Monday, January 21, 2008

Campaign tidbit:
It may surprise you to learn they are human

Presidential candidate John Edwards doing the work. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter a hoot what I think about the Democratic Presidential primaries. Oh, I'll vote and all -- but if I wanted to have real influence, I'd work on local issues and candidates as wells as organize to increase civic participation and competence among those who aren't currently able to get in the game. And I do, for my work.

But the long running Presidential sweepstakes is great theatre, so over the next few days, I'm going to share a series of tidbits and perhaps insights as they fly by.

One of the most insightful bits of journalist punditry I've seen about the campaign was this from James Fallows:

If you have not worked or traveled on a political campaign, you really cannot imagine the importance of sheer mind-destroying, bone-sapping, emotion-straining, personality-fraying exhaustion as a factor in performances by candidates. Especially the moments that seem angry, thin-skinned, dazed-sounding, ill-advised, or clumsily-worded. Where there is a "gaffe," there is usually an over-tired candidate backed up by over-tired staff. ...

Their day involves endless stress, movement, and performance, starting at 4:25am when they get up for the next bus or plane or morning show, through maybe 1:15am that night when they collapse after the last staff meeting or poll discussion or evening show or fund-raising call. ...

Rule of thumb: each hour of super-fatigue takes maybe 5 points off your IQ and 10 per cent out of your emotional balance, especially in the equanimity, patience, and "taking things with a grain of salt" departments.

All very true -- the mentor who got me into working campaigns warned me: "when it is over, it will take you months to recover -- the world will seem gray and empty." She was right.

But of course these people, candidate and handlers, choose this lunatic activity. On the lower levels, quite often a "candidate" gets into a race and then learns s/he doesn't actually choose to run at the actual pace required -- and nearly always loses.

So just because they are human, do we have to forgive them for dumb stuff said and destructive tactics adopted? No. Just as I have little patience with the plaint often emerging from dysfunctional progressive non-profit organizations -- "but the staff work so hard" -- I don’t give a pass to candidates and their staffers who screw up during the marathon. That's the game. Live with it and master it.

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