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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Situation: Testing your Loyalty with a Major Donor

So you’re having problems on a campaign. You’re not making enough money, you’re frustrated, almost desperate, and you’re looking for a way out. You’re watching the campaign make major mistakes and you’re worried.

In other professions, betraying trust and confidence
comes at higher costs.
You’re at a fundraising event and you run across a major donor who asks you how things on the campaign are going. You can see in his face that he knows something and he’s looking to get more information from you. You won’t be telling him anything he doesn’t already know. You want to curry favor with him in order to get a new job, a job with him, any other job. What do you do?

STAY LOYAL AND DON’T SAY ANYTHING NEGATIVE. Despite the enormous temptation to spill the beans, you can’t say anything. You want to tell all, you want to impress this guy, you want to reach out in some way to him and have him understand, but it is an enormous mistake to betray campaign loyalty.

To be sure,  there is no way to look like a flake, and put yourself at risk of being fired and blackballed, than to speak out of turn and share secrets, to gossip, like this.

You can acknowledge well-known problems, but put a positive spin on it. Be honest but upbeat, don’t fan any flames and don’t try to give the ‘insider’ perspective. You’re not the candidate and you’re not the campaign manager and you’re not the communications director. Do not speak out of turn, it is always a major mistake.

You also won’t impress this donor by being disloyal. People are naturally curious and try to pump people for information, but that doesn’t mean they care about you. If you spill the beans, you confirm to the donor what they wanted to know, but it also makes you look unappealing as a future employee. If you’re loyal almost to a fault, you’re trustworthy and employable.

Stay loyal.  Don’t betray confidences, and don’t speak out of turn despite the temptation. It’s always a mistake. 

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Look like a pro, clear off that messy desk

There are a few hallmark signs of disorganization and chaos, and a very poignant one is a messy desk.

I know the various rationalizations, that you’re too busy, that you know where everything is, that it’s temporary because you’re in the middle of a big project, or even of acknowledging the mess when people see it so as to get past their observation of it quicker.

But let’s face it, it makes you look like a slob.

There are easy solutions to messy desks. First, separate out your projects. Invest in some banker’s boxes and accordion folders. Separate your projects and various things into manageable piles. Then organize and label each project.

Work on each project in due time, and keep the others hidden. You don’t need to keep everything in front of you. Psychologically, the enormity of your projects creates a sort of mental inertia from making progress on them. You can visualize your headaches, but they are all so numerous that you can’t possibly get rid of them.

A clean desk is a sign of a clear mind, a focused and motivated mind.

Put those files, papers and various things into folders and boxes, label them, and bring them out only when you’re working on them. You’ll look like a professional and start feeling like one.

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Consultant Group: 50 Things Every Operative Should Know

Some of these are pretty good, and many are somewhat repetitive with advice in the book. It's still a good refresher.

Number 23 is a little self-serving: "Don’t piss off the consultants because these are the people that get you your future campaign gigs."

Number 29, advising to read Sun Tzu's "the Art of War" was reminiscent of the recent blog post here.

I hope that the similarity of advice shows that many campaigns make the same mistakes, and many campaign operatives make the same mistake. You can avoid these mistakes and be a great operative.

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Use Emotion, Not Just Reason, to Market Political Principles

Especially in political writing, punctuate your stories and political points with personal anecdotes and individual stories.

Too often we reduce our principles to dry discussions about abstract theories, statistics and worry. Instead of putting our principles into emotional appeals, we appeal to the reason we prefer. We are creatures of letters, books and ideas. But normal people aren’t this way. Normal people, who are largely apolitical or generally apathetic, live by stories and popular culture. That isn’t said to be dismissive or pedantic, but let’s soberly assess our principles and values, and how those are communicated to the public.

Whatever your principles, they ought to be boiled down to their individual example when presented before members of the public. Don't discuss dry abstractions with people, show them how it impacts a member of your community.

Opposition to Communism/Socialism is usually told as a dry exchange of economic data.  One says individual liberty is best because it builds big companies. The other side focuses on the homeless veteran and the poor laborer. One side gives rational thoughts and the other responds with emotive appeals.

They're talking past one another. The one is speaking to a group of nerds and policy wonks, and the other is speaking to everyone, pulling on everyone's heartstrings, to solve the injustice being pushed on this individual.

It’s easy to look down on emotive appeals, as somehow manipulative of the audience, but when you’re arguing reason against emotion, reason always loses.

You probably have emotional stories, you just never think to use them in argument.

