Ten Revelations From Running For Congress

October 14th, 2012
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I have to say that running for office was by far one of the most educational experiences and important life events I’ve ever had.   One of the most important things I learned is that most of what I learned in civics and political science class is bullshit.  It’s a much more gritty system, often run through networking and knowing the right people more than procedure.  It’s a fascinating system too.  It can be dirty and difficult, but there are also a lot of good, dedicated people who are really involved in politics for the right reasons.  Sadly, there might not be enough of them, but they do exist.

It’s a perfect example of something that you can never really understand completely by reading about.  It must be experienced and you have to become part of it to really get it.  Just the same, I’ll try to relate, as best as I can, some of the biggest lessons and revelations.

I realize many readers are international, and these really apply directly to politics as it exists in the United States, but I am sure that many of these principles hold true elsewhere as well.

Here are some of the things I learned:

1.  It’s more accessible than most would probably think – There seems to be a prevailing belief that the average person, without political background, fame or fortune cannot run for a high elected office.  That’s simply not true.   In fact, it’s surprising how accessible politics can be, if you really make an effort to get involved.  I do not use the word “easy” because it is not easy at all, you really need to work very hard at it.  Being established, from the right family, having money or otherwise being well known may help, but it is not completely necessary.  What is necessary is tenacity, confidence and the willingness to work extremely hard for a long period of time.

A person who tries to run for an office like the US congress may not get a lot of attention or be successful their first time, or even their second.  (although it’s not impossible that they will be.)  However, it’s surprising how far you can get with just a lot of determination.  It’s easier to start small, on the state level, for example, but that does not mean that one has to start small.  Sometimes going all the way on your first attempt can have its advantages.  If nothing else, it will show you are bold.

There is no gate keeper to the world of politics.  The reason most people are not really part of the system of politics and politicians is that they don’t try.   Most party committee meetings are open to the public.   You can go to these, you can comment at these.  You can talk to the politicians at them.  You can become known to the parties and the be part of the process.  That’s the first step, and anyone can do it.  Just don’t be shy.  Be confident and go for it.  That’s all it takes.

2.  All politics is local - The statement that “all politics is local” was made by former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil.   It’s commonly repeated, but I never really understood just how true it was until I started in politics.   The basis of all political support comes from local politics.  People care most about what you can do for their community and want to get to know those who are running for office.   Being solidly established in each town you want to represent is very important.  Activism comes from the town leaders, and getting as many of them on your side as possible is very important.

If you want to get your foot in the door, the most important thing you can do is get a few local committee members and politicians on your side.  Securing a nomination requires getting many more.   Being able to effectively campaign in an area requires being established on the local level.   Of course, this is a lot of work, but so are most things in politics.

3.  Running for Office Is Lonely – I expected it to be stressful.  I expected it to include letdowns.  I expected there to be a lot of stresses and difficulties to deal with personally, but one thing I really did not expect was for running for office to be lonely.   The loneliness of running for office is something that is hard to explain to anyone who has not experienced it.  In fact, the first time I heard anyone else mention it was when I was talking to a local official about a first time running for office.  He said “For one thing, it can be a pretty lonely experience.”  My immediate thought was “WOW!  This guy gets it!  And I’m not the only one!”

The reasons it feels lonely vary.  For one thing, you end up losing most of your social life, simply because of the amount of time spent on things.  Most of your friends and family will not be able to identify with what it’s like, and generally are less supportive than they probably think they are being.  In part, it’s just the amount of time it takes.  People have a hard time being there for you for months on end, which is what it takes to run.   Also, you are always surrounded by people but generally they are not personal friends and they are certainly not people you can speak openly to or have complete trust in.   Since everything you say has to be professional in nature, its easy to feel there’s nobody who is really there with you.

In addition to this, there is a lot of time spent alone, doing very thankless tasks like stuffing envelopes, filling out forums and making calls.  Don’t expect your friends to be too helpful in this regard.  They may well do so once in a while, or at first, but people just can’t be expected to be there for the mundane tasks every time for such a long period of time.  When nobody else will help, it falls to the candidate, especially in a grass roots campaign.

The other thing that can contribute to it, is not everyone will be very nice to the candidate.  When making fundraising calls, a few will contribute, but most will not and some will be nasty.  Doors are occasionally slammed in ones face.

I should probably be clear that the loneliness of running for office was never really crippling and never reduced me to tears or anything.  I took it in stride, swallowed it and pressed on.  I was too busy to feel bad about it.   However, it’s something that I did not expect and I don’t think most people would.   It is actually one of the biggest stresses of the process.

4. Asking for money is hard, but it has to be done, and it has to be done a lot - It’s surprisingly hard to ask people for money.   I found I started off almost apologetic.  One really has to swallow their pride to do it.  But it’s absolutely necessary.  Campaigns never have enough money and being self-financed is just not an option unless you are super rich.  It’s also not fair to expect the candidate, who is already making a huge sacrifice, to also break themselves financially.  It’s amazing how fast costs can compound.

One of the most important things to bare in mind is that people are not giving you a handout.  They are contributing to the campaign and it’s not as if you can use that money for your own enjoyment.  They’re contributing to a cause that the candidate has already given a huge amount of time, energy and money to, and they are contributing to the political future of their country and community.  If they agree with your policies and want to see you win, it’s totally valid that they will help out.

A candidate cannot hesitate, cannot apologize, cannot act as if they are asking for a handout.  They need to directly and frequently make it clear that their campaign, like all campaigns, only functions because people who believe in it will help out.

