Join 3,494 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Steve Packard "The Bad Science Guy" shares what he learned from running for Congress.
October 15, 2012 7:03 AM   Subscribe

Revelations From Running For Congress Steve Packard writes a blog called "Depleted Cranium," which debunks bad science in the media. Last spring he decided to run for Congress on a "Science-based" platform. It was ultimately a heartbreaking experience for him and he had to quit, as he'd run out of money for food. He has a pretty great post up summing up his experiences now. And at this point probably wouldn't mind if you donated a couple of cans of beans.
posted by proscriptus (58 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
There were a huge number of people who offered words of encouragement, a pat on the back or even a verbal offer to help, but getting them to fork over a half hour of their time or five dollars proved impossible more than 95% of the time. People just don’t want to be bothered, they don’t want to actually make a sacrifice, however small and they don’t want to have to put their money where their mouth is… I had to lean on my father for months before he finally made a one hundred dollar donation.
That seems pretty entitled. I would say "they don’t want to actually make a sacrifice to benefit your political career."
posted by grouse at 7:12 AM on October 15, 2012 [15 favorites]


I would send him beans.
posted by Mezentian at 7:14 AM on October 15, 2012


People are way less supportive and helpful than you can ever imagine

It’s more personal and less professional than I ever would have imagined

Imagine that.
posted by three blind mice at 7:24 AM on October 15, 2012


This guy definitely does not sound like a winner and I'm not sure what qualifies him to give advice to people. "Politics is surprisingly accessible" is a statement that can only be realistically accurate if said by somebody who manages to win. Otherwise politics is accessible in the same way that a blender is accessible: anybody is allowed to buy one, but that doesn't mean you should stick your fingers in it.

Packard's family and friends probably weren't reluctant to support him because they were disloyal; it's just that paying the bills for a self-deluded person to tilt at windmills is a form of enabling and simply allows him to feed his political activism addiction.

That said, I would be happy to send him food, since he can't use that to support his habit.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:24 AM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


5% sounds like a pretty good hit rate.
posted by Artw at 7:28 AM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


That seems pretty entitled. I would say "they don’t want to actually make a sacrifice to benefit your political career."

I don't think it's entitlement - I bet if he were having some other sort of fundraiser, they'd give him a ton.

I think (and maybe I'm projecting) that there is a reticence in giving politically. For example, I work for a public university and my entire compensation package, all my work emails, my work record, and everything else is available to the public if they ask for it. With campaign contributions being (rightly) public as well.... well, I have a lot to think about.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:29 AM on October 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


His description of the PAC system sounds an awful lot like de facto corruption. But we already knew that didn't we? It's one of those weird subjects where the more you read the less you wished you knew, because knowledge just makes you want to give up.
posted by samworm at 7:31 AM on October 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


The system can only be changed from within.

Citation needed.
posted by Egg Shen at 7:31 AM on October 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


This guy definitely does not sound like a winner and I'm not sure what qualifies him to give advice to people.

I actually thought he was pretty sharp. I've been managing grassroots campaigns for a decade (winning them too), and I think he's captured the experience rather well and drawn the right conclusions from his experiences.

That said, the best solution to the problems he cites in regards to PAC money is to not take PAC money, but I'll grant that's pretty hard to do above the State House level.
posted by snottydick at 7:31 AM on October 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


His description of the PAC system sounds an awful lot like de facto corruption

I thought so too, but as a result it's very easy to figure out which candidate to support. Instead of holding debates, we could just have each candidate read down a list of donors by descending dollar amount.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:33 AM on October 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


That seems pretty entitled.

And that sounds pretty dismissive. Packard may sound entitled to you, but his observations are also something that every non-profit and volunteer organization has to combat on a daily basis.

Keeping up the appearance of giving a damn is an enormous part of self-presentation for many people. It's also true in social life, e.g., if you're trying to arrange dishes for a potluck or something.

People are really amazing at min-maxing effort and marginal payoff. They will try to extract the benefit of your goodwill until they need to start putting back effort into the system, at which point they bail.

I don't know if this is something that varies from culture to culture. I do know that there isn't much of a culture of "volunteerism" where I come from, and I wonder whether that may in some ways be better than what this guy experienced.
posted by Nomyte at 7:34 AM on October 15, 2012 [17 favorites]


Otherwise politics is accessible in the same way that a blender is accessible: anybody is allowed to buy one, but that doesn't mean you should stick your fingers in it.

