Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Don't Get Mad, Get ACTIVE

Angry about Congressional inaction? Frustrated sanity is gone from the US House? Find yourself shouting at your computer or the television?

Well, we have two more days until a full blown government default. I’ve worked in politics for almost two decades. I don’t resort to hyperbole and I call politicians by their surnames, not juvenile puns, but I will say this: WE ARE FACING A PROFOUND THREAT TO OUR FUTURE IF WE GO OFF THE FISCAL CLIFF.  That isn’t hypberbole, it’s a fact.

We need to get busy. Here's how to do it.


CALL THE GOP NATIONAL HEADQUARTERS: Call the GOP in DC at: 202-863-8500 Hit 2 to get to the fundraisers. They will always answer the phone, because you can't raise money if you don't pick up the line. The GOP House Members are letting you go to voicemail, so focus on the party. Your message: " I will never vote for a Republican again. The GOP’s actions are dangerous to the financial future of the republic." Don't sound like a liberal and don't resort to name calling. The person at the other end of the phone should not be able to tell who you typically vote for. What they should parse: you are angry and that anger is directly squarely at the House GOP.

Don’t hang up after 30 seconds, it's ineffectual. Engage the person who answers the phone--when they are talking to you they can't raise money. Ask them if they feel any moral qualms working for the GOP while 800,000 Americans go without a paycheck and all of our retirement funds are about to take a kick in the pants with a default. Their stock answer "I am just the messenger." Your retort: "That's immoral. You don't have to work for an organization destroying the country. Shame on you." Make the conversation last as long as you can and keep it to morals. Talk angrily, but SOFTLY. It's effective. Tell them you are worried the GOP is destroying the country, destroying children's future and destroying FAMILY VALUES. Use THEIR language, you will have a greater impact upon them. You can do this on your lunch hour, and no one is too busy. DO IT. It does matter.

PAY A VISIT TO YOUR LOCAL GOP CONGRESSIONAL REPRESENTATIVE: If you can, grab a dozen friends, make signs, and go down to the local office of a GOP Congressional Representative tomorrow. Call the media and tell them you will be there. Dress NICELY—the message you want to send: you represent moral, family values America, not the GOP. If interviewed, say ”the GOP is damaging our children’s future. This is immoral.” If you live in a GOP free zone, go and picket the local office of the local GOP.  Same message, same opportunity to make the news.

SEND AN EMAIL REPLY TO ONLINE PETITIONS: Ask the organization in question to organize in person events and to have them call the GOP. The message: "at the juncture, online action is really just inaction."

SHARE THIS POST ON FACEBOOK:  The Tea Party rallied Sunday in DC. They had a thousand folks. Our rally today had maybe 24. WE NEED TO GET BUSY. fI don't normally push this, but please, please, share. We are running out of time.

IF YOU LIVE IN DC: If there is no solution to this mess, show up on the sidewalk at the Rayburn House Office building tomorrow after work tomorrow. Be prepared to bellow, and bellow loudly.  


SIGN ONLINE PETITIONS: Petitions are USELESS. Utterly, staggeringly, mathematically verifiably USELESS. Think about it: will your GOP Representative care that a liberal group dislikes him or her? NO, they will not. At this very late hour, online action is inaction.
POST OR COMMENT ON FACEBOOK DECRYING THE EVIL GOP: It’s preaching to the choir and it accomplishes nothing. Online kvetching is inaction, too.


If Congress passes a one month stop gap for the debt limit, do NOT stop calling the GOP. Call them once a day, Monday through Friday. If we stay focused, we can make a difference. Indeed, we could easily turn the GOP fundraising line into OUR complaint line. Take ownership of it. The country will be all the better for it.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Furlough Congress Now

Furlough Congress Now

The popularity of the Tea Party stands at a breathtaking 22%. Before you cheer, consider this: they shut down the government, pushed support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into the toilet, jeopardized the implementation of the ACA in a dozen or more states, and gleefully put 800,000 people temporarily (hopefully) out of work.  We were utterly incapable of stopping them.  800,000 people are headed for needless financial stress, the economic recovery is imperiled and we are, in no small part, to blame.

Two parts to this missive: 

ONE—how did we screw up.
TWO—what do we do now?

A (Not So) Private History of a Campaign That Failed

80 of the most conservative Republican Congressman, whose districts represent a rollicking 18% of the US population, fiercely believe the Democratic Party is evil and must die. They detest the Affordable Care Act, and their hatred of President Obama burns hotter than the sun. The government shutdown  isn’t about deficits or small government. Indeed, most of these Congressional districts are rural, and their denizens are snout deep in agriculture subsidies, federal highway dollars and heaping helpings of Medicare and Social Security. They don’t hate government, they just hate the parts of government that don’t personally benefit them.

This ruby red caucus channeled all their bile into an (un)holy quest: kill the Affordable Care Act at all costs. So, they tied the Affordable Care Act to their zeal the budget bill, hoping they could “defund” the law by crass political maneuver.