5. People are way less supportive and helpful than you can ever imagine – No matter how many times I was let down, I never seemed to stop grossly overestimating the generosity of people.  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 was shocked to find this even true for my friends and family.

When I first started out, I presumed I’d be able to get a few hundred dollars from my parents.  After all, they are pretty well off (not rich, but upper middle class and certainly could afford a few hundred dollars) and they knew I really needed it.  They have never been cheap and never refused to help me out in the past, when I needed it.   However, they seemed to be completely unwilling to give anything.   In fact, I had to lean on my father for months before he finally made a one hundred dollar donation.

This turned out to be true with almost everyone.  My closest friends were very supportive, verbally, and they all could have thrown in $20, but very few did.   Many people at events were willing to take donation forms and envelopes, but less than 1% of those I printed and gave out ever came back.   Finding volunteers, even amounts people who said they would support me was nearly impossible and many many people crapped out for the most absurd reasons.  I had one person offer to help with a petition drive (an absolutely vital function), and I was really really counting on her to do so.  When I showed up at her door to pick her up, she did not answer.  She then texted me that she was still in bed and didn’t feel like doing it because it looked like it might rain.

(Seriously, people crap out like this all the time, even on the most vital tasks.)   People also say they will donate money and then either forget to or put it off indefinitely.

I don’t know why this is.  Part of it is surely apathy.  There’s definitely a procrastination factor too.  Part it seems to be that people don’t think their contribution of time or money will make any difference (it really will) and a related part seems to be “diffusion of responsibility,” which is the social phenomena that results in inaction due to the presumption that someone else will take action.  There seems to be an illusion that all candidates have millions of dollars in contributions and staff working for them.  In fact, I repeatedly had people tell me as much “Why do you need fifty dollars from me?  You’re running for congress!  You must have millions.”

It is incredibly frustrating and often feels like trying to get blood from a stone.  One of the most difficult things to deal with is the realization that people you have never met are usually the ones who offer the most generosity, and not friends and family or your most vocal supporters.   Usually it’s because they have enough political involvement to truly understand how important it is.

That said, I had a few people come through and consistently and without question help out.  You know who you are, and I cannot thank you enough.

6.  There’s no such thing as a sure thing - There seems to be a belief that certain politicians, special interests or groups are untouchable and immune to being toppled.  A politician who has been in office for many consecutive terms and has a lot of money in the bank seems to be hardly worth taking on.   This is simply not true.   They may manage to hold onto power *most* of the time, but they can fall, sometimes at the least expected times and almost overnight.   Really, no matter how much power someone has, it’s always on the line, all the time.

The same could be said of Enron, WorldCom or the Soviet Union.  Big, established institutions can and do come crashing down.

No leader is ever more than one election away from losing everything and the public is extremely fickle.  The voting public can change their mind almost overnight, even after years of support.  It only take a single misstep, scandal or well played hand by an opponent to turn things around.   For this reason, nobody should ever feel too confident, although some do, and that can be their undoing.  Also, never be afraid to take on a Goliath.  Never presume the underdog won’t win.

Playing the odds does not always work in politics.  If a politician has a 95% chance of getting reelected, that means that one in twenty of them will fail.   It gets a lot higher when multiple election cycles are considered.

7.  It’s more personal and less professional than I ever would have imagined – When I first became involved, I started out with the mindset that this was a professional pursuit and that I should not let it get too much to me on a personal level.  I make it a point not to hold grudges when someone does not endorse me or judges the other candidate as being worthy of support, because it’s not a personal thing.  When I lose something or things don’t go right, I don’t assume it’s an insult to me and I don’t let it get me down.   I try to keep things in perspective, avoid acting out in anger and always remember the importance of the long term.

Of course, I’m right in this regard.  It *is* better to keep things professional, avoid grudges and not melt down over things that go wrong politically.   What is surprising, however, is that not everyone seems to get this, even amongst experienced politicians.   I would have thought that senators, congressmen, party chairs, mayors and state representatives would be extremely professional people capable of handling themselves.   This is not always the case.

I’ve seen well known politicians who hold petty grudges that do nothing to help their cause and ultimately hurt them.  I’ve seen high ranking party officials and politicians get into nasty personal arguments to the point of shoving each other.  I’ve seen them break down and start making threats that could get them in trouble.  I’ve seen them bicker like children.   Some of them are just divas, completely incapable of dealing with letdowns or always expecting to be coddled, which, of course, is often not the case.   Many let their personal problems enter the public arena.

On a couple occasions, I’ve had some big mishaps, and, rather than letting it get to me, I’d start to get upset, then take a step back and remind myself not to get emotional so that I can keep going forward.  When this happened, I received a few comments about how well I handled it even from experienced people.  That surprised me.   Isn’t that how everyone is supposed to handle it?   Perhaps, but many do not.

8.  There is incompetence at all levels – You would think a major political party would not make really stupid mistakes, like not following basic procedures at a convention or failing to realize that the way they were running a banquet was stupid and resulting in them getting fewer contributions.  You’d expect that they would not repeatedly put the wrong info on a website.  You’d expect that well funded candidates with many high paid advisers would not make mistakes so obvious that even I could spot them a mile away.  Yet it happens, more often than you might expect.  

Of course, more professional organizations do this less frequently than less professional ones, but none seem to never do it.   This might explain why our government is run the way it is.

9.  Parties are powerful for a reason, and it’s hard to counter it – People often wonder why the Democrats and Republicans are so powerful in the US.  People are fed up with both parties, at least to a large extent, but they seem to always have it all over the rest.  It’s hard for third parties and independents to get a foothold.   However, there’s a very natural reason for this, and it explains why party sponsorship is so important.

