the chanting started, and I couldn’t help grinning a bit self-righteously at the differences between the two groups.

“We’re not just the internet.”

“Say yes to Dr. No!”

“Who would Washington vote for?” “Ron Paul”

“Who would Jesus vote for?” “Ron Paul!”

“I love you, man!”

 

“Let’s go Mitt!”

“Gimme and ‘M’. Gimme a ‘I’. Gimme a ‘T’. Gimme another ‘T’. What does it spell!” <confused pause as they look at each other> “uh, Mitt?”

At one point, to counter the enthusiastic calls of the Ron Paul supporters, the Mitt-Mitt’s got the bright idea to start chanting, “Who’s Ron Paul!” It took them a while to realize this wasn’t a good idea.

I kind of felt sorry for them; they were a little gaggle of soggy Biff’s and Bitsy’s surrounded by a defiant and outrageously cheerful crowd of fools for Liberty. It must have been confusing to them. Not to mention that due to the downpour, their cardboard signs kept tearing and within a few minutes, they had a mountain of Romney trash floating in a giant puddle at their feet.

For some reason this really irked me. And when the puddle, which had become a stream, washed them across my feet, I leaned down and gently placed them on high ground. They looked at me and said they were sorry, and I said, “You know, you really ought to have more respect for your candidate.”

I realized at that moment that there is a fundamental difference about our campaign. We don’t view this as a team sport. We don’t want our team to win win win! Nor do we want our candidate to win so we can prove that we’re winners. Our stakes are much higher and more personal. Each person who came that day had a story to tell. One learned about Dr. Paul while researching the corrupt company he was working for. Another had decided to stop paying income taxes because they were unconstitutional. Another was researching Y2K and was appalled at what she discovered. Yet another was losing his property to imminent domain. 50 different roads leading to the same place. I wondered what the media would make of that?

As it turns out, the media was about to show me.

After the debate started, some photographers came out to take pictures. As soon as Team Mitt! saw them, they grabbed a banner and ran forward to pose. The photographers zoomed in on them and took several pictures of the slick legged girls. I was amazed at the way the photographers angled their shots to exclude the rest of us from the photos. When one of Dr. Paul’s supporters rushed over to be in the picture, the photographer stopped shooting, chastised him for posing, and tried to work around this bothersome interloper who refused to move. I watched photographer after photographer come over and do the exact same thing that morning, and each time my heart sank a little more.

After the photographers left, the college kids packed up to leave, and I leaned in to hear what they were talking about. They were comparing notes on where the campaign had sent them and where they were going to be sent next. And that was the moment I felt as though I had scalded my mouth on the hot coffee. Paid photographers were sent to take pictures of paid supporter look-a-likes to run in newspapers, t.v. shows, and websites across the country. Finally, I got how they work. I wonder if they will ever understand how we work.

I went to ABC’s website after the debate and saw the two pictures they posted of supporters. The first was of the Romney babes. In the corner, you can see one unbelievably beautiful and defiant Ron Paul sign.

The second picture is of a lone man holding a Ron Paul sign, standing in the rain. The implication is, of course, that he was the only supporter. Had he, in fact, been the only supporter, I would have been unbelievably proud. I heard his story later that same day. He was from Texas and worked for an airline. He and his 5 year old daughter had flown into Des Moines the night before so they could come to the debate. Not having anywhere to go, they set up a pup tent in the grassy strip in front of the Des Moines airport, where they slept for a few hours in the rain. The next morning they caught a ride to the debate, where they stood in a downpour for hours, showing their enthusiastic support for Ron Paul. Unwavering. Untouched by the insanity of it all. Afterwards they got a ride back to the airport where they waited on standby to go home. They couldn’t have been happier or more grateful to have been there.

Like the photographers who came that day, we all have a choice in how we capture reality. I choose to see you, the people who have Hope for America. I choose to work for the return of the land of the Free and the Brave. This is my reality, and I won’t stop until we all have it. In America. And in the world.

So, to my fellow patriots who stood in the rain and cheered for Freedom that amazing Sunday morning, I say “Thank you. You inspire me more than you can ever know. Now let’s get a move on!”

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National vs. Grassroots… The good, the bad, and…

August 1, 2007

On Sunday night, some of the members of the Des Moines and Ames meetups met with the national campaign HQ members to talk about the Straw poll. I must tell you that I went in there with a bit of an attitude, because I am one of those who has been questioning the chasm that I feel developing between the grassroots campaign and the national campaign. More than once, I’ve asked myself, “What are they doing?” and “Who are these people?”. To be fair, I also ask myself, “What am I doing?” and “Who the heck am I?” Equal time, you know.

