Lessons of the Paul Campaign – Kinky Carole, or We Own the (Perot) Center

June 26, 2008

“Kinky Carole” was a running gag amongst organizers in Austin. It’s a tongue in cheek reference to Kinky Friedman and Carole Keaton Strayhorn, two iconoclastic, “populist” candidates for the Governorship here in TX in the ’06 race. Neither one was particularly ideologically “sound” from a Paulist standpoint. But then one of the Lessons of the Paul Campaign is that Ideology Ain’t All it’s Cracked Up to Be… perhaps we’ll deal with ideology in depth some other time.

To run for governor, each “independent” had to file a ballot petition list with the Texas Secretary of State. These lists are a matter of public record; I bought ’em for 74 bucks each. Partners upstate got a good portion of them matched against existing phone records. A few of us started phone banking ’em; we got returns of around 7% per dial. Telemarketers are happy with 2%. During our calling for the TX Straw Poll in summer of ’07, we called 10,000 potential attendees – all of whom were former GOP delegates, that is, known party activists – and I think we got perhaps 30 people to actually drive up to Dallas for the Straw Poll. So in my cold calling experience, raw returns of 7% are very good.

While I worked the Kinky Carole list, “old hands” here were following conventional wisdom, the same wisdom that had been handed down by current and former campaign staffers: go into the heaviest GOP precincts and work ’em hard. This was the same wisdom that had gotten Ron Paul around 5% of the vote over and over (assuming that’s really what he got, but that is YALOTPC). These seasoned campaigners were getting nowhere; they’d knock on doors for 3 or 4 days and come up empty handed. Meanwhile I was doing ok in my little South Austin precinct… at least I was doing a lot better than the folks in NeoCon land were doing.

Based on these results, we ranked all the precincts in Austin by their ’06 gubernatorial returns, sorting them according to how well Kinky Carole (plus the tiny libertarian vote) did in each. Basically, we were looking at a 3rd party metric. We triangulated that against having enough GOP support to be worth working (each precinct’s delegate strength being based, in serpent-eating-its-tail irony, on how many votes GOP incumbent Rick “the haircut” Perry got in ’06). Finally we checked each precinct against geographical exigencies, ie, was it “walkable” (flat, houses close together).

Newly armed with our Kinky Carole analysis, we started hammering on the “correct” precincts. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. All of a sudden, every 10th knock was a supporter. The problem became managing time well, the challenge being to not spend too much energy on each newly found supporter, instead keeping up the effort on finding more of the same.

A nice story that. A success story (Paulists treasure them as we haven’t had many). But what is the “lesson”?

For me, it’s this: “revolutions”, whatever their basis, don’t appeal to establishment stakeholders. A modern American political revolution has and will have its core appeal with the “silent majority”, silent because it’s so disillusioned. Our “revolution” has zero appeal to the legacy GOP; it’s appeal is to the disaffected “Perot Center” that knows intuitively that politics in the US is profoundly corrupt. This meme permeates our culture – “Politicians are crooks! Throw the bums out!” – yet the incumbents keep on winning. I’d argue that one of the reasons the Establishment came down so hard on the Paul campaign was that there lurks in the Constitutionalist message not only an ideological resolution to the amoral postmodern statist status quo, but actual hope for some concrete change.

We have been portrayed as the “fringe”, but are we? According to whom? A snobby elite that knows what’s good for the peasantry? By any populist measure, we are Majoritarians on issue after issue. Stop the War. Protect my Privacy. Stay out of my sex, drugs and rock and roll. Don’t steal my money. Control the border dammit. Over and over, this “movement” has the right “message”. The question is, how do we get that “message” out, and how do we foster the belief, the hope, that “movement”, actual change, is possible?

Lessons of the Paul Campaign – Introduction

June 26, 2008

Like many (if not most) of the people who worked in the grassroots of the Ron Paul campaign, I entered the “game” a political neophyte. Actually, strictly speaking, I was always politically “aware” but never “active” – which again is the common profile amongst Paulistas. I was one of the few “hardcore” who committed to the effort on a more or less full time basis. I had a variety of skillsets to bring to the table, and I did a lot of things over my year of on-again-off-again involvement, but what I worked on the most was what is called in politics “Field Operations”; phone banks and block walks, voter ID and GOTV. I did a bit of this stuff myself, but also helped organize the effort county wide – an effort that involved close to 900 people at the precinct level and around a dozen coordinators to keep ’em moving. At peak from around mid January through the March 4th primaries, I put in approximately 60 hours a week.

I learned a lot of lessons in the field ops push, as well as through my other work with the Austin Meetup Group (sometimes the largest MUG nationwide… we traded off with the NYC MUG constantly). Some lessons were bitter, some constructive. Some were lessons on politics in general, some were professional, some were ideological. I don’t know that any specific point I can make is particularly profound or revelatory; but it seems that I do have a pretty unique take overall, one that comes from my own personal synthesis (Hegelians beware) of my learning experiences.