Every political issue, except perhaps for the most obscure ones, somehow impact individual people. Somehow they are making a difference in someone's life, either making it better or more difficult. Show that individual, tell their story, focus on their day. Demonstrate your empathy to understand what they're going through, and write with them in mind.

In college it's easy to get absorbed with academic writing:  passive voice, always objective and looking at the big picture. Yet that's awful, truly horrible, political writing.

You want active voice, directness, bluntness, and boiling things down to the individual. You want to be clear about who is wrong, i.e. the other guy, and who is right, i.e. your group or candidate. You want to show that the forces of darkness are hurting real, individual, people, and you want to write it with eloquence, with style and grace.

Don’t let the temptation to be a policy wonk override the powerful personal anecdote. Don’t quote dry statistics without anchoring those outrages firmly in the personal anecdotes and stories that will make it resonate.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tweeting into Unemployment: the trivial can get you fired

Politics is not fair or, often, reasonable. Several recent Capitol Hill staffers were fired after their twitter messages were found to have ridiculed their own work and jobs, joking about drinking on the job, not working, and breaking office equipment.

These all might have been merely office jokes and ways to lighten the mood. But the fun antics in college are not the same kind of acceptable workplace behavior. It's a very tough adjustment for many.

I've known many people who were fired for very stupid reasons in politics. An innocent misunderstanding, a bad judgment, a slip up. Not to mention several issues where immaturity causes a bad decision.

When you start working in politics, try to talk yourself out of actions like this. If you're working for an elected official, you shouldn't joke about the office or disparage them in any way, even to your friends. And always assume that whatever you do or write will end up in the Washington Post. You might think it's not newsworthy, and it probably isn't, but on a slow news day they'll run with it anyway. You can save yourself a lot of trouble by keeping a positive, respectful and deferential attitude about the workplace.

And one shouldn't dismiss these firings as people who weren't thinking. It's easy to get a few drinks with friends on a campaign, it's easy to run your mouth and tell jokes. It's easy to send a tweet to your ten friends on Twitter or tell an inside-joke on your Facebook wall, but prepare for that to be used against you. Prepare to defend that as your boss is suggesting they're considering firing you over it.

It's not fair, it's not in the spirit of the first amendment, it's hysterical overreactions - all these things are true. But when it happens to you, when you lose a job because of a stupid posting like this, it will be a major setback. Try to avoid the situation and be extra careful about what you write, tweet, message, email and say, it might cost you a job at some point.

Things you consider trivial can and will get you fired. Be careful what you write.

And let's all hope that politics evolves so that people don't overreact to trivial things like this in the future.

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

What am I learning in a political science class?

Many people enroll in political science courses expecting to get experience in politics, to indulge their passion for politics. It seems like the normal outlet and academic opportunity for your interests. 

But political science often has little to no relationship to applied politics. In some schools, they offer "government" in lieu of political science, as a way of teaching the philosophy of governance, focusing on the various theories of ruling.

Again, both of these types of courses bear little to no relationship to actual politicking or campaigns.

In the book, I outline several ways in which you can gain practical political experience. You shouldn't rely on your courses to give you the preparation you need for future political success. Modelling legislative pass rates and assessing statistical models of various groupings of executive orders doesn't teach you how to win an election. You don't learn persuasion, marketing, sales, organization, election law, and the myriad other skills you need to succeed.

Many people in politics have a degree in political science, but it is a fact of correlation and not causation. Their degree came from their passion for politics, not because the degree conferred wisdom on them that helped them succeed. In many ways, it's frankly counterproductive. It overemphasizes concerted activity where it was often random chance. Political science almost universally fails to acknowledge or understand the involvement of non-profits, interest groups and outside hidden actors into the process. 

Your political science degree is not helpful if you want a career in politics. If you want to have your degree work for you, learn how to start an organization from scratch, learn marketing and sales, even a degree in graphic design or project management will give you serious hard skills that you can deploy later, and not turn you into a dry, rote statistician reviewing voting scorecards.

A few institutions, notably George Washington University, offer classes and an emphasis in applied politics, the skills necessary for success. These opportunities are distinguished by the practicality of the courses offered, such as how to handle the media, how to lobby, how to manage a campaign. If you can find those opportunities, you'll be better served than continuing in a political science degree.

A friend who is a political science professor offered this contrarian viewpoint that I'll end with:
I think that political science classes are more valuable than you give them credit for (of course I am a bit biased here). I agree that the best lessons from politics are those that are learned from real world experience. That having been said, being more knowledgeable about politics never hurts.

