Monday, February 5, 2007

OneJohn: Courage, Conviction and Calculation


Ok. Time for a deep breath. I'm still bothered that Jon Elliott of Air America Radio initially thought I was opposed to John Edward's campaign.

Before Jon understood what I was really saying, turned around 180 degrees, and agreed to help me get John to do a grass-roots radio interview with me.

So, to echo John's speech to the Democratic National Committee last Friday: why am I here; what am I doing; and what am I hoping to achieve?

Well, the first thing to say is that, contrary to all the advice I've seen about writing blogs, this may be a lengthy post.

Then again, Technorati says there are over 55 million blogs. And if my experience is anything to go by, we bloggers are mostly a bunch of basement-dwellers, who enjoy playing by ourselves. So, self-indulgence is pretty much the name of the game...

...um...ask Amanda Marcotte...ouch!...but more of her later!

In the meantime, let's go back to my beginning vis-a-vis John Edwards.

I was first inspired by John in 2004. He was the only Candidate talking about the plight of the poor, and doing so with language which resonated with me and my own experiences of having lived with people who are honest, hard-working, yet poor folk.

Fast forward to 2007. We all knew John was going to run again. And I was eager with anticipation as the day of the official announcement drew close.

Then, I heard that John was going to open his new National Campaign HQ across the village green from where I work, in this palace of an office complex (on right).

Frankly, I was puzzled. And that's putting it mildly.

The press had already told us that John would be kicking off his campaign in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. This was to be more than merely symbolic. It was to represent the very essence of his campaign.

A campaign that was to be about all of us. A campaign where we all took responsibility for what we did. Where we made a difference with our actions on the way to the White House, as well as when we got there. The whole message was: I mean what I say - judge me now for what I will do then.

Brilliant!

Except that with his first public campaign decision, John had created a disconnect between what he said he was doing, and what he was actually doing.

I work in a grocery co-op. I've just received my W-2 for last year. Technically, I am no longer working poor. I fall above the poverty line by about $1,000.

The co-op happens to be in one of the smartest, richest, most exclusive office/residential developments in North Carolina. What on earth was John thinking? For my views at the time, go to the very first post on this blog ("A Tale of Two Hills").

Chapel Hill is a few miles away from Durham, an old tobacco center, which has a load of undeveloped warehouse space. It also has large areas of poor districting, which cry out for some sort of starter-development.

Wouldn't John have sent a message more consistent with his campaign themes and persona by situating his National Campaign HQ in one of those areas? Re-developed a run-down corner shopping area, for example. Done it in a way that would have allowed him to hand it over to the local residents, after the campaign.

Blimey, one of his best mates here in Chapel Hill is one of the region's most successful and most progressive developers.

At the time, I drew no conclusions. I just got worried. Poked a little fun about Lower and Upper Ninth Wards. And decided to start "watch on the ninth..." To "keep a friendly, but gently irreverent eye" on John's continuing moves - to help him stay on message.

You see, this isn't about me. It's not even about John. It's about my friends.

For the first time since Robert Kennedy, someone has finally stuck their head above the political parapet, and has had the gumption to state that having some 50 million of our friends and neighbors below the poverty line, in the richest country in the world, is the single greatest obscenity in this nation at the moment. Period.

I want to make damn sure that he doesn't let my friends down. I want to make damn sure he's real; that he stays on message; that we are not merely a factor in some grand political equation - and, frankly, that he doesn't screw up.

Why me? Who the heck do I think I am?

I am precisely the guy to whom John says he wants to reach out. I am exactly the person upon whom John is basing his success. John says that he wants the electorate to measure his credibility on his ability to speak to and speak for me and my friends - real working men and women.

And that's who I am. A working stiff. Nothing more, and nothing less.

No-one may read this blog. No-one may listen to what I have to say. But no-one will tell me or my friends that we are not good enough to be heard.

Am I a shameless self-promoter, as some of the kinder private e-mails have called me? Hell yes! I have a message I want to get across. And I don't have a million dollars and a team of high-priced consultants to help me. I have a free blog and a loud voice.

But back to John. Unlike many in the media I don't give a toss about John's looks, or his wealth, or even the new 'plantation.'

I have some doubts about the political judgment that said it would be a good idea to build the compound in the middle of a Presidential campaign.

But hey. This is America. I want to be rich, too. And I want to drive a racing-green Bentley Continental. You know, the new one. Convertible. With a tag that says, "so maybe it is compensation, but it's still worth the ride..."

Real people, John, don't care who you are, or what you do, provided they feel they can trust you to deliver what you say you want to deliver.

But when you say you are doing something, and you are not. Then that has a psychological impact. Real people begin to wonder if you can be trusted to deliver. They question whether or not you are 'real.'

Two years out from the Presidential Election, a full year away from the first caucus, everything that you are doing is related to its psychological impact. You know that.

And it's not just me thinking this way.

Even your own people put up a post Iowa for Edwards hoping that you mean what you say. The guy who lives at the end of your new asphalt driveway complains that he's never met this Candidate who says he wants everyone else to meet the real him.

