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Advice for a Competitive Campaign

April 9, 2012 | 15 Comments

Dear Mr. Keillor:
I just finished reading your book "Homegrown Democrat" and recommended it as required reading for our local Democratic club. (I know, it was written awhile back, but I bought it on sale when Borders went out of business.) I was so fired up that I now find myself running for the office of State Representative in my district and wondered if you might have any more sage advice. I know I'm able to fill the position, but since I'm not backed by any SuperPac, it's difficult to run a competitive campaign. Any suggestions? 

Nancy Maxwell
Holden, MO


The country depends on people like you, men and woman enthusiastic to put their names out in the arena, knowing how tough it is to face the enormous disinterest of the vast majority. You need to arm yourself against that disinterest by collecting friends and supporters, one by one, who share your principles and who will brace you up and work for you and not fade away. Get your committee together and keep adding to it. Politics is a wonderful way to make loyal friends: that's one of the rewards. It's also a fine way to connect to the real world around you. We tend to live in our own heads, in a swirl of prejudice and lovely notions and borrowed ideas, but when you run for office and start to think about the actual work of government, you have a chance to learn about real life ---- about money, about poverty and illness and the education of children, about the construction business, about bureaucracy ---- and that is another reward. As you walk that road toward the election, you will pick up some wonderful stories about the real world, and that should be the heart of your campaign speech ---- real accounts of real people. Focus on the positive aspects of politics ----- making friends, learning about real things ----- and take it easy on the anger. Smile. Walk the streets and knock on the doors and smile, shake hands, hand them your pamphlet, thank them for their interest, move on. Have fun. Good luck.


So you learn about real life by becoming a politician. Okay then.

I think this fine comment could apply to being a citizen, and to a somewhat different extent being an entertainer or journalist. Pity is that right now the ones seeking to be politicians have to focus so much on getting monied interests behind them, and then catering to them, being of a resonant mindset with them, etc. Anyway, I see by my Facebook Newsfeed that Citizens United is being challenged -- thanks to Ruth Bader Ginxburg and Stephen Breyer... "(NEWSER) – The Supreme Court has agreed to take a case that justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer say will give it a chance to rethink its infamous Citizens United v. FEC decision. The court is being asked to look into a Montana Supreme Court decision stating that its law restricting corporate election spending in state elections is fine, because it 'arises from Montana history,' UPI reports. Essentially, Montana is arguing that Citizens United only applies to federal laws and elections, not state ones." (Is my local People's Rights Resolution committee leaping at butterflies of hope, or is this real...) Critical mass may yet be achieved, and not by growling and stewing ad infinitum.

The Milkweed and the Iris

The Milkweed and the Iris
Are wont to dehisce -
Fertile ground they do not wish to miss,
For when you've got the seed,
To release becomes the need!

Your concept of the meaning of the word 'disinterest' is as skewed as the Democrat concept of what is and is not 'entitled.' Congratulations, though: both have become widely accepted. Only one is dangerous.

Thanks for the reminder about "Home Grown Democrat". It is my favorite of your books (except for the Lake Woebegone books) and I will recommend it to several of my friends. I always appreciate your political comments, civil and to the point.

I don't know if it's appropriate for you to post this, and my feelings will not be hurt if you don't, or if you cut it to make it something you can use.

I was moved by Nancy's letter and Garrison's response. I have begun to feel that there is no reason to be involved in politics, because people of substance never win or even run for office. I don't mean just people who agree with me, but people who can listen carefully, take a stand when called for, compromise if neccessary, and deal with real problems.
As a result, I tracked Nancy down using the internet, and called and had a pleasant conversation with her. She didn't know you had posted her letter on the website. I am going to send a small check to Maxwell for House to support her in her race, and encourage others to find people they can support and, more importantly, to get involved and take responsibility personally. I am inspired to do much better.

Garrison: That is a beautiful essay that captures the essence of responsible civics—something that needs to be said over and over again if democracy is to thrive.

