Commentary - #8 December 14, 2004

The American People Regain Political Power by Flying Below the Radar

The really big story of Election?04, largely ignored by the major media, is the way people returned to politics in droves as political actors and producers rather than just spectators and consumers. This is the big win-win result for us all, better than the outcomes of the win-lose, zero-sum, horse-race political games that the media love to feature.

I saw this close-up at ground zero of the great political ground-war, in Florida during Oct. 20-30. People were coming out the woodwork to help out with the ?ground war? essentials of people-to-people politics: going door-to-door, planting and/or holding signs, talking to friends and neighbors, handing out political literature, etc. ? the kind of political activity that enables people to take back their politics from the political media, pundits and pro?s who would otherwise take it over. Readers wanting to know why and how this kind of politics should be continued can check out my new book and website, WE, THE PEOPLE, and www.politicalcommunity.us. As one buyer and reader of the book said to me just after the election, ?You know, Bearse, the election validates your book.? Why? ? Because the ground war won the election, not the ?air war.? Even political consultants, who make a good part of their money by taking cuts of media buys for air time, have come to realize that saturated TV political advertising has long since hit diminishing returns. People have now become the ?killer ap? of politics, even in the Internet age, as my book predicted they could be and should be.

But it?s amazing how many of the political and media pro?s still don?t get it, even leading Republicans. Note, for example, the op-ed piece by former Republican Congressman Mickey Edwards in the Boston Globe of of Dec.4th. Headlined ?Elections over, but strains remains,? the piece tried to provide a post-mortem on the Nov.2nd elections. Not unlike many Democrats, Edwards, strained, all right -- to strike another note on political ?polarization? (divided electorate) while entirely overlooking the waves of volunteers who won it for Bush in key battleground states, Florida included.

Mickey also asked: ?So what can we expect before The (political) Season is once more upon us.? Here, too, he misses one of the most important political developments. The Republican Party is building on its 2004 ground-war victory to increase its dominance of the Congress in 2006, just as it built on its victorious 72 Hour Task Force GOTV (get out the vote) experience in 2002 as a basis for winning this year. Since the media don?t pay attention to local political organization, they?ll wake up, surprised once again at GOP victories in 2006. The ?great right wing conspiracy? is now flying below their radar.

The new book cited earlier could become the bible for a winning political future. If adopted by Republicans, it could help ensure continuation of the GOP majority for many years to come. If adopted by the Democrats, that majority will be lost. It has already been adopted by many county and local Republican committees and clubs for inspiration, fund raising and political education. Meanwhile, Democratic Members of Congress are giving away liberal Professor George Lakoff?s book Moral Politics, hoping it will enable rank and file Democrats to win future elections by being able to talk the political language of ?values? in ways that the great American, mainly conservative, majority will understand. If, instead, Republican Members of Congress and the RNC and Republican state committees promote WE, THE PEOPLE and advocate a conservative populism the game is over for the Democrats. The GOP will become recognized as the party that not only represents but engages and empowers the American majority in the political process. Thus, the left will no longer own the ?populist? label and be able to pretend that they speak for ?the people.?

The key to maintaining and enlarging the political realignment accomplished by the 2002 and 2004 elections is for Republicans to build and strengthen what?s called the GOP?s ?local political infrastructure ? the thousands of county and local Republican committees and clubs nationwide. Then, millions of foot soldiers will be ready to help win local, state and congressional races nationwide in 2006. ?Blue? counties and states will turn ?red? if this strategy is adopted and implemented aggressively, starting now. For example, the chairmen of the Clay and Lee County, Florida, Republican organizations have captured the hundreds of new volunteers who worked to get out the vote for ?W? onto their data bases. They are now following up to get them involved in their local committees and clubs between elections and give them reasons to stay involved.

The importance of this aspect of political organization, as shown in my book, should not be underestimated. Political ?pro?s? and consultants, whose advice is biased by the fact that the media grease their skids, should not be allowed to dominate party and campaign decision-making by continuing to advocate electoral politics as just a media game. One major reason that the GOP won the ground game is that grassroots political mobilization in 2004 was a major and integral part of party campaign activity at all levels, from the RNC down to the smallest town. By contrast, Democratic grassroots activity was largely carried out by so-called ?527? organizations like those funded by limousine liberals George Soros and Peter Lewis ? ACT (Americans Coming Together) and Moveon ? whose activity could not legally be coordinated with that of the Democratic Party even though the 527 organizations were dedicated to beating Bush.

Judging by the beating of liberal breasts and the gnashing of Democratic teeth that has been going on within these organizations, post-election, as they whine about the election results and try to reorient themselves toward the future, it looks as if the Democrats still don?t ?get it,? either, so they are likely to repeat the mistakes that led to their 2004 defeat. The question that Republicans need to face is: Will they learn the lesson to be drawn from their recent success ? that people made the difference, so that a nationwide grassroots strategy between elections can make an even greater, future difference?

A similar question of even greater gravity faces Republicans here in the people?s republic of Massachusetts. Our state is even more of a one-party state now than before Nov. 2nd. Notwithstanding that our Governor and Lt. Governor put their prestige, fundraising and advertising behind a massive effort to elect more Republican to the state legislature, seeking hardly more than just to restore veto power for a Republican governor, the effort yielded a net negative ? of three less seats in the state legislature. Why? Local political stars were selected and strongly supported to run. Why a net result of three less? Because the party?s leadership still doesn?t grasp the new-old, people-based politics. Because they haven?t diagnosed the sad state of the party?s ?local political infrastructure? or what to do to rebuild it, and they have done hardly anything to do so. The facts have been there for them to see in Chapter 5 of WE, THE PEOPLE, including responses from 42 local political committees in Massachusetts. Wake up and smell the grassroots, Governor, and don?t forget to distinguish the smell of good political fertilizer from political manure to spur the growth of those ?roots.?! Now is the time, between elections, to rebuild the foundations of a community- and people-based politics ?below the radar.?

If we don?t, then even the wonderfully effective grassroots efforts of the GOP in 2002 and 2004 may fall short in 2006 and 2008, both nationwide and state-wide. One reason was revealed by the 2004 experience in Florida. ?Effective? was not ?efficient.? Hordes of paid ?volunteers? were sent by the RNC out of D.C. to help organize and spur local efforts. Many of the imports could not substitute for the fact that local organization had been left to atrophy, even in Republican areas like Naples, Florida. Political pro?s from out of town can?t substitute for intimate knowledge of the local turf that only real volunteers who are active members of their party committees can provide. In Naples, for example, I was sent out with two other volunteers to do door-to-door for Bush. The person who sent us out was a young, ?go-get-?em? GOP staffer on loan from a Republican Senator?s office. He sent us to canvass a couple of gated communities. There was no way we could even get past the guards at the gates. A local activist would have known this and avoided wasting volunteers? precious time. The upshot: Though Bush effectively won the state big, the effort to do so was far from cost-effective. A lot of money was spent to import out-of-state help that needn?t have been spent. So, if the party fails to build up and vitalize its county and local party committees and clubs between elections and, next time, the Democrats are better organized as well was on a par with the GOP in terms of money, the result could well (or not so well) be different.

The serious political dog never sleeps.

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