The Washington Post runs an article saying that Democrats in Iowa - the state you're supposed to have tied up - are curiously unenthusiastic about you. They think there is something not quite right about you.

Now, these are mere whispers at this stage.

But my twin sister says that one of my curses is that I see patterns (no, John...patterns...not dead people!). Patterns, where other people do not see them. And generally well before anyone else sees them.

What I am sensing at the moment is that real people are no longer worried about the apparent disconnect between your wealth and your message on poverty. And its seeming clash with your message on TwoAmericas. That is simply the outlet they are choosing for what I perceive as a more insidious concern.

Deep down what they are truly worried about, in my opinion, is the growing disconnect between the TwoJohns: between what you say you are doing, and what you are actually doing.

Now John, we ain't stupid. I talk with ordinary working folk every day. They may not have all the clever words. But they understand politics better than some consultants give them credit - and, indeed, some Democrats.

To be honest, there are too many Democrats, with fancy backgrounds, who make the mistake of assuming that they know better than regular people what is best for those regular people.

Regular people know best. All you have to do is ask them.

And they understand the calculations that have gone into producing your 2008 campaign, John - better than you know.

In 2004, you connected with ordinary folk, on an emotional level. You spoke to them of issues and with language that they instantly recognized as coming from the heart, and representing the real experiences of real people who'd been there.

But you didn't win. And you want to win, so that you can help those people. At least, that's what we all hope.

So, this time round, you wrote a new campaign playbook.

You had to appeal to the left-wing in the primary and caucus season. So, opposition to the War on Iraq, heavy on the poverty angle.

You wanted the support of trade unions to help get the vote out. So, lots of schmoozing with union leaders, and heavy on talk of securing jobs at home.

Howard Dean blazed the trail on the Internet. So, you have a web-site that is second to none in its clever use of social networking and Internet activism.

But you know there's a problem. People are going to say you're a rich lawyer trying to win the nomination like you're trying to win a court case - with careful calculation and intricate choreography.

So, you come up with this 'real guy' approach. Slim down, put on jeans, take off the tie, talk about grass-roots a lot, and beg people to see the real you.

The icing on the cake is that you paint your whole campaign as not-a-campaign at all. As the anti-campaign. It's now a people-driven movement, that's going to change America even before you take office. Brilliant again!

But then a second problem enters the equation. The money people may sense Howard Dean all over again. A populist campaign with a charismatic leader who might well implode through his own populist zeal.

And that's when political fudge comes into the picture. Look, you say in those oak-panelled boardrooms and screening theaters, don't confuse the image with reality. I know what I'm doing...

I'm so reminded of a passage in a Time magazine article about Howard, back in 2003:
Last week I asked Dean's mother Andree Maitland Dean of East Hampton, N.Y., whether her son is truly a liberal insurgent. "He's not really," she said. A beat passed, and she added with a chuckle, "I hope they don't find that out just yet."
Good for you, John. Say whatever it is you have to say to win the all-important first beauty contests. The money-raising stakes. We know they set the psychological scene for the real primary and caucus contests in 2008.

But that brings us to your third and current problem. Ordinary folk are beginning to see the disconnect between the TwoJohns. They don't mind you calculating, providing they can trust you to ensure that the calculation leads to the right result.

But when you hedge about the calculation, pretending that it's not there, then regular people see that, and they begin to wonder if, indeed, you're taking them to the promised land.

The answer, as I see it, is to be open about your calculation. John, real people want a clever guy looking after their interests in the White House. Don't hide it. Frankly, we all worry about the wrong things.

And the first thing you should be open about is that your campaign continues to need calculation. But if you're the one doing it, then you can't be out there, connecting with real people, and letting them see the real you. It's too schizophrenic.

So, become the OneJohn by admitting openly to the TwoJohns. [Ok, I'm getting a headache here, but stick with me.]

Have the political calculation to hand over the whole schmoozing, organizing, speaking out of side of mouth, photo op, plastic smile, Hollywood, calculating, OneAmerica monolith to Dave.

And then have the political courage to step away from it. Have the political courage to go out (almost) alone into this country. Become the uber-candidate.

Meet with real people, in real grass-roots settings. Treat us like real human beings. Talk about real issues.

And have the political courage to share with us what you truly believe needs to be done. No fudging, no hedging your bets. Just like you did in 2004.

And have the political courage openly to address some of the apparent disconnect that real folk have seen in the TwoJohns.

So that you may become OneJohn.

Trust me. You will re-connect with ordinary working folk. And your money people? They might not understand what you're talking about. But they'll know a winning political calculation when they see one.

The fact is, John, real people know that all Candidates are driven by political calculation. The thing that separated you from the rest was that, along with the calculation, you promised a real you, who would show real political courage and real political conviction.

So far, all we think we're seeing is the political calculation. This is the time for the real you. This is the time for real political courage. This is the time for real political conviction.

All I want is to see you achieve that. For my friends, John, and for yours - the real working poor people in this country.

So I will continue to prod and to poke. To josh a little. To get serious at times. To applaud - and to remonstrate. And to hold open that offer to help you start re-connecting by doing a down-to-earth, grass-roots, radio interview with me...

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