Every city and town has a Republican Town Committee and a Democratic Town Committee.  When a candidate walks into a town as a Republican or Democrat, they know exactly where to go to find their most important supporters.  They have allies already and there’s a pre-existing framework to start getting support.  The parties have chair people in every town, so when you go to a town, you’re not starting off blind – you already have local people who know the area.  Additionally, there are the College Republicans, College Democrats, Young Republicans and there are other  affiliated organizations.

An independent does not have that structure to start off with.  They enter a town or city as a loner and it’s very hard to even know where to start to gather support.  It makes a huge difference.

10.  You can tell what a politician will do and what they are loyal to by the PAC money they accept – This was a HUGE revelation to me.  Like many, I believed a politician could accept money from anyone, and that didn’t mean they were in any way obligated to them.   For example, if the clean coal lobby offered me a few thousand dollars, I could certainly take it.  Why not?   It’s not like I have to sign a contract saying I’ll support their policies.

It turns out that’s not the case.  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.   For example, if a politician accepted a very large donation from the “Widget Association of America”, they might be able to get away with voting on legislation that the Widget Association was just a tad bit unhappy with, but if they sponsored anti-widget legislation, then their political career would be over.  (In reality, replace this with someone taking a lot of NRA money and then supporting extreme restrictions on gun ownership or from the Corn Ethanol Association and then voting to get rid of all ethanol subsidies.)

Their political career would be over for a very simple reason: they would never again get any PAC money at all.  PAC’s take great offense to being double-crossed like this and some of them are known to do things as extreme as supporting a political opponent they do not even like, just as a way of “making an example” of what happens to politicians who will cross them by accepting donations and then legislating against them.  But worse, they will make sure the word gets out to all other PAC’s and organizations about what you did, and that will assure nobody will donate to you again.

This might seem a little counter-intuitive.  After all, if you double-cross the NRA, why would that make a pro-gun control PAC not want to donate to you?  Wouldn’t they want to donate to you more?    Actually, no.  All PACs want the same thing, really.  They want to be confident that the politicians who take money from them will return the favor by representing their interests.  If a politician does not do this for a PAC that has supported them (ANY PAC) then they gain a reputation that basically states “This guy is willing to take your money but won’t do what you want.”   That is the kiss of death.

It’s easy to see how this can create a very bad situation, where politicians end up owing a lot of favors and deep-pocketed special interests gain a lot of influence.  Lobbyists do have the valid and important job of representing sectors and interests to politicians, but I would not argue that their influence may have gotten out of hand.

I try to maintain good ethics and avoid being in a conflict by only reaching out to PAC’s whose interests I can already, in good conscious, support.  I would have no problem taking a lot of money from pro-nuclear PAC’s, because I am already supportive of their cause and am willing to be generally strongly pro-nuclear in office.  I’d also be willing to take a lot of money from PAC’s that are fiscally conservative, support government-sponsored science and so on.   I’d be willing to take *some* money from a PAC run by a defense contractor or by a PAC that stands for low taxes, because I am generally receptive to keeping up the military and I prefer taxes that are low rather than high, but I would not accept a lot from such a PAC, because I can easily see how there might be times where I would not be entirely on their side.   On the other hand, I would accept no money at all from a PAC supporting the coal industry or wanting more religious-based policies of government, because I absolutely oppose where they stand.

Unfortunately, it turns out that the PAC’s I had a lot of enthusiastic support for blew me off (well, one in particular) while the ones that I could not, in good conscious accept the support of were extremely eager to give it.   A politician with less vested interest in doing what they feel is right and more in getting funding might not be so willing to stand their ground.

If you want to know what you can do about this, there is one thing:  Donate money to candidates you can really support.  I hope that means me, but even if it does not, donate to others whose platform you can get behind.   The reason is that the more money a candidate gets from individuals and grass roots support, the more empowered they are to decline the support of special interests they don’t fully stand behind.  A candidate who is getting a lot of contributions from supporters is in a strong position when it comes to PAC’s, but one who is in debt and getting no contributions is in a very weak position to turn away PAC money.

One final thing:

Many will be fast to criticize the system.  It certainly has many bad aspects, although there are good things about politics as it exists well.  I’m not defending anything about politics in the US, I’m only stating it as it is.   This is how things operate and you have to play the game to have a shot at changing it.

If there’s one thing I want to express it’s my encouragement that readers get more involved.  You can make a difference and you might be surprised at how much.  A few committed people can make a difference, if they really try.  You do not need to run for office, either.  Just get politically involved and get to know local leaders and talk to them and give some input. Learn how things work in your area and where you might be able to make a difference.

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.  For example, several of my local RTC’s are very opposed to how socially conservative the RNC has become.   If in doubt, try attending both.  See which one seems to offer the better opertunity to make a difference.  It can depend on which one has more seats in your area or which one is more receptive to outsiders joining in the discussion.

You can also go to non-partisan things, like town committees or hearings, but really, you’re going to have to go with one party or the other as your primary outlet, or neither will help you.  Being truely bi-partisan is great and you can reach out across party lines, but really it helps to be established with one or the other.

There is an important networking and social aspect to this.  The first step to getting involved is just getting to know the people in your area who are involved.  Talk to them after the meeting, get coffee if you can and work your way into local politics.  Become a familiar face to local politicians.   (BTW: it also has its advantages for you personally.  Being on a fist name basis with your mayor or police commissioner can come in VERY handy.)