NOW you tell me!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:34 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would send him beans.

I would abstain from beans.
posted by chavenet at 7:37 AM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't know, asking for donations is one thing - but no matter the purpose of the fundraiser, I would probably be pretty annoyed if a friend of mine started giving me the hard sell, implying that without my financial support or volunteer man-hours I wasn't being a good friend. But perhaps I'm reading too much into this article.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:41 AM on October 15, 2012


I would probably be pretty annoyed if a friend of mine started giving me the hard sell, implying that without my financial support or volunteer man-hours I wasn't being a good friend.

It seems that Packard is the kind of person who would prefer a firm no to a non-committal yes. It would also seem that for many other people the calculus is reversed.
posted by Nomyte at 7:44 AM on October 15, 2012


For reference, he ran as an independent in Connecticut's 3rd District against Democrat Rosa DeLauro, which was a suicide plan from the start. DeLauro's a popular incumbent in a solidly Democratic district. You never run as an independent unless you are fabulously wealthy. There is no infrastructure available to you. Parties exist because it's a good thing for candidates to have that sort of institutional knowledge. Don't do it. Pick a party and start at a lower office unless your name is Kennedy.

Most candidates who run for office for the first time are real idealists who want to do good, and have been encouraged by their friends for their entire lives. They're often smart people who have been smarter than their surroundings since they were toddlers, and this is the first time that people have refused to help them. Running for office is a real crucible for finding out who your friends are. It's not entitled at all to use their support as a litmus test for what will be the most challenging task of their lives. Every candidate for office runs into this problem: people who have been supportive for years won't cough up the cash.

Even longtime activists find out that some of their friends are fair-weather. That comes with the territory. The first run for office even as a major party candidate is exactly as hellish as he describes, though most candidates never say so publicly. I'd say this is a really good summary of the first-time candidate.

The best place to start is by finding out when your local Democratic or Republican Town Committee meets. Don’t assume that because you lean left you need to go to the DTC or because you learn right go to the RTC. The town committees are much smaller than the national party and many are not entirely in line with the national committee platform.

Truth.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 7:49 AM on October 15, 2012 [22 favorites]


I would abstain from beans.

I would too if I lived in an oven!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:54 AM on October 15, 2012


I think that people here are missing his point re. support. In most (purportedly) democratic nations there is a lot of disaffection towards politics. People complain that the whole political process has come to be dominated by self-serving, if not actively corrupt individuals and fund-raising machines. And you know what? They are right! But the main reason for this takeover of politics by the least interested in or least suitable for actual public service is that most other citizens have deserted politics. Actual civic involvement has declined sharply, leaving the field to the professionals of PR. And professionals need paying.

Rather than chastising him for having the gall of asking his family, friends and acquaintances to provide him with more actual support than unsolicited advice, we should recognise that the lack of broad civic involvement in politics is the cancer gnawing at the essence of democratic societies worldwide. It's a self-reinforcing disease, as disenchantment at the increasingly venal nature of politics, provoked to a large extent by this lack of civic involvement, pushes honest, capable people even further away from politics.
posted by Skeptic at 7:58 AM on October 15, 2012 [11 favorites]


I appreciate that this guy took the time to share his experience, and a lot of what he says is spot-on. But I kept shaking my head while reading it, because it is screamingly obvious that this was his first hands-on experience with politics, ever. It's hard to get people to volunteer or donate? Yes, it is. This is something that anyone who has worked on even one campaign for a few weeks knows well.

And fine, people aren't born knowing that, of course. But learning it when you're running as a candidate for Congress is a bit insane. It would be like someone who's never written more than a grocery list deciding that they want to write the Great American Novel and being surprised that they can't get any editors to read it.
posted by lunasol at 8:02 AM on October 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


I would send him beans.

I would abstain from beans.


You're overthinking these beans.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:02 AM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I find it difficult to take some of his statements at face value, though I appreciate that they are his experiences. For example, if his parents are unwilling to donate to his campaign, does that mean it will be true of everyone's parents? I have to wonder what it says about his relationship to them and by the fact that he doesn't know that it's about his relationship to them.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:06 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're overthinking these beans.