They started over a year ago, demonizing the ACA at every opportunity, and launching a relentless (and effective) lobbying campaign aimed at forcing the less radical wing of the GOP in line. They succeeded in driving support for the law to dangerous lows, and they shut down the government.

How did we respond? We didn’t. We simply did not. The cardinal rule in any lobbying campaign is to respond to attacks; especially when they are dripping with misinformation.  

Why did we miss this? Aren’t we smarter?


We are arrogant. And in politics, arrogant is, sooner or later, a synonym for LOSER. Several insidious trends came together to kick our butts:

SOLIPSISTIC IDEOLOGUES. No, I’m not talking about the guy on the corner with the foot long beard and the “get gummit out of my medicare” sign. I’m referring to a subset of the American intellectual left who believe no law is good enough, or left enough, so why bother?

Defend the Affordable Care Act? “Puleeeease dahling, it’s “Republican Lite.” They prefer, of course, single payer, even if most of them cannot even really define the term. When President Obama doubled fuel economy on US cars, he got no help from this crew. “CAFÉ Standards, darling, are a joke. Everyone knows Ford will just cheat.”  No stimulus package was large enough, either.

When we spend too much time trying to activate these folks to lobby, we fail. They will go online and scream until dawn. They threaten to move to Canada, but alas, they never do. Rantings aside, they are toothless. When pressed, most of these folks admit they’ve done a sum total of NOTHING to stop this shutdown. They don’t make effective calls to legislators, much less get off the couch, shower, or dress presentable to show up at a Town Hall Meeting or to a volunteer phone bank.

This crew proved a useful ally when Bush was in office—it’s easier for ideologues to damn, rather than praise and they are damn good at damning. They are useful during elections, because there are no concrete policies on the table. But not for lobbying. Ironically, it’s this crew among the GOP (enter, stage right, the stooge with the “gummit” sign) that kicked us in the shorts last week. Their crackpots mobilized, ours kvetched to the choir in cyberspace.

ONLINE EVANGELICALS: No, not Pat Robertson, but the swath of folks who believe that online activism is the ONLY activism.  They send enough email in a week to overheat a coal powered generator, dripping with hyperbole and tabloidesque subject lines:  “Hey GOP, Repeal Your Own Healthcare First” “Tell Boehner: Get Off The Golf Course and Get Back To Work.”

Typically, these are Internet “petitions” and generally collect little more from “activists” than an email address and maybe a zip code. The Most Exquisitely Useless and Politically Naïve Petition of the Week Award goes to MoveOn: “ No Pay for Congress During the Shutdown”

Dirty little secret: MOST of these petitions are never delivered to their targets. They are used to build lists of supporters. Far more cynically put, the real “target” is getting YOUR email on THEIR list. Even those missives that are delivered fall on deaf ears.  Speaker Boehner doesn’t expect a clearly left-leaning group to love him. He will be no more moved by a list of “signers” from MoveOn than Nancy Pelosi upon receiving a pile of hate from the Tea Party Patriots.

The disturbing thing is how many on the left ONLY take action via the petition, making no difference. But the online evangelicals refuse to let go of their precious petitions.

THE WAR BETWEEN THE POLITICAL DIRECTOR AND THE DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR:  Ten years or so ago, fundraising treated email lists with disdain. The direct mail folks got the offices, the online fundraising guy shared a cubicle with the printer and the paper shredder.

So, the online list was the domain of the Political Director. These folks were savvy lobbyists and used the Internet to reach power activists. They’d run conference calls for online volunteers, teaching how to make EFFECTIVE phone calls to legislators and how to be EFFECTIVE in the Town Meeting or when penning a newspaper editorial. And, back in those halcyon days, we even used the email lists to pick smart folks to bring to DC to lobby Congress.

Then we learned how to raise real money online.  

After the Dean campaign, everything shifted. Now, the primary target of those action alerts: what’s in your wallet?  Look in your inbox. How many fundraising appeals did you get on Monday?  The right was focused on calling 10 or 12 swing GOP members in the House, urging them to vote for a shutdown. They ran a lobby day and brought businessmen and clergy to town. Our team shoved electrons into cyberspace: “Can you pitch in $3 dollars.” Yes, we need money to be effective, but we are no longer outspent by the other team. Indeed, more often than not we are spending MORE money, we are just spending it ineffectively, often at the expense of efficacious activism.

Fundraising is one of the reasons we flit from issue to issue. Changing up issues encourages more folks to give. Ironically, we are money driven.

If you click to “TAKE ACTION” on a picture of Boehner frothing at the mouth, and after maybe entering your email are taken to the donation page, you are DONATING, not taking ACTION. That’s fine, to a point. But the political director lost the civil war. Internet activism is dead; fundraising is king. So, the Tea Party launched a serious lobbying campaign online, often with sophisticated targeting and talking points. We raised a few bucks. And we got our butts kicked.

       THE LAST MINUTE: You may have noticed most of our action alerts occur at the VERY, VERY last minute, typically the day before or the day of a vote (when it is often too late to matter). In part, this is a fundraising tactic. Folks respond to political appeals when they are red hot buttons, and are dominating the news. Trouble is, lobbying is a marathon. The right kicked the teeth out of support for the ACA; the best organizations on our team waited 10 months or more to engage. The worst folks in our tent waited until 48 hours before 800,000 people got their asses temporarily shit-canned.

