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"My Untold Story"
January 26, 2001 6:29 PM   Subscribe

"My Untold Story" - What if we threw a presidential campaign and nobody came? Ralph explains how he tried to engage the press, and why it didn't work.
posted by fleener (20 comments total)

 
Poor Jolly Green Giat! For years he has said the corporations run and control everything. Then he becomes a candidate and is surprised to discover that the media, owned by a few big corporations, ignore him and what he stands for. And what does he stand for? Well, bashing the corporations. Not that that is wrong to do but heck, guy, what did you expect them to do? As they say: if you want a free press you hafve to own one.
posted by Postroad at 7:39 PM on January 26, 2001


In other words, you feel we shouldn't have a democracy?
posted by muppetboy at 7:42 PM on January 26, 2001


If you had done a search for the URL of this article you would have seen that it was posted in a thread yesterday.
posted by ericost at 7:59 PM on January 26, 2001


Urr, I don't think this is too much a boo-boo, especially since the URL appeared at the bottom of a YAA* thread most people probably didn't read. Besides, searching for URLs is an imperfect way of preventing double posts; I don't think we need to chastise people who don't do so.

Carry on, fleener!

* Yet Another Ashcroft
posted by luke at 8:20 PM on January 26, 2001


Well, it does make for fascinating reading. It also explains why Nader's campaign never made any real headway: He wasn't interested in getting votes. He was interested in getting publicity. That's not the same thing.

It's a doctrine of conflict that goes back at least as far as Sun Tzu that you don't fight an enemy strength against strength, but rather, your strength against their weakness. Nader is absolutely correct about the dominance of mainstream media by the older parties. So, did he try to run a campaign that basically says, screw the media, let's get people involved? Nope, he just tries to get media coverage he already knows is impossible to get.

More than that -- did he examine the mechanics of how a newer party candidate could win the presidency, and then tailor his campaign accordingly? Nope.

Here's my helpful guide to the signs of recognizing a newer party candidate who actually wants to win, rather than be a "noble failure":

* as mentioned above, the mainstream press is ignored until such time as they figure out the campaign really is a story.

* grass roots, people-to-people structures are used, rather than attenuated media campaigns. That is, people really are just a few handshakes away from the candidate.

* the campaign is aimed explicitly at the 60% of the eligible electorate who don't vote.

* if press-the-flesh stuff is skipped, the Net becomes the main way to communicate both to and within the party and campaign in question.

* and, most importantly -- there isn't a presidential campaign until a number of the congressional delegations of the smaller states are locked up. you only need about 60 members of the House to win the presidency, if they're the right ones. (that's because each state has one vote in the House when a presidential election goes there -- so it's in the smaller states that you can get the necessary votes most efficiently.)

Someday, there'll be a newer party candidate who takes winning the presidency seriously. But Nader wasn't it.

posted by aurelian at 11:08 PM on January 26, 2001


Someday, there'll be a newer party candidate who takes winning the presidency seriously.

Jesse Ventura?
posted by mathowie at 11:54 PM on January 26, 2001


interesting post, aurelian.
posted by lagado at 3:25 AM on January 27, 2001


Dear Fleener: yes I feel we should have a democracy. No we have pretty much lost it. See recent elections. I have no problem with Ralph's having been a candidate. I am all for it. But he complains about the system that ignores him when it is this very system he has long been complaining about. His protest is very helpful. I would like more of it. But I don't expect support from those whom I dislike and am protesting against to play fair with me or my position.
posted by Postroad at 4:27 AM on January 27, 2001


aurelian, are you really suggesting it's possible to get votes without publicity? What are the campaigns where shunning the media has worked?

And I'm thrown by your revisionist remembering of the Nader campaign. A person-to-person structure was the foundation. Never once did I see anyone passing out Gore or Bush literature, but Nader fliers and buttons were everywhere, at least in Chicago. There was hardly a city block that didn't have "Vote Nader" and the Nader URL chalked on it.
posted by luke at 8:19 AM on January 27, 2001


Yes, I would like a democracy too. That would be nice.

The Simpsons summarized it best in their Halloween Special... the one where during the 1996 election aliens Kang and Kodos take over the bodies of Clinton and Dole to achieve world domination.

"You can’t do anything about it, earthlings,” they exclaimed. "We are your only choices."

Someone in the crowd offered the solution of voting for a third party. Kang and Kodos responded in unison, "Go ahead, throw your vote away!"