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Check major facts, and then recheck them

If you're on a campaign, and you're involved at all with communications to donors, make sure to check and recheck your facts.

President Obama was recently caught in a 'three-pinocchio' fib in his recent speech in Kansas. He claimed some billionaires only paid 1% in taxes, whereas the reality was that most paid much higher rates.

It's not hard to see how such a misstatement could slip into a speech: someone reads an interesting fact, such as the anecdote about some billionaire only paying a 1% rate. It gets added to a memo or a speech. In the many hands and eyes that pass over a document, similar to the game "whispers", the fact grows and evolves. Instead of the carefully qualified original fact, it has grown.

And when your candidate says it, and gets caught saying it, you lose credibility. You look like chumps. You look unprofessional.

It's easy to think that "well, this might be true in national races, with Presidents and Senators, but my local race is different..." - but you'd be forgetting the disbelief many will have when they hear you say an exaggerated fact. Any accountant or tax preparer could tell you that a 1% rate is probably due to heavy charitable giving or some other odd tax situation. A financial planner in the audience might be skeptical. Other facts can engage a similar variety of professionals in your listening audience, people who will be skeptical about your claims and who will disbelieve that you have the credibility to win.

You want every fact to be reliable. You don't want to get caught exaggerated or being sloppy with facts. The easiest way to do this is to avoid firm factual statements except for one key thing you want to communicate to the audience, and make sure you have that one fact well-documented and well-vetted.

Don't get caught like this, you owe it to your candidate, campaign and your own credibility. These are easy-to-avoid mistakes if you just take a few minutes to fact-check or just tone down your communications.

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

What does my career counselor really know about politics?

If you're in school or college now, and you speak to your career counselor, you're likely to get very mainstream and limited advice about how to build a successful career in politics. The ones who are locally connected or know the local political scene are going to direct you to be a plebian in the bigger campaigns, on the idea that you're going to be exposed to the widest political audience. Some might encourage you to run for local office yourself, perhaps by running for school board. Others will refer you to someone they know 'in politics' usually meaning either working for a political party or officeholder.

None of this advice is wrong, but it is usually very limited and neglecting enormous opportunities for you to work in politics.

Your career counselor only knows what they know, and when they hear the word "politics" they think of campaigns and elected officials. But the practice of politics engages a much wider array of organizations and forces.

Even your own university likely has a paid lobbyist on staff, under the title "government affairs". And no doubt many non-profits work alongside your university to do voter registration drives, research, and assist the many organs of local, state and federal government.

There is an enormous amount of opportunity to work "in politics" but your career counselor often won't see it. They'll direct you in very limited ways.

If you want a better direction, identify and write out your true marketable skills. Then write out the things that you really enjoy doing. Then write out, don't just think about, write out the things you are very passionate about. Do some serious introspection. Put this in a document and show it to your career counselor. Show it to other people in politics.

A classic bit of advice, which is very real and very useful, is to ask people out to lunch to ask them about their careers. Find someone who is working a job you would enjoy, someone who is working your dream job. That job, involved in politics, might be a lawyer, lobbyist, legislator, business owner, campaign manager, non-profit leader, field worker, volunteer, etc.

There's no limit to where you have to apply your political passion, and which organization or company you work in that is somehow politically engaged and involved.

Your career counselor is going to have extremely limited and focused advice that is traditional and 'conservative' in the sense that it's mainstream and common, plain. They won't see the wider world of politics that you could thrive in. To see that, talk to people working in the field. Meet them for lunch, find a person who is working your dream job and figure out how to follow their footsteps.

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Dirty Tricks are always too costly and risky

NPR wrote about a Maryland trial involving the use of robodialers in a campaign, that may or may not have been used for voter suppression. One side says the calls were meant to demoralize voters from turning out, and the other is saying the calls were reverse psychology meant to motivate another base of people to turn out.

Not only do these tricks too often backfire, but the risks are always too high. There are so many laws that regulate elections that you are bound to run afoul of one of them if you try something this clever. At best, it won't work and you won't get caught. At worst, it won't work and you'll get caught and end up with a world of legal problems, and a very tarnished career.

The frustration of campaign life can make one desperate enough to use tactics like this. It can seem like a hail Mary play to try and make the small difference needed for victory. But these bad tactics come with very high costs. You're always better to play it safe when it comes to communicating with your opponent's base, don't use any tricks or gimmicks, and live to fight another day if you lose by a hair.

Tactics that will seem like 'dirty tricks' are always too costly and risky.