You can also contribute to campaigns you support and volunteer at events.  Volunteering is not only a great way to help out, but will help connect you to candidates and politically active groups in your area.   It can also be great for your resume, especially if you can get a substantive position in a campaign.

If you do not like how the system works, don’t like politics in general or find you don’t agree with everything, that’s no excuse for not getting involved.  The system can only be changed from within.   Also, not all worthwhile pursuits are pleasant.

Here is my pithy quote on the issue:   Many people don’t get involved in politics because they don’t like politics.  Well, most people don’t like going to the the dentist either.  If the same logic that everyone seems to apply to politics were applied to dentistry, all our teeth would be rotting as badly as out country is.


This entry was posted on Sunday, October 14th, 2012 at 12:54 pm and is filed under History, Misc, personal, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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24 Responses to “Ten Revelations From Running For Congress”

  1. 1
    DV82XL Says:

    This is a very good list and although my own experience with elected office was a much lower level, (school board) it all holds true. Every bit of it.

    At any rate to paraphrase Plato: The penalty for refusing to participate in politics, is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. That you gave it a shot is more than most can say.


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  2. 2
    Robert Hargraves Says:

    Steve, I’m impressed with the breadth of your efforts! You will have an effect.


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  3. 3
    Q Says:

    Good and informative info, especially a little shocking the revelations about PAC money.

    But do I detect a little bitterness?


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  4. 4
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Q said:

    Good and informative info, especially a little shocking the revelations about PAC money.

    But do I detect a little bitterness?

    I would not say that I am bitter. I am a little frustrated. I’m frustrated by the fact that people don’t get involved and don’t contribute much – not just to me, but to candidates they support in general and that it’s so hard to get people to move. I find it frustrating because I know that it would not take a whole lot of people to make an impact.

    I think I have the right to be frustrated. This country has many problems which could be solved by more public involvement and less apathy. If people understood the importance of contributing to campaigns they support – both their time and money, it would go a long way to reducing the influence of special interests.

    Given the path we’ve taken, I think people *should* be frustrated.

    But I understand the mentality. Before doing this, I was not politically involved at all. I didn’t donate time and money. I didn’t get involved in local politics.

    Part of the problem may be that the information on how to do it is just not really out there. Getting involved in it and making an impact on the system is not difficult to get started with. Most people are unaware that Democratic and Republican town committee meetings exist or that they are open to the public. They don’t realize they can go to these and if they get to know people, they can get on the town committee pretty easily. Most people don’t realize that there are all kinds of commission hearings they can go to and make comments at.

    It’s not entirely their fault. Nobody seems to make an effort to publicize this or explain just how much of a difference a few committed people can make.


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  5. 5
    dt Says:

    I’m impressed at the hopefulness–even if it’s leavened with a legitimate amount of frustration–after the heartbreak you revealed in earlier posts. I hope you can get back on your feet. I gave a little, I’m sorry it wasn’t more.

    Good luck, and I hope you can keep the blog up. I’ll chip in for hosting if you need it. Even if it looks like rain.


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  6. 6
    Richard Gadsden Says:

    I’m interested that you don’t link up your comments about people not joining in with the unprofessionalism.

    [Aside: I've been a candidate for national office too - I actually made it to election day; I'm sure you could find my result with a little googling]

    The vast majority of the labour in any election campaign is volunteer labour. Even with the paid staff, most are earning far less than they ever could in the private sector. The scene in the West Wing when Sam Seaborn returns to political work (S7E19 – “Transition”) dramatises this well.

    This means that things done in politics are done by the best person from amongst those prepared to volunteer their labour. If you could afford to pay everyone a fair rate for the skills required to do the work, then the jobs would be done much better and more professionally. You’d also have the most expensive election campaign in history. It is the ideological or personal (e.g. familial) commitment that gets most people into election campaigns. But that doesn’t correlate very well with ability.

    That’s why politics is so shambolic – because “decisions are made by those who show up”, not by those who actually have the skills necessary to make the right decisions. And that’s because so many competent people won’t turn up for the day-in, day-out grind of politics.


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  7. 7
    drbuzz0 Says:

            dt said:

    I’m impressed at the hopefulness–even if it’s leavened with a legitimate amount of frustration–after the heartbreak you revealed in earlier posts. I hope you can get back on your feet. I gave a little, I’m sorry it wasn’t more.

    Good luck, and I hope you can keep the blog up. I’ll chip in for hosting if you need it. Even if it looks like rain.

    Okay, let me clarify here. First, thanks for giving. I appreciate it a lot.

    I am neither heartbroken nor off my feat.

    Perhaps I sounded more down or heartbroken in earlier posts because I was very stressed out or exhausted (both of which are common). But this was a difficult and stressful experience but by no means a heartbreaking one.

    I started off with every intention to try as hard as possible to win, but with no illusion that it was assured. I knew it was an uphill battle and the truth is I went further, learned more, gained more experience and made more connections than I ever would have hoped for. There were setbacks and letdowns but nothing heartbreaking.

    Also, I am not that far from being “back on my feet.” I spent most of my available funds, but I didn’t lose my house or my car or anything. No, I don’t have a lot of savings left, but I’m young and not planning on retiring soon. I’m still reasonably financially secure.

    I have a steady job. It’s not a great paying job, but it’s steady and in a few weeks, I’ll have built up enough pay checks to be just fine. No, there won’t be any long vacations this year, but that’s fine.