That's how I, as a Nader voter, feel. The two parties are straight out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Corporations now control much of the policy making in this country, and they win no matter which of the two candidates gets the rubber stamp.
posted by fleener at 8:27 AM on January 27, 2001


Interesting ideas, aurelian, but I think you're putting in too much faith that your political beliefs would be automatically destined to win out, if only you could grab the attention of the public at large. I disagree. I think even if you were able to have a private, half-hour sitdown with every registered voter in the country, you'd never get more than a few points more than you get now, because your ideology just doesn't fit most voters' beliefs.
posted by aaron at 1:23 PM on January 27, 2001


I think you're putting in too much faith that your political beliefs would be automatically destined to win out, if only you could grab the attention of the public at large.

Every ideologue in history has believed that. Only a handful have been right. Recent failures include Theodore Kaczynski and Timothy McVeigh...
posted by kindall at 2:18 PM on January 27, 2001


And I'm thrown by your revisionist remembering of the Nader campaign. A person-to-person structure was the foundation.

It's not my revisionist reading, it's Nader's. From the article:

The national press's insistence on focusing its attention on the horse race between the two major-party candidates creates a catch-22 for any third-party candidate who wants to inject previously ignored issues into the campaign dialogue: Without coverage, you can't make headway in the polls. And a poor showing in the polls in turn distances the media from the campaign. Meanwhile, the issues your campaign seeks to address remain below the radar of the major candidates and the campaign press. Having worked with the print and broadcast media throughout my career as a consumer advocate, I had no illusions when I launched my campaign about the difficulties I would face in convincing reporters, editors, and producers for the major news outlets that my candidacy deserved their coverage.

This sunk him. Because rather than focus on voters and their votes, he was focussing on editors and reporters.

The problem there is that for the last three decades or so, campaign coverage has been ever-expanding, yes? And campaign spending has been ever-expanding, yes?

Yet, at the same time, participation has been constantly shrinking.

I suggest that all the coverage, and all the spending, has the effect (whether deliberate or not) of discouraging people out of the process.

Which means that if you want people involved -- regardless of ideology, aaron, I haven't said word one about my political beliefs, I'm talking tactics here for any newer party -- you have to short circuit the current structure.

Here's an example:

Are you willing to meet with four other people for dinner once a week, and talk about politics?

Again, ideology isn't important -- getting together and having the discussion is. Additionally, are you willing to commit, among the five of you, that you'll help the others get to the polls?

Powers of five add up quickly, folks. 5 to the 12th power is 244 million. I believe the total number of eligible voters right now is about 200 million even.

In other words, fanciful talk about "six degrees of separation" aside, you'd know you were no more than about ten handshakes from the candidate.

Now imagine the whole thing tied togther, via e-mail, web, what-have-you. Which means the mainstream media would have zero influence in getting out whatever messages needed to be communicated both ways, throughout the tree.

I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll have cause to say it again: Americans are not apathetic. We are discouraged and frustrated. There is an enormous difference. We generally care intensely about the world around us.

But every message we get through the mainstream media is about how much we don't care, and we can't have any influence on events, and politics is the province of no one but the corrupt, and... almost as if someone deathly afraid of the American voter is trying to convince us of doing anything other than voting and participating, eh?

We do live in a democracy... Or at least a democratic republic. The bad news is, there's no one to blame for our current mess of having created an artificial political class but ourselves. The good news is, since we're solely responsible, we can fix the problem on our own.

It would take work and time, two things Americans are generally bad about viewing realistically.

But it is possible.

posted by aurelian at 2:51 PM on January 27, 2001


Americans are not apathetic. We are discouraged and frustrated... We generally care intensely about the world around us.

This just is not true. It sounds good, but it's not true. As a nation, we don't care about the world around us or, frankly, much of anything that doesn't have an immediate and obvious impact on our own individual existence. We really don't. All these little sparks of outrage at the fringe are just that: at the fringe. They seem huge if you're in the middle of them, but they simply are not. They are floating in a sea of lukewarm apathy.
posted by kindall at 3:05 PM on January 27, 2001


aurelian: you're not talking about a politician, but a prophet. One of the things that annoyed the Jewish establishment about the chippy from Nazareth was that he was the archetype of how to be apolitical and have an effect on the political scene.

The paradox: that viewed from the ground, early Christianity, like early Islam or Sikhism or any religion of prophetic revelation, has to attack the public consciousness like meningococcus in order to transcend its outsider status. So it's "work and time", yes; even persecution of some sort. But once the spark catches, you have the opportunity to change the world. And that paradox again: you only know the successes in hindsight.