The difference between national and grassroots is evident even to the most casual observer. As I looked around the room, I had to smile at the contrast. The meetup folk were slouching on the floor in casually reclined poses; most of us, if we cut our hair, look like we use a bowl for a template. We write with pencils and bics and snort when we laugh. The national team, on the other hand, wear clothes that are so nice they have their own birth certificates. They wear their sunglasses on top of their heads, have really nice haircuts, and as they sit leaning gracefully against the wall, they toy with cool electronic gizmos that the rest of us stare at in fascination. They use words like “touches” and “charm offensive”. We use words like “borg” and “duct tape”.

The meeting was started with a report on what the Campaign has accomplished in terms of reaching out to voters. National has started a campaign to connect with special segments of the Iowan population, and between this campaign, and the write and call Iowan programs, they expect to reach (or “touch”) over 200,000 potential voters by the end of this week.

One of the national team said, “We want to touch as many people as we can.” and another said, “Isn’t it better to touch someone several times?” I tried not to laugh, but I couldn’t help thinking, “Doesn’t it depend on where you touch them?” <snort>

The meeting continued at a good clip, and we covered the different areas of the Straw Poll that needed volunteer support. It was a pretty good meeting, but I still somehow was bothered by the chasm I felt between us.

So at an inopportune moment, which is the only time I seem capable of speaking out in a group, I told them that I was sensing a chasm between national and grass roots. I said that if we weren’t careful, we would end up with two campaigns. Two campaigns that didn’t like each other. Cats and Dogs, Hatfield and McCoys, Eileen and Sandy Burger (Eileen and Sandy were my next door neighbors when I was growing up and were always fighting over their “real live Lucy” doll who refused to eat spinach or raise taxes.) You get the picture.

I told them that the supporters for Ron Paul want to help. I said, “For example, if you’re doing a radio campaign in Iowa, why not make the ad available, and I know the supporters will run with it and play it all over Iowa! There’s so much we can do together. Can’t you just talk to us? We’re not from the government, we really are here to help!” Realizing that I was beginning to sound like a democrat <teasing!>, I trailed off with, “It’s just that we’re a little frustrated right now…”

It was about then that I noticed that one of the national guys was turning an odd shade of red. Suddenly, he jumped up and with clenched fists exclaimed, “You think you’re frustrated?! You have no idea!” It took me a while to understand what he was talking about, but when the light finally dawned, I realized there was another side to this whole thing that I hadn’t even been aware of.

Here’s the gist of it. The FEC (Federal Election Commission) has a code of rules and regulations that apparently makes the IRS codebook look like nursery rhymes. And, because other groups are not, shall we say, encouraging our campaign it is especially important that we follow the code to perfection. The code mostly deals with money – how it is received by the campaign, how it is used, etc. The tricky part for grassroots campaigns is that our activities must clearly be separate (in general) from the National campaign or someone is gonna end up in a little prison cell with a roommate named Bubba.

So, they can’t give us a radio ad, because then it isn’t an independent action, but a coordinated communication, which requires filing reams of reports, may exceed the allowed donation limit, etc. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What they explained to us is this: They hate it, but they have to live by it. They want, they need for us to do what we’re doing and do more of it. They were as encouraging as they could be, but are very skittish about doing anything that can be misconstrued as incorrect. They don’t want to hear about the projects that we’re working on, and they can’t consult with us on the best way to do them. They went into some more detail, but you can see the general scheme of things, right?

When they were done talking about the restrictions on them, I blurted out, “Wow, I feel so free!”. And I do. Do you see what this means? It means we don’t have to wait on the national organization to make decisions. We don’t have to feel stymied because we don’t know what they want. The truth is this: they can’t tell us! It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s just that they aren’t allowed to.   So, you and I can promote Dr. Paul with our best efforts. We can coordinate with each other and help each other as we have been doing. And we can do more of it. While we cannot and indeed must not depend on national, we can support them as best we can so that they can work fully within the limitations that exist, because the national campaign is also vital for success. But, we must move forward within the grassroots movement. The truth is that Dr. Paul’s message, our message, is simple and clear enough that once people hear it, it speaks to them. That’s the only direction we really need. All we have to do is let people know about him.

In the end, there are two campaigns – national and grassroots. But now, instead of thinking of us as two little kids fighting over our “Constitution Ron” doll, I see us more as Captain Navarre and Isabeau from Ladyhawke – two lovers under the spell of an evil wizard, unable to “touch” each other, but soon to be set free and return justice to the land. The only part I can’t decide is who’s the hawk and who’s the wolf.