My only language quibble is that you seem to have joined those who conflate “disinterest” with “lack of interest.” They are radically different ideas (I want a disinterested judge but surely not an uninterested one) but the distinction is slowly disappearing in the land.

Chris - since when did participating in our gov't and electoral processes become a bad thing or not part of "real life" ? Meeting your neighbors and fellow citizens, discussing the issues, wading into controversy, making hard decisions, figuring out how to balance the budget, speaking the truth, trying to live up to our constitutional ideals, using your talents and skills to benefit your city, county, state and country [I think running for office and being elected in 1 of these affects all don't you?] --- isn't this all real life ? Thankfully folks like Nancy are still willing to run and serve - I believe that is what will keep our democracy going. Or would you rather have the 1% run everything ?
another chris

Well, the Democrat Party has been guiding the hands of voters,voting the graveyards,prisons,"insane asylums",in all the large cities of the Nation since 1850. Consequently,we have a skilled machine that creates a certain version of "democracy" for export to areas of the world that seem to need nation building after wind-down of our latest military adventure. Of course the book, "Hometown Democrat", which I read ages ago,doesn't address such chicanery. This is the age of "sanitization" of language,politics,street crime,bureaucracy,and general thought.However, I liked the book then, and still do, although I still chortle over the author's genetic predisposition and slavish adherence to a deeply flawed political cabal.

The League of Women Voters in some parts of the country have begun holding workshops for girls in their junior and senior years in high school about getting involved in electoral politics. Called "Running and Winning," these workshops provide participants with opportunities to interview women office holders at many levels of government about their experiences, and then some role playing about being not only candidates but also members of campaign staffs. The girls are selected by their schools from among students in various social studies classes. The LWV's concern is getting more women to run, of course, but also to get more women involved in helping others to run. Actually, the LWV itself, with its concentration on thorough study of selected issues, reaching consensus on them, and then taking action to achieve goals related to those issues, has proved to be good background for women (and men) who then run for office. And win.

I wish that more American History and Civics were taught in the schools at all levels. We have such short memories, it seems. I wish that we as citizens knew more about how government at all levels works. I'm hoping that Nancy with her admirable intentions makes sure that she knows what she's getting into, and that studying the history of her state is part of her preparation. When I was in school, the expectations for students were low. I would guess, too, that the McCarthy effect made school boards nervous about what was taught. I love learning about our history.

Go for it Nancy! People like yourself who care
about the common good and want to help out are
really needed in public life. More power to you.

I particularly liked the advice to walk the streets and knock on doors: only one local politician took the trouble to do this and I was very impressed that she bothered to take the trouble. I think one is far more likely to vote for someone with whom one has had a conversation and - perhaps - found common ground.

Interest in Disinterest

A Disinterested Judge
Has nothing to gain.
A Disinterested Electorate
May later feel the pain,
For when the henhouse
Is guarded by the Fox,
We, the people, lose our Vox!

Thanks to Chris Wachsmuth, Garrison, and all the rest of the folks in reply to my request for advice. I've worked with a volunteer organization called the Silver-Haired Legislature for over 10 years. It's a group of volunteers that gather together to promote legislation to benefit senior citizens. I've had to campaign for my current position as "Senator", but there was no funding involved. In doing so, I discovered there are a number of people that are not aware of who their candidates are, or that believe their vote doesn't count. We need to get more of middle America on board and let them know that WE DO COUNT.
Betsy, the League of Women Voters are doing a wonderful thing by teaching the youth more about politics.
Anita Anger, I live in the heart of a Civil War region and am learning more about the battles that took place near my back yard.
Marilyn, I appreciate your support and am so glad to have made a new friend.
Garrison, I grew up in Wisconsin and live through all of your stories about Lake Wobegon.
If nothing else, we've opened the door to more enlightening conversation and I appreciate you all.

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