    I’m in debt from the campaign, but it’s not crippling debt. I took on an amount of debt that I knew I could comfortably pay off in the time allotted. I have two loans, neither is huge. One has a three year term and the other a five year term. If I pay them off on schedule, it won’t be much of a burden at all. However, I am going to try to pay them off much faster in order to save interest.

    To put it in context: the amount of debt I am in is comparable to what many people have when they purchase a new car and finance most of the cost. It’s not crippling by any means.

    And I want to thank you again for contributing. Don’t apologize that it wasn’t much. The fact is that the saying is true “many hands make light work.” If more people gave a little bit, it would be more than enough. If you gave anything, that was more than most.

    My frustration is not simply with those who didn’t contribute to *me* but with those who have plenty of time and money and are very capable of helping out campaigns or getting involved, and who have very strong opinions on the matter, but simply don’t bother to see what they can do.

    But again, I should state, I was one of them for a long time and it’s not something I can’t identify with.


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  8. 8
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Richard Gadsden said:

    I’m interested that you don’t link up your comments about people not joining in with the unprofessionalism.

    Good point, although I didn’t realize until I got involved how much that is true. I guess I had the illusion that the parties were well oiled machines, run by highly paid staffers and so on.

    But with regards to unprofessionalism, I’m not just talking about the decisions made but also the politicians and how petty and downright childish they can be. It’s one thing to occasionally lose one’s temper during a heated debate, but I’ve seen far worse.

    Some examples:

    A candidate who had run for the same office more than once and lost found that on his second time around, some who had endorsed him the first time were not sure they wanted to do so again. Sure, this is a letdown, but it’s also understandable that they might think someone else is the right one to go with. He took it way too personally, he held a grudge big time and it was apparent. It really pushed some who were sitting on the fence to the other side.

    At a convention a candidate thought he had several delegates on his side. Upon getting there, he talked to them and found out they had decided to go with someone else. So this is a letdown, but the delegates have the final say. He should have said he was sorry to hear that, but not been all in their face about it, which only makes enemies.

    He got downright childish. He was yelling and bickering. He made people who may have not been ready to vote for him, but still respected him and would consider him in the future think he was nuts. He threatened to sue the delegates. First, that’s absurd, because there’s no legally binding agreement, but secondly it came off as angry, unstable and a poor loser.

    A common error I’ve seen is campaigns hire expensive media and polling consultants and then refuse to take their advice. If a guy who has a great track record as a political consultant tells you that you need to campaign on a certain issue, don’t second guess him and decide your gut is a more reliable indicator! But it happens all the time.

    I’ve also seen candidates get ungracefully put off by things like not being seated at a prestigious enough table at an event or because they were not given as much time or as prominent a position to speak as they think they deserved.

    It always comes off as petty, immature, melodramatic. It’s stupid. Not all politicians are like this – some are very diplomatic and professional.

    Many just need to keep in mind that not getting things their way or having a political letdown should never be handled in a manner befitting of a high school girl who did not make the cheerleading team or who didn’t have her heartthrob ask her to the prom.


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  9. 9
    Mike Says:

    Ok, I have a quick question. If I wanted to run for congress, or if anyone did, how much money do they need?


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  10. 10
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Mike said:

    Ok, I have a quick question.

    If I wanted to run for congress, or if anyone did, how much money do they need?

    There is no single number I can give you. Actually, it’s open ended, because there’s always more to spend money on. Congressional campaigns can and do spend hundreds of thousands of dollars. Really, you can spend however much you have. There’s always more expenses.

    A good rule of thumb is it will cost more than you expect. Campaigns hemorrhage money.

    But as far as how much you need to get started? Technically you don’t need anything. Or at least only the amount of money to pay for gasoline to get to events, postage to send out some paperwork and that sort of thing. You could start out with almost nothing and just hope to make money along the way through contributions. But… I would not really recommend that.

    I hope to have saved up and raised about ten thousand by the time I officially kick off my 2014 campaign. Even more would be better. Ten thousand is a good place to start to be able to really kick off a campaign and not pinch pennies on every expense.

    Reasonably, I think you’d need at least about $5K to run a campaign at all and a lot more to actually have a shot at winning.


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  11. 11
    Wilhelm Durand Says:

    I am glad your experience in politics has been enlightening, and I do not question your analyses.

    Your closing statements, however, get under my skin a bit:

    “If you do not like how the system works, don’t like politics in general or find you don’t agree with everything, that’s no excuse for not getting involved. The system can only be changed from within. Also, not all worthwhile pursuits are pleasant.

    “Here is my pithy quote on the issue: Many people don’t get involved in politics because they don’t like politics. Well, most people don’t like going to the the dentist either. If the same logic that everyone seems to apply to politics were applied to dentistry, all our teeth would be rotting as badly as out country is.”

    Erm, what?

    OK, first the dentistry analogy does not at all jive with your assertion that the system can only be changed from within. The system, i.e., your teeth, doesn’t provide its own dental care. If the system is rotting, you need to see a specialist of that system. This is true for teeth, cars, computers, plumbing, home electrics, etc.

    These systems do not fix themselves. Neither does government. Here’s an example of a way to change government that doesn’t involve changing it from within (for better or worse, but you can’t say that there was no change): The U.S. military came from without and changed the hell out of the German government in 1945. They so obliterated the old regime that the symbols of that regime are still taboo in Germany today. That was anything but from within.

    Any coup, revolution, invasion, etc is an example of changing the system from without.

    Do you have change for a dollar?