These are not the beans you're looking for.
posted by localroger at 8:09 AM on October 15, 2012


A box set of The Wire S4 would probably be cheaper, on balance.
posted by Artw at 8:10 AM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


It would be like someone who's never written more than a grocery list deciding that they want to write the Great American Novel and being surprised that they can't get any editors to read it.

Friend of mine works in publishing and this is pretty much her slush pile, aside from the very few hidden gems.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:11 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find it difficult to take some of his statements at face value, though I appreciate that they are his experiences. For example, if his parents are unwilling to donate to his campaign, does that mean it will be true of everyone's parents? I have to wonder what it says about his relationship to them and by the fact that he doesn't know that it's about his relationship to them.

Probably not exactly true for everyone's specific situation. I think the larger point is that you get disabused of the notion that your friends and family will support your political ambition just because they support you personally rather quickly. Most people do enjoy SOME level of support from their friends and family. I think it's a common misconception that people have when entering politics - "Oh, I've got a big family and lots of friends in the community, therefore I have a pre-existing network of supporters."

There's no substitute for hard work, and political organizing takes a whole lot of that. There's also a bit of an art to it. I think Packard, like most first-time candidates, learned that along the way. I suspect that he probably wasn't very good at it, but I've also seen that very few people are at first. He seems like a good guy and I hope he continues to be active and apply these lessons to his future endeavors.
posted by snottydick at 8:18 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


People complain that the whole political process has come to be dominated by self-serving, if not actively corrupt individuals and fund-raising machines. And you know what? They are right! But the main reason for this takeover of politics by the least interested in or least suitable for actual public service is that most other citizens have deserted politics. Actual civic involvement has declined sharply, leaving the field to the professionals of PR.

I think this gets the causality all wrong.

PR and machine politics succeed(ed) in an environment that has never adapted to regulate them properly. This is what formed peoples' opinions about the validity of the democratic process.

Civic disaffection is a rational outcome of the way current democracies are organized.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 8:19 AM on October 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have to wonder what it says about his relationship to them

I dunno. Maybe it just speaks to how realistic his plan was. I think I have a good relationship with my daughter. I'd give her a kidney. I'd swap places if a hostage taker would let me. But I wouldn't want to contribute much to her run for congress because it'd be unrealistic. One party is running a long-time incumbent. The other is running a well-known candidate from a powerful machine. Any independent is going to get, umm, slaughtered. It's not doing anyone a favor to encourage them in bad ideas, but you simultaneously don't want to denigrate their ambitions. So drawing the line at cash isn't evidence of a bad relationship. Maybe someone just needs to be there to buy the beans when it's over.
posted by tyllwin at 8:19 AM on October 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


I admire people idealistic enough to try to change the system, but only when they are intelligent and strategic enough to develop a solid plan with a realistic probability of success. Otherwise they're basically just losers who have deluded themselves about their importance in the grand scheme of things, and there are plenty of people like that in life. They talk a good game, but their grandiose plans crumble the moment they touch reality.

Packard sounds more like the latter than the former. I mean, come on - taking on an incumbent as a third party candidate with no political ties whatever? That practically puts him on the same level of pragmatism as this guy.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:24 AM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Probably not exactly true for everyone's specific situation. I think the larger point is that you get disabused of the notion that your friends and family will support your political ambition just because they support you personally rather quickly.

I would have no problem if that was all he said, but he chose his own parents as an example, meaning it to either be typical, or an extreme case to bring it into perspective. In addition, he points out how people take politics personally when it would seem to be against their interests to do so. This combination says something to me about the nature of his relationships which is other than universal.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:26 AM on October 15, 2012


Civic disaffection is a rational outcome of the way current democracies are organized.

Please read my comment again: it's both cause and effect, which leads to a vicious circle of civic disaffection and increased capture by special interests.
posted by Skeptic at 8:26 AM on October 15, 2012


Read his campaign website and policy issues. His big issue seems to be that there are too many forms to fill out when anyone hires a new employee. Oh...and he also wants to eliminate the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and allow unfettered private investment in nuclear power plants.

He didn't have trouble getting contributions because the system is broken. Nobody gave him money because nobody wants him to win.
posted by rocket88 at 8:31 AM on October 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


I just can't vote for a man who makes advice-animal style image macros.
posted by hellojed at 8:33 AM on October 15, 2012


The lack of support and/or volunteerism is lived by pretty much anybody who runs a community-based organization, festival, or other activity.