MeFi often has debates upon religion that lead to posters' scorning the oddities, contradictions and whatnot of any established belief system, based on a sense that there's no underlying conviction. But all of us, I'd hope, have beliefs that we hold religiously, with an evangelising passion.

kindall: I used to think that Americans were deliberately ignorant, but then I saw network TV news and local papers, utter intellectual bromide. Talk about a betrayal of the nation's spirit.

There's always time for a mobilisation of belief: it's called "revolution", and revolution will not be televised, by definition, until it's complete.
posted by holgate at 3:40 PM on January 27, 2001


It's not my revisionist reading, it's Nader's.

But you are saying that the pursuit of media excluded all other grass-roots campaign activity. "He wasn't interested in getting votes. He was interested in getting publicity." I think this is patently false, in that he was interested in both. The excerpt you chose has Nader saying you can't have one without the other.

The Nader campaign was about much more than sitting down with editorial boards and pestering beat reporters. I think Nader and his supporters pursued both the voter and the media, but failing to win over one made it nearly impossible to win over the other.
posted by luke at 4:04 PM on January 27, 2001


kindall:

This just is not true. It sounds good, but it's not true. As a nation, we don't care about the world around us or, frankly, much of anything that doesn't have an immediate and obvious impact on our own individual existence. We really don't. All these little sparks of outrage at the fringe are just that: at the fringe.

Nope.

A two-edged sword of my job is that for the last few years I've travelled 50K miles a year, all over the country, and talked to hundreds of people.

What happens, consistently, is that when we get into conversation -- whether or not I start it, no matter where in the country, regardless of the speaker's background -- I get told things like, "My opinion on immigration is... Know what I think about Social Security?... God, what a mess we're in in Rwanda/Bosnia/Haiti/Somalia... Here's what we should do about campaign reform..." Again, as I've said above, the ideologies go all over the map, but the conversations almost always happen.

But then it always ends, "You know, I hate politics." Not they believe this, mind you. You can see it in their eyes. But they feel compelled to say it, because they've been told it so many times.

So if it consoles you to think that the great god Apathy rules the country, and that therefore All Is Lost, and Nothing Can Be Done... By all means, do so.

But realize two things: One, it's empirically not true, and two, it's exactly what the political class wants you to believe.
posted by aurelian at 12:54 AM on January 28, 2001


luke:

The excerpt you chose has Nader saying you can't have one without the other.

The Nader campaign was about much more than sitting down with editorial boards and pestering beat reporters. I think Nader and his supporters pursued both the voter and the media, but failing to win over one made it nearly impossible to win over the other.


Yes, it's clear they believed that without coverage from the mainstream media, they couldn't get votes.

And in doing so, for all their rhetoric about thinking outside the box, and how things were different this time, they fell right into a trap.

Coverage is not a necessary precondition for votes. Case in point: Los Angeles. LA is so damned big, it has about 20 Congresscritters. No local media outlet comes close to covering all those elections, and that's just Congress, let alone the hundreds of other local races.

Even getting elected doesn't guarantee one of coverage, as the relatively anonymous 300-or-so more junior members of the House could tell you.

But the members of the House who do get coverage share a salient feature -- they all won. :)

Winning gets coverage, not the other way around. And the whole thesis of Nader's article is that because he didn't get coverage, he didn't really make a dent, let alone have a chance to win.

posted by aurelian at 1:06 AM on January 28, 2001


holgate:

you're not talking about a politician, but a prophet.

I guess I'm missing something here... Because what I'm saying is that years of political infrastructure have to be invested before a party -- any party -- can reasonably be expected to win any given race. Therefore, one hit wonders like Perot and Nader hurt their followers more than help them, because they reinforce the wrong message: "We can solve this instantly, if only enough of you help." That seems much more messianic to me, somehow. It's why Perot's founding of the Reform Party was a hopeful sign to me, until it turned out that he got bored with whole thing, gathered up his marbles, and went home.

OTOH, the message of the older parties -- "We're so far ahead of you that you can't ever win, so give up now." -- is just as wrong-headed in the long run. Demopublicans of Borg. Ptui.

I will leave to others the psychological analysis as to why American culture tends break into camps who say that things are either hopeless or instantly inexorable. :)

posted by aurelian at 1:16 AM on January 28, 2001


--Therefore, one hit wonders like Perot and Nader hurt their followers more than help them, because they reinforce the wrong message: "We can solve this instantly, if only enough of you help."

I don't believe Nader ever said anything like this. He maintained throughout the campaign that his candidacy was the first small step in creating an alternative political force in U.S. politics.
posted by Dr. Boom at 10:20 AM on January 28, 2001


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