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  12. 12
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Wilhelm Durand said:

    I am glad your experience in politics has been enlightening, and I do not question your analyses.

    Your closing statements, however, get under my skin a bit:

    “If you do not like how the system works, don’t like politics in general or find you don’t agree with everything, that’s no excuse for not getting involved. The system can only be changed from within.

    Also, not all worthwhile pursuits are pleasant.

    “Here is my pithy quote on the issue:

    Many people don’t get involved in politics because they don’t like politics. Well, most people don’t like going to the the dentist either. If the same logic that everyone seems to apply to politics were applied to dentistry, all our teeth would be rotting as badly as out country is.”

    Erm, what?

    OK, first the dentistry analogy does not at all jive with your assertion that the system can only be changed from within. The system, i.e., your teeth, doesn’t provide its own dental care. If the system is rotting, you need to see a specialist of that system. This is true for teeth, cars, computers, plumbing, home electrics, etc.

    I think you missed my point. You can’t dismiss doing something simply because you do not like it and if everyone did that then there would be severe consequences. If you do not do things based on their being unpleasent, nobody would pay their bills, because its no fun. Nobody would go to the dentist, because it’s no fun. Nobody would invest, go to the doctor etc etc. These are things most of us don’t think are the best way to spend time.

    Getting involved in politics is similar. You may not like it. You may think politicians are full of crap and the system is painfully slow, filled with stupid committees that accomplish nothing, shallow, cumbersome etc etc. That’s fine, but that’s no excuse for not being involved in it.

    Indeed, plumbing, cars, electrical systems don’t fix themselves. You have to do it.

    My car blew its head gasket and I had to fix it. It wasn’t fun. I got my hands dirty, I scraped up my knuckles, I had to crawl under it several times to retrieve tools I dropped. But it would not have fixed itself.

            Wilhelm Durand said:

    These systems do not fix themselves. Neither does government. Here’s an example of a way to change government that doesn’t involve changing it from within (for better or worse, but you can’t say that there was no change): The U.S. military came from without and changed the hell out of the German government in 1945. They so obliterated the old regime that the symbols of that regime are still taboo in Germany today. That was anything but from within.

    Any coup, revolution, invasion, etc is an example of changing the system from without.

    Okay, that can change a system too. Although it’s not so much “change” as “obliterate.”

    But in this case, that would be insanity. First, I don’t think the US government is so completely gone that it would require a total war to fix it. For one thing, politics is still an open system, so the option of change through peaceful means continues to exist.

    Secondly, it’s totally unrealistic. In fact, I find it a little scary when I hear people talking about an armed uprising from within. You’re talking about a self-organizing civil war. Those are never pretty. They rarely occur in Industrialized countries, but in third world countries they are common and tend to drag on for many years.

    You’d never get the popular support for that anyway.

    I also think it’s laughable when people think that a large collection of small arms somehow makes them impervious to the government. Trust me on this, no matter how many AK-47′s you have, it’s not going to do much. If you use them against the government, you might kill a few, which will only be enough to piss them off severely. Ultimately, your guns will be of no use at all when they come rolling up to your place in an M1-A2 Abrams tank.

    Yes, this has happened. People have been stupid enough to think that a closet full of ammo somehow made them capable of toppling a superpower. It always ends badly, mostly for them.


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  13. 13
    Wilhelm Durand Says:

    “Getting involved in politics is similar. You may not like it. You may think politicians are full of crap and the system is painfully slow, filled with stupid committees that accomplish nothing, shallow, cumbersome etc etc. That’s fine, but that’s no excuse for not being involved in it.”

    By itself, no. Certainly, many people don’t like politics because it is hard. However, for some of us, we do not like politics for the same reason we don’t like a Trabant: Because it’s a terrible way to do things, and really needs to be replaced with a Camry.

    “Okay, that can change a system too. Although it’s not so much “change” as “obliterate.””

    Depends on the coup/revolution/invasion/etc. I can think of numerous instances where the system changed, but many of the players remained. The government is merely a system of people, so in that sense, it wasn’t so much “obliterate the old government and replace it with a new one” as it was “full body overhaul”.

    “But in this case, that would be insanity. First, I don’t think the US government is so completely gone that it would require a total war to fix it. For one thing, politics is still an open system, so the option of change through peaceful means continues to exist.”

    I certainly guessed that. Why else would you run for Congress?

    Our views differ there, and I don’t want to make this conversation about that difference of opinion.

    “Secondly, it’s totally unrealistic. In fact, I find it a little scary when I hear people talking about an armed uprising from within. You’re talking about a self-organizing civil war. Those are never pretty. They rarely occur in Industrialized countries, but in third world countries they are common and tend to drag on for many years.”

    Whoah, now, back off a bit. Those were examples, not suggestions. I took issue with your comment that you can’t change a government from without, I wasn’t suggesting revolution and civil war. I am anything but an advocate for those things.

    Last three paragraphs: You and I are on the same page there. A week ago, I made a blog entry covering that very topic.


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  14. 14
    BMS Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    People have been stupid enough to think that a closet full of ammo somehow made them capable of toppling a superpower.

    Nah … the best way to topple a superpower is to make them buy a closet full of ammo, or ICBM’s, or tanks, planes, submarines, etc., in an unsustainable arms race that wreaks havoc on their economy to the point that it collapses and takes down the political system with it.

    Yes, this has happened.

    Trust me on this, no matter how many AK-47’s you have, it’s not going to do much.