Lots of people either give you the cold shoulder or only verbal moral support when you're new and trying to get the ball rolling. If you aim too high in those first few passes, people will write you off as stupid or a dreamer. You aim for small, incremental increases in capacity, in funding, in activities, gaining momentum as you go. And as you gain momentum and experience some successes, people jump on the bandwagon. If you get a few really good people willing to help out in a major way, count yourself lucky, but don't assume their effort will be available to you forever. Always know that you can lose their effort (maybe not their support, but their time) at any time - people have accidents, or get pregnant, or wind up looking after a sick relative all the time, and you have to be able to roll with those punches.

What really stands out about this guy to me is how not strategic he was in his campaign. He sounds like he went all in when he should have taken baby steps.
posted by LN at 8:35 AM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, not for nothin' but his smile looks forced in the photos on the website. The thing to remember about successful politicians like Bill Clinton or Sarah Palin is they fucking LOVE politics, love elections, love glad-handing, love the whole thing.
posted by Mister_A at 8:58 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're overthinking these beans.

Some months ago, my local grocery superstore started selling Heinz Mexican Beans. They're baked pinto beans with a bit of a kick to them, and I find they're perfect in burritos, since the only other burrito-appropriate tinned beans one can get where I live are refried or black beans that don't really taste that great. And as a man who is far too lazy to cook his own beans for a burrito, these beans are beans that I will go to great lengths to find.

But these beans are apparently too popular for their (or rather, my) own good in the spice-deprived land that I live in - they first showed up, logically, next to the other Heinz baked beans and quickly sold out. After restocking, the store decided to move them a shelf lower, where they were next to the tinned kidney beans. The next time, they were next to the seemingly endless jars of pickles. Luckily I still found them, but I only managed to buy the few that were remaining. Then this past Saturday, I was crushed to see that there were no longer any of these magical tins of burrito filling in the tinned bean/pickle/carrot/corn aisle. "Yet more proof that there is no merciful god", I bitterly thought as I stared forlornly at the "BBQ Beanz" that had taken their space. I consoled myself by going and finding the dreaded black beans, but I knew from the moment I put them in the cart that they would be deeply unsatisfying.

And then my girlfriend asked me to go and get a pack of a certain type of chocolate biscuits, and lo and behold, there was an entire carton of Mexican Beans inexplicably plunked down next to the chocolates! So I put 8 tins in my cart, grabbed the chocolates that I was sent to find, and when I returned my girlfriend asked me "Why are you buying 8 tins of beans?" and of course I told the truth and said "Who knows where they'll be hiding next time?"

My point is that life and political campaigning and love are like the search for a good tin of beans. Sometimes you get lucky, and you find that tin exactly where you look for it. Other times, you have to stumble upon it in an unexpected and illogical location that makes you think that whomever put those beans there (poorly paid teenager or deity, depending on whether or not this is an allegory) was a fucking idiot. Much of what Mr. Packard wrote makes me think that he was looking for his perfect tins of beans, in the forms of donors and volunteers, where he expected them to be, not where they actually were. He probably wound up buying the lackluster black beans rather than hunting around for the perfect beans, and then he had to eat a deeply unsatisfying burrito as a result.

And with that, I have overthought the beans.
posted by cmonkey at 8:59 AM on October 15, 2012 [11 favorites]


So he appears to be amazed that a terrible platform does not acquire legitimacy because he says SCIENCE over and over again.
posted by mobunited at 9:02 AM on October 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


Interesting article, thanks for posting it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:09 AM on October 15, 2012


I wanted to have a beer with him after reading the article, but then I saw his picture and now I support his opponent.
posted by efbrazil at 9:18 AM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would send him beans.

I would abstain from beans.

You're overthinking these beans.


Saul Alinsky would endorse eating the beans but only after appropriate tactical consideration.
posted by univac at 9:42 AM on October 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


A politician who accepts money from a cause must be reasonably accommodating and loyal to that cause. Just how accommodating and loyal a politician must be depends on factors like how much money they accepted, how the PAC operates, how specific or general its aim is and other such things. But a politician could NEVER go directly against the wishes of a major contributor.