                                      PART TWO: WHAT’S AN ACTIVIST TO DO????

At the risk of raising some hackles on my friends list, GET OFFLINE!!!! Stop replying to Internet petitions. Just STOP. And if you want to give money, do it, but understand that a donation is not a lobbying action.

 CALL LEGISLATORS. But understand the difference between a Facebook rant and a persuasive call. If the staffer you are talking to can tell you are a liberal or a Democrat, you’ve failed. Focus on the ISSUE, and try to get into the head of the target legislator. Couch your language in their language:  I have lost my pride in America; how can you turn 800,000 breadwinners out of work because you aren’t doing your job?   OR: You are spooking Wall Street and damaging the fragile economic recovery. I cannot support a party that ignores economists and business leaders. What are you doing?

Express anger by talking more SOFTLY than is typical. It’s breathtakingly more effective.  The LONGER the call, the better. Ranting for 30 seconds, spewing profanity and hanging up is the mark of the lobbying loser.  Ask the staffer questions; make it a conversation. Engage them. “Don’t’ you worry about the people you are putting out of work? How can a compassionate nation let this happen? This ISN’T Christian”.  They will blame Senator Reid, but hit back. “No, you have a moral obligation to negotiate. Every Congressman does.” The more rational folks they encounter, willing to take them on, the more effective you will be. Hit the moral issues hard: “aren’t you concerned as a Christian about what you are doing to this country?” Don’t BASH religion (ye gods, are we stupid on this point), that’s the realm of the solipsistic ideologue; make the staff member consider the issue based upon THEIR sense of religion. Tell them they are being crappy bosses; senior managers don’t penalize employees when they are infighting.

DON’T CALL JUST ONCE: Call once a day, every day. Vary the offices. But keep calling. A one-time caller is a loser. Be creative. Ask for various staffers; the GOP has chosen to tie up the entire federal government, we owe it to those 800,000 folks to cause a little chaos in Boehner’s office, too.

DON’T GO TO VOICEMAIL:  Never, ever go to voice mail. Go through the switchboard and ask to speak to a budget staffer. If they refuse to transfer you, call back 3 hours later and ask for the environmental staffer. It doesn’t matter who, just get PAST the front desk and talk to a living, breathing staffer.  If the lines are busy, look up the District Office and call them. BE RELENTLESS. 

SNAIL MAIL: Leadership offices inboxes are so stuffed with email it won’t get a second thought. A well written letter, printed and mailed, has more impact. Curious but true, the old ways are the best ways. In the final paragraph, include this language: I am respectfully asking for Representative X to write me back. This issue is of crucial importance to our Democracy and I must hear his/her thoughts.

MESS WITH THE MOTHERSHIP: Call the GOP national party. Their phone lines are set up to raise money. Engage them in a long conversation; you cost them money. CALL EVERY DAY while the shutdown is in effect.

Calling once is a disservice to 800,000 folks going without a paycheck. If we want to win, we need to get VERY, VERY, VERY busy here.

     WRITE LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Write letters to the editor. People do read them.

      DO NOT ENGAGE IN ARGUMENTS WITH CHUCKLEHEADS  ON FACEBOOK: They are utterly useless. Just don’t get sucked in.

      CONTACT THE MEDIA AND CONDUCT OPPOSITION RESEARCH : Eric Cantor’s Facebook page is filled with some of the most partisan filth ever posted on the Internet by an elected official. LIKE HIM and you'll see. Ask reporters if they’ve seen it, and ask “how can this man negotiate if this is what he truly believes?” Look at the rhetoric on GOP web sites.  Go the GOP Members’ Facebook page and pull quotes from his/her most rabid supporters. Ask the member/staffer “how can you hop in the political sack with these people? It’s disgusting.

Talking points (from OFA), to use in conversations with the GOP. These are good, although it would have been nice to have seen them come out BEFORE YESTERDAY.

The Top Nine Ways a Government Shutdown Affects Real Americans

     1. 800,000 federal employees will go without pay -- and it's unclear if they'll receive back pay for time missed.

     2. 3.6 million veterans may not receive benefits if the shutdown lasts over two weeks.

     3. The Centers for Disease Control will have to stop its flu prevention program, just as flu season begins.

     4. Food safety inspections will scale back their work, exposing millions to risk.

     5. About nine million moms and pregnant women will no longer receive nutritional assistance from the Department of Agriculture's Women, Infants, and Children program.

     6. The Small Business Administration will be unable to process new loans, potentially slowing new small business growth.

     7. National parks and museums will close across the country, damaging our travel and tourism industries by millions for each day the government remains shut down. (Yes, that means the Statue of Liberty is closed for business...)

     8. Head Start programs across the country will start closing, ending educational and health benefits for low-income children.

     9. Disability benefits could be interrupted, leaving vulnerable Americans without the support they rely on.