    Well, I don’t know how much experience you have trying to topple superpowers (and hence why I should trust your judgement on this matter ;-) ), but history has shown quite clearly that a good stash of AK-47’s and the willingness to use them can be more than sufficient to make a superpower want to get the hell out and leave you alone. Vietnam and Afghanistan are two of the best examples, but they are not the only ones.


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  15. 15
    drbuzz0 Says:

            BMS said:

    Well, I don’t know how much experience you have trying to topple superpowers (and hence why I should trust your judgement on this matter ;-) ), but history has shown quite clearly that a good stash of AK-47’s and the willingness to use them can be more than sufficient to make a superpower want to get the hell out and leave you alone. Vietnam and Afghanistan are two of the best examples, but they are not the only ones.

    That’s a little different. For one thing, it was not a single individual or small group, but a large portion of the nation involved. It’s a lot easier to coordinate that with a foreign invader than to get people to simultaneously and without hesitation take up arms against an established government.

    The other thing is that neither of those qualified as “total war” for the superpower. Their own survival was not at stake. You could take Vietnam for example. The US never committed all assets without question to Vietnam the way it did to World War II. It did not end auto production in favor of tanks, it did not turn its entire economy into a war time economy. It did not use all weapons available. Nor did the Soviet Union in the case of Afghanistan.

    Losing those wars was not the end of the superpower in question. A country will behave much differently when its own survival is at stake, up to and including all out nuclear war.

    In any case, much as I disagree with the US government, if you are a citizen and your intention is to collect arms and organize others with the end goal being the liquidation of the US government then that is, by definition, treason.

    I suppose you could say the US Revolutionary War was also an act of treason, but the difference is the rebels won that one and I assure you that you will not do so against the US.

            BMS said:

    Nah … the best way to topple a superpower is to make them buy a closet full of ammo, or ICBM’s, or tanks, planes, submarines, etc., in an unsustainable arms race that wreaks havoc on their economy to the point that it collapses and takes down the political system with it.

    Well, it’s an issue of being “unsustainable” which is not limited to weapons. A superpower can do that by just having extremely poor economic policy or unsustainable spending on anything. But that is generally not something any individual can make happen.

    It’s been said that great societies do not die, they commit suicide. I sometimes fear we may be doing that.


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  16. 16
    DV82XL Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    It’s been said that great societies do not die, they commit suicide. I sometimes fear we may be doing that.

    Clearly the political climate in the US is being driven, and rendered disfunctional, by what looks to an outsider as extreme polarization and this begs the question (again to an outsider) as to why a third party hasn’t been created. This has always been the case in those countries using the British parliamentary system – when existing parties move too far to the Left and Right, a new one forms staking out the middle ground and is usually rather successful for a time.


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  17. 17
    drbuzz0 Says:

            DV82XL said:

    Clearly the political climate in the US is being driven, and rendered disfunctional, by what looks to an outsider as extreme polarization and this begs the question (again to an outsider) as to why a third party hasn’t been created. This has always been the case in those countries using the British parliamentary system – when existing parties move too far to the Left and Right, a new one forms staking out the middle ground and is usually rather successful for a time.

    Well, you are right that the system has become dysfunctional. However, I suppose it is not *that* dysfunctional in global terms. I mean, there are some pretty damn dysfunctional governments in the world that are worse than the US… although… not a very high bar, I suppose.

    The US has two main parties and historically one of the big reasons given for that is that the parties are so “weak” as compared to a strictly parlamentry system that they can absorb almost anything and that because there’s a primary election process, they can actually offer a broader spectrum of choices than they seem to at first.

    Well, that may have been the reason in the past, but these days the parties are so damned polarized and have become so strong, I’m not sure it applies anymore.

    There are minor parties in the US (the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party, the Reform Party to name a few) I had some experience with them and I think I know what the problem is. Basically, these parties have not a clue what they are doing in terms of administration. I stated that the two big parties don’t run like well oiled machines, but they are very professional compared to the Greens or the Libertarian party. Those parties are not very good at administration and the basic logistics of politics. I mean… they can’t tell their ass from their elbow.

    The minor parties are basically composed of inexperienced part-timers. They can’t seem to manage to even hold a credible convention. They make amateur mistakes. For example, they get excluded from ballots because they fail to file the proper paperwork by the mandated deadline. The Republicans and Democrats would never make such a boneheaded mistake. They can’t seem to figure out how they want to get their message out etc.

    There’s a relatively simple way to fix the problem, but they seem unwilling to do it. If a minor party wants to actually have a viable chance of winning some offices and even becoming major parties, they need to start by raising some good money (which is not too hard for an organization with their sizes) and then take that money and spend it on some political consultants. There are very good political representation and management firms that know what they are doing. They should outsource basic management to these professionals.

    For whatever reason they seem completely unwilling to do this.


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  18. 18
    BMS Says:

    Clearly the political climate in the US is being driven, and rendered disfunctional, by what looks to an outsider as extreme polarization and this begs the question (again to an outsider) as to why a third party hasn’t been created.

    This reminds me of the old joke of an American explaining his country’s political landscape to a British friend: “Well, you see, over here in the States we have a two-party system. We have the Republicans, who are like your Conservative Party, and we have the Democrats, who are like your Conservative Party.”

    While it is true that Americans, and particularly the current set of politicians elected to national office, are more polarized than any time in recent history, this is mostly being blown out of proportion by a media that feeds on discord. Compared to much of the rest of the world, American politics is rather bland and middle-of-the-road. A fine example of this can be found in the latest Presidential debate, in which the incumbent President defended his foreign policy decisions and the Republican challenger largely agreed with him.