This was a revelation to him?
posted by dirigibleman at 9:42 AM on October 15, 2012


8. There is incompetence at all levels

Maybe this should have been #1.
posted by univac at 9:44 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are simply so few rewards for being involved in being part of a political campaign, in general, that a person has to have a strong external driver (their own ambitions, fear of the evilness of the opposition, NIMBY concerns, etc.) to get them to do it. You work and work for no pay and chances are very good that you will still lose on whatever your cause is. It's disheartening and frustrating and most people just don't want to take that risk.

People want a payoff for their efforts, and in politics the payoff for volunteers is either nonexistent or so far down the road that they are years away from it.

I don't know how to fix this, but I don't think we can guilt the citizenry into it. Maybe take the Kim Stanley Robinson approach and draft citizens into government like jury duty. If it was paid and I could get my old job back, sure, I'd take a year or two to work on the city council to make my town a better place. But I'm not going to bankrupt my family and kiss a lot of rich person ass to do it.
posted by emjaybee at 10:23 AM on October 15, 2012


It's not entitled at all to use their support as a litmus test for what will be the most challenging task of their lives. ... Every candidate for office runs into this problem: people who have been supportive for years won't cough up the cash. Even longtime activists find out that some of their friends are fair-weather.

I am totally willing to help out my close friends by providing food, shelter, time, or money if they are in trouble. But if I knew that a friend of mine felt that our continued friendship was predicated on my donating money or time to them, I would feel strongly that I was being taken advantage of (and maybe also that this friend was kind of a narcissist).
posted by en forme de poire at 10:25 AM on October 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Ok, I've been a field organizer and known a lot of fundraising people, and yeah, getting money and volunteers is damn hard, but I wouldn't help my own best friend if she were running against Rosa DeLauro without a really compelling platform - Rosa is kind of awesome.
posted by naoko at 10:32 AM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


The thing to remember about successful politicians like Bill Clinton or Sarah Palin is they fucking LOVE politics, love elections, love glad-handing, love the whole thing.

Many successful politicians are, to the contrary, at least half or mostly introverted, and have willed themselves to work with crowds because their motivators come from elsewhere (see: Nixon, most famously, also Obama, Lincoln, on and on), whether from the pure love of gaining power, or changing policy, and/or deep, strongly internalized grievances from the past, etc.
posted by raysmj at 10:47 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's no substitute for hard work, and political organizing takes a whole lot of that.

Yes. You also need to be able to make people see how their volunteering/donating will make a difference. How are you going to win, and what will you do when you win?

If you don't have a chance of winning like this guy, you can still sometimes get people to support you, but you have to make an even stronger argument about how just the fact of you running makes a difference. Is there an important issue you're raising? Great, but you also have to be able to show how running makes more of a difference on that issue than, say, staging a legislative advocacy campaign.
posted by lunasol at 11:11 AM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


"People won't donate to or volunteer for political campaigns" is not a conclusion you can accurately generalize from the empirical observation that people won't donate to or volunteer for your own obviously doomed campaign.
posted by enn at 11:15 AM on October 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


My dad was a politician, and would probably say that most of these, as written, are basically true. You don't have to come from money, or have a Name, but you have to collect powerful allies.

However, simply wanting to "change the system from within" is not a philosophy, or a platform. It's usually just a reflection of the fact that you've bought into the narrative that the political machinery is manipulated with intention by specific, malevolent -- yet nameless and faceless -- people, rather than a mirror of the structure and culture of society. This guy is obviously a redditor and probably suffers from the popular delusion that "if only scientists and engineers ran the government, it would never fail."

Unfortunately, the powerful allies you need to win will only ally themselves to you if your philosophical foundations are deep, secure and favourable to their causes. The shallowness of the rhetoric of change won't win you the blessing of a union or a think-tank or a tribal council. You have to know, in detail, what you stand for, and why. Speaking to my dad and reading his old writings, I'm astonished at the maturity and depth of his motivating philosophies. I'm almost ten years older now than he was when he first ran, and I can't even begin to articulate as coherent a vision as he could then. And those ideas are what got him elected, not because they were intelligible to the rabble, but because they attracted powerful supporters.

Many successful politicians are, to the contrary, at least half or mostly introverted, and have willed themselves to work with crowds because their motivators come from elsewhere.

