Those Guys Who Run Campaigns, Mainstream Media Style

Every campaign cycle has the obligatory “guys who run campaigns” story, that usually is little more than a resume of each “guy” with anecdotes. From reading these kinds of stories, you’d think the reporters just buy a “Mad Libs” pad and insert (name of politico) in (year of story) and (write it like that).
The LA Times did its obligatory piece on Friday the 13th (ha!) While these are of mild interest, nothing in them tells the reader anything they ddid not already know, or hear, the last time these pieces were written.
Each “bigwig” got their name, their age, a paragraph about their past work, a few quippy lines, and that’s about it. Great. I read this and wonder just what it is I, the reader, am supposed to learn from this article? There’s no real questioning about what it is these guys have been doing this cycle, nor is there any real discussion about what their role is, and is not in this campaign cycle.
It serves to reinforce preconceived notions of these guys as something they’re not, and we don’t get any real examination of the role of people who play an important part in how and why we discuss the election in the terms we usually do.
It’d be far more informative if we had a reporter or two (or three) as a guy like Kam Kuwata how he can say some of the things he does with a straight face, and expect people to take him at his word based on what’s been said as Hahn’s spokesman this cycle, for example.
It might be interesting to talk to someone like Ace Smith, and as for a macro-level discussion on just what “opposition research” is and is not in a campaign like Villaraigosa’s. Or even better, ask some of these guys about the campaigns they’ve lose (i.e. Bill Carrick’s loss with Rep. Dick “Screamer” Gephardt” ) and what they’ve learned (if anything) from the experience. Even better, call up Sen. Dianne Feinstein and ask her what she thinks of some of Hahn’s tactics in 2005 – and how that’ll affect her decisions in 2006?
The biggest problem with the political consulting business is that for the most part it is a largely unexamined piece of the advertising business. True, there have been some excellent studies done by James Thurber at American University, and occasionally you read a decent article somewhere. But overall, it is an industry without much serious discussion, which is unfortunate.
Switching gears, there was another story, the obligatory “let’s do a piece about the underlings who work on these things” piece in the main Los Angeles papers. I’m surprised no one noticed how the Los Angeles Times article, which appeared on May 14th, was almost identical to one that the Los Angeles Daily News ran on May 8th.
More importantly, it raises a basic question – are so few people working on the respective campaigns of Jimi Hahn and Tony Villaraigosa that these are the only two underlings that were worth spending any ink on? Might there be some people, perhaps some actually from Los Angeles, the press could have talked to?
Personally, when I read accounts like this of why some young people get into politics, or talk to younger folks, I tend to wince when I hear someone describe themselves as a “political junkie,” and seem to thrive only on the game itself, and for no other reason.
Years ago, I met Tom Hayden at UC Santa Barbara, and he said something to a group of us assembled to learn more about getting involved in the political process. Basically he said (and please bear with the paraphrasing of an event I attended 16 years ago) that young people should pursue whatever it is they believe in or wish to advance, and use the Democratic Party and the political process to achieve their goals as they see fit, and not just become a party apparatchnik for the sake of “politics.”
It was a lesson worth learning, and one, I’m afraid did not reach too many people in the room. However, it’s something these young guns on the Hahn and Villairaigosa campaigns would be wise to heed. The “thrill of the game” ends quickly, and you have to decide on some level what it is you are trying to really accomplish.
It’s easy to become so consumed with polls, swing votes, percentages, and focus groups, forgetting in the process that if you’re not really focused on accomplishing something, you end up looking back at your “career” in politics and find you’ve spent a lot of money, done a lot of neat campaign tricks, but have little to show for it.
To me that’s not very satisfying, but then again, I’ve been in this line of work for a while. I suppose for some others, like the aforementioned Big Wigs of Politics, that’s all that seems to matter. I guess I’ll never know, since all I have to go on are those “Mad Libs” style puff pieces in the Times.
Anyone want to prove me wrong?
PS: Here’s a fun story for some enterprising reporter to consider: Take a look at the many talented people who got some of their early start with Tom Hayden’s Campaign for Economic Democracy in the late 70s and early 80s.
A quick review of the folks who got their start with Hayden and Jane Fonda’s organization would be a Who’s Who of some of the smartest people in politics today, many of whom have retained some sense of idealism or political leanings since their days with CED. I could print a partial list here, but I would not want to insult anyone by accidentally leaving them off the list. Still, it would be interesting.
I’ve often felt that the repeated demonization of Hayden by conservatives obscured many of his actual accomplishments in the public eye. Remember, it was Hayden, in retirement, who shut down Gov. Doofinator’s attempts to change pet rescue las by unleashing the power of a network of  pet owners and their army of Pound Puppies to smack down the Doofinator, and send him in full retreat.
I’ll be looking….Reporters, start your engines!

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at

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