    This is why so-called “third party” candidates in US elections always have extreme views on at least some issues (e.g., the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, and the Justice Party). Politicians with moderate views who find that they can’t reconcile themselves with either party’s platform call themselves “independents” (not “third party”), and they usually caucus with one of the two parties, even though they have disowned the party brand. They are also a rare beast for the reasons that Steve has explained here. Usually, a politician switches to being an independent long after he has established himself in politics.


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  19. 19
    Ryan Says:

    If you have watched the third party presidential debates – no one has – you’d come to another conclusion. The third parties largely agree with each other.

    Part of the reason why the third parties don’t succeed is that, perhaps they are too sane, they don’t believe that they themselves will win.

    Afterall, Romney did mention what he would for his eight years in office in a debate. By accident of course, but really, he is already counting his chickens.

    On another note: success in any endeavor, except for the sciences, requires connections.

    On an additional note: I’m supposing those PACs didn’t support you because they are already supporting the incumbent?


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  20. 20
    Syd Says:

    Thanks for sharing some very personal insights in your post. Regarding contributions, it’s a little more clear why those that understand the role of contributions contribute in financially meaningful ways (i.e. PACs, etc) whereas most other either don’t get it or don’t believe they will be heard.

    It must be tough when those that you’d expect some support from don’t come through. Were there any surprises where you got more support than you were expecting?


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  21. 21
    renevers Says:

    Steve.. This is a late reaction .. But Peter Schiff has a nice opinion about politics and the democratic proces. Hilaric !!! It could be the idiots that in the end decide our future! The influence of TV ads.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dz7boAzeV7s&list=UUIjuLiLHdFxYtFmWlbTGQRQ&feature=player_embedded#!


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  22. 22
    Shafe Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    I also think it’s laughable when people think that a large collection of small arms somehow makes them impervious to the government. Trust me on this, no matter how many AK-47′s you have, it’s not going to do much.

    If you use them against the government, you might kill a few, which will only be enough to piss them off severely. Ultimately, your guns will be of no use at all when they come rolling up to your place in an M1-A2 Abrams tank.

    Yes, this has happened. People have been stupid enough to think that a closet full of ammo somehow made them capable of toppling a superpower. It always ends badly, mostly for them.

    Isolated examples notwithstanding, most people who keep the government in mind when stockpiling weapons are not preparing for an offensive against the US government. Rather, what is at work is the very reasonable practice of maintaining an armed populace… even if many of the individuals involved do not appear all that reasonable.

    As long as the government is aware that there is a large arsenal, widely distributed among the population, they will be reluctant to employ martial force against the people, or to be too bold when infringing on our liberties. Therefore, the imposition of more government power must be a slow affair that has time to grow on the people, or death-by-a-thousand-cuts, and must always be met with a certain cold-dead-fingers protest.

    It creates a conundrum. When you reason that totalitarian dictatorships are more likely to arise in impoverished or war-torn countries, it seems unlikely that Americans really face that threat. And when you see that our possession of guns and our entitlement to the use of them in defense of liberty tends to encourage us to dig our heels in as a society and resist change, for better or for worse, it seems we might be better off ceding some of our self-determination to the powers-that-know-better.

    But our founders knew that an armed populace would be the bane of any tyrant, whether the King of England or our own leaders. They knew that defense of liberty was up to every individual. And I like the result, even with it’s warts and a-holes. Our system favors the individual, whether soft-spoken, boastful, or militant. Oftentimes it’s ugly or maddening. Sometimes it’s astounding or awesome. And sometimes you get someone stockpiling automatic weapons, preparing to martyr themselves in a face-off with the Feds. It’s a mixed bag, but it’s our mixed bag. It’s like the voice that my wife used to attribute to our kids’ when their diapers were due for a change: “Sure it stinks, but it’s warm and it’s mine.”

    And Steve, thanks for trying. You have now put in more effort doing your part for the political process than I or most people probably ever will. You deserve kudos for that regardless of whether I agree with your politics (which I largely do.) I hope you keep at it for the sake of the country (or not, if quitting is for the sake of your health or sanity.)


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  23. 23
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Shafe said:

    Isolated examples notwithstanding, most people who keep the government in mind when stockpiling weapons are not preparing for an offensive against the US government. Rather, what is at work is the very reasonable practice of maintaining an armed populace… even if many of the individuals involved do not appear all that reasonable.

    As long as the government is aware that there is a large arsenal, widely distributed among the population, they will be reluctant to employ martial force against the people, or to be too bold when infringing on our liberties. Therefore, the imposition of more government power must be a slow affair that has time to grow on the people, or death-by-a-thousand-cuts, and must always be met with a certain cold-dead-fingers protest.

    It creates a conundrum. When you reason that totalitarian dictatorships are more likely to arise in impoverished or war-torn countries, it seems unlikely that Americans really face that threat. And when you see that our possession of guns and our entitlement to the use of them in defense of liberty tends to encourage us to dig our heels in as a society and resist change, for better or for worse, it seems we might be better off ceding some of our self-determination to the powers-that-know-better.

    Ok, you have a point.

    Having an armed public is more likely to have a general effect on certain policies and keeping the government from crossing certain lines than it would if there were a direct conflict against a given individual.

    If nothing else, it would act as a kind of final safety check. Even if gun for gun the amount of firepower the population has pales in comparison to the government, the fact that it exists freely and is in the hands of citizens would kind of force your hand any time you try to go to far.

    Thanks for pointing that out. I had not considered that entirely.


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  24. 24
    visit Says:

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