Yes, this. Absolutely.
posted by klanawa at 11:27 AM on October 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


Wait, isn't this the same Metafilter that's always telling us how stupid we are to support third-party candidates at the national level, and telling us that we have to work locally?

And now, here we are with some guy who's given his all for a local candidacy, put a prodigious amount of work in - and he's being criticized as "entitled" because he mentions that he couldn't even get a couple of hundred dollars out of his wealthy parents, let alone all the people who claimed that they actually supported him?

I don't think he had much of a chance but his experiences are very useful to the next guy and he's certainly put his money where his mouth is.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:17 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wait, isn't this the same Metafilter that's always telling us how stupid we are to support third-party candidates at the national level, and telling us that we have to work locally?


A Congressional district isn't "local". Winning a seat in Congress requires millions of dollars to win an enormous swath of voters, and individual Congressional races often receive national attention. "Local" would be School Board, County Supervisor, and Mosquito Control Board.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 2:01 PM on October 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


isn't this the same Metafilter that's always telling us how stupid we are to support third-party candidates at the national level, and telling us that we have to work locally?

MetaFilter has thousands of members. It is bizarre to ascribe an opinion like that to the whole community in order to imply some sort of contradiction. I have never said anything like that here.

he's being criticized as "entitled" because he mentions that he couldn't even get a couple of hundred dollars out of his wealthy parents, let alone all the people who claimed that they actually supported him?

What inspired the criticism is his complaint about others, "they don’t want to actually make a sacrifice, however small." It's self-serving to imply that people are not making other sacrifices to other, more worthy causes. Packard's post indicates that he thought he was could expect financial support from his friends and family and he literally said he was shocked when it didn't come.

I'm sure I am not alone here in that I am asked for money all the time—from charities, from political candidates, from neighborhood groups, from people with a Kickstarter project, from people who are participating in some sort of adventure activity, from people asking for a gratuity, from people who have medical or legal or housing bills, for people who are getting married. I cannot give to everyone who asks for money. It's galling when people suggest that people who do not give to their pet cause are ungenerous. People are plenty generous, but they don't have to be generous to you.
posted by grouse at 2:22 PM on October 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


People are plenty generous, but they don't have to be generous to you.

Well, this is true, but I think it's also true of him to observe that getting people to give you money is hard -- it's hard even if you're the nominee with party backing, it's especially hard if you're in a partisan primary against others who also have legitimate demands on backers and potential voters, and it's probably almost impossible if you're running outside that system. But it isn't exactly easy. Obama may have raised $181M last quarter, but that was only accomplished with relentless mailers and phone followups and house parties.

The voting public can change their mind almost overnight, even after years of support.

Indeed. The polls are showing that without any particular solid reason, Obama is suddenly facing this fickleness. Yes, he gave a dour, professorial performance in the debate, and perhaps for some the Benghazi issue has been damaging (more likely only for partisans to begin with) -- but the public can seize on anything to decide they want to change horses. (I happen to think the fundamentals are still largely in his favor, especially as a backer of the Lichtman/Keys system which states that all these things are basically decided well before the campaign anyway.) We just had that post about Senate upsets, for example.

Winning a seat in Congress requires millions of dollars

For 2010, the mean campaign expenditure for Congress was about $1.1M, although many competitive districts will result in much higher spending.

The real issue isn't dollars, though; it's uncompetitive districts. There used to be something like an 80/20 rule, but more recently it's heading upwards of 90% of Congress is sitting in "safe" seats. (The Brits use this all the time for MP elections, but it's more of a wonk thing in the US.) These aren't going to switch parties without a miracle, because they've been drawn so well, probably with the help of a computer, to give an overwhelming advantage to one party or another. It's also -- counterintuitively -- a blessing for Party A to make this the case for a certain number of Party B seats, because it involves putting more Party B voters in a single district and thus they aren't making another one competitive.

So it isn't a stretch to call the system rigged, and the onetime presumption that any given seat might be up for grabs is a real fiction.

Even so, Connecticut is one place where independents have won elections, so it's not out of the question completely. There's a sort of New Englander political strain that used to be expressed in electing liberal Republicans and is now a factor that favors independents, if not frequently, but far more often than found elsewhere in the country.

Anyway, it isn't impossible to blow into town and win a seat in Congress, without working your way up from city council to state legislature, say, but it is almost always the prerogative of the wealthy businessman rather than the grass-roots activist.
posted by dhartung at 6:43 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, all you upthread snarkers treating this guy like a fool should realize that everyone's a fool, about something, and there is real value in just jumping in, trying something, and reporting what the effective problems are from direct observation rather than letting option paralysis or the ever-present, persistent urge to leave matters in the hands of other people -- you know the ones, important people.

Because it's the nature of all social systems, if they aren't examined from outside from time to time, to become increasingly insular and corrupt, with no real limits. The degree to which people are shielded from meaningful change is directly proportionate to how much power gets abused.

For me, the money paragraph that indicates the biggest problem with the system is the note about how PACs use power and influence to force politicians to stick to the goals they paid for, because if they do anything against them they'll actively seek to make an example out of the candidate by 1. supporting the other candidate out of sheer spite even if it's someone they don't like, and 2. spreading the word to other PACs to make the candidate damaged goods. In short, if you don't play the game their way, and by that I mean the whole community of PACs, they'll find someone who will, and through this system money retains its grossly inflated influence.
posted by JHarris at 7:49 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have an uncle who ran for Sheriff about 15 years ago. Unfortunately he couldn't pull off the win. However, my entire family is now supplied with enough campaign matchbooks to last a lifetime. As a pack a day smoker, I'm still nowhere close to running out. Even unsuccessful bids can have some perks.
posted by gincrazed at 9:11 PM on October 15, 2012


I think the author's account of PAC financing and incentives is wrong. How would he know that PACs punish members who get out of line? It's not as though he was ever elected to take a vote that PACs would care about.

In my limited experience, PACs will not usually stop funding members of Congress for taking a few votes that the PAC doesn't like. What PACs want is access, and most PACs care about a variety of issues. If a member is against a PAC on one of its issues, the PAC still doesn't want to make an enemy of the member by supporting a challenger; it's better to keep sending checks (though possibly smaller ones) and showing up at events so that the member is still approachable on the other issues the PAC cares about.

I have never heard of a member getting cut off from all PAC funds after getting a reputation for going against a PAC that he or she had accepted a check from.

In general, most PACs don't have the resources to try to knock out an incumbent just because he or she took some votes the PAC didn't like. That's a hugely risky proposition. If you run against an incumbent and lose, you've made an enemy for life and wasted a ton of money that you could have used to buy friends. Ever heard the phrase you come at the king, you best not miss? There are a couple exceptions to this rule - the NRA in particular.
posted by burden at 9:46 PM on October 15, 2012


This is interesting. thanks!

It is also kind of like this.

You're standing at a zoo enclosure watching the elephants. This guy walks out of the cage, taking off his gloves. He says, 'Aw man! I just had to stop trying to help out with the elephants!'

'Oh really?'

'Yeah! Dude, I only spent a few hours in there - and I had all kinds of awesome ideas about how I was gonna be an awesome elephant handler, but hey. Sometimes the elephants just don't wanna like you. Here, lemme tell you all I've learned about elephants in the past few hours. Then y'know, you'll be well-informed when YOU wanna try too.'

I mean, I see the value in being 'audited' by people looking into the system. Checks and balances amirite? But as for dispensing advice based on one aborted and unrealistic campaign, I dunno.
posted by undue influence at 9:07 AM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have never heard of a member getting cut off from all PAC funds after getting a reputation for going against a PAC that he or she had accepted a check from.

This does happen. It's rare, but it does happen. It's hard to generalize when discussing PAC spending strategies. There are a lot of competing philosophies, and not all of them behave rationally.

Ever heard the phrase you come at the king, you best not miss? There are a couple exceptions to this rule - the NRA in particular.

I suspect that there isn't a whole lot of friction between Representative Little (D-MD) and the NRA.
posted by snottydick at 10:12 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you run against an incumbent and lose, you've made an enemy for life and wasted a ton of money that you could have used to buy friends.

No, you might become their running mate, the Secretary of State, or perhaps the next candidate to get the nomination.

I suspect that there isn't a whole lot of friction between Representative Little (D-MD) and the NRA.

Maybe, maybe not.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:58 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


« Older Méliès's best known film is, of course, Le Voyage ...  |  A 280-page history of Athens (... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments