Week 34 | Run For Something: Running for Political Office Maybe Easier Than You Think
“...And they just did it on their own...You realize that a campaign is not a thing you run, it is a thing you unleash. It is either picked up and carried forward by people or it isn't. If it is there then there is a campaign and if it isn’t, there is no campaign. Calling it inspiring is an understatement”. A quote by Jeff Beals for the This American Life podcast;
I love this passage because take away the ‘politics’ that go into running for office which Beals did in 2018, we are living in very interesting times. “In politics, the only two metrics for measuring a candidate's strength are the money they raise and their vote total on Election Day” (Run For Something).
Especially in the past, how much money you raise on the way to office has been strongly correlated to whether you gain seat or not; The more you raise the greater the chance it is that you win. However, no matter how you label yourself, Democrat or Republican, this last presidential election was quite unique because it proved anything is possible right now. Democrat Jeff Beals explains, “we just lost the presidency and out raised Donald Trump. I am fed up with the concept that money is the answer to how you win an election because it self evidently didn’t win an election, it lost an election” (This American Life). Money is no longer the only ever marker for political success. There is distinct and significant power in the hands of the people to create a movement.
But why and how do you light that fire?
What Is The Point? Engaging in Community is Wellness
Wellness has as much to do with bettering the self as it does with nurturing the community around you. One age old way of serving the community is via engaging in politics.
But what exactly is it that you are serving when you run and are elected into a position? According to early philosophers, human beings are by nature harmful and we would descend into chaos without fixture - by giving power to a governing body we are protecting ourselves from each other.
Philosophy 101: Why Have Government Anyway?
It was the 17th century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes who said that human beings are, “naturally self-interested. All men pursue only what they perceive to be in their own individually considered best interests”. Inferred from his theories, “all human actions under all circumstances, everything we do is motivated solely by the desire to better our own situations and satisfy as many of our own, individually considered desires as possible. We are only genuinely concerned with our own selves”. (Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
If left to our own devices and naturally selfish state, Hobbes concluded without deliberate ordinance, society and the public space would be, “unbearably brutal” (Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
In our natural state, or as Hobbes calls it the State of Nature, “men are naturally and exclusively self-interested, they are more or less equal to one another, (even the strongest man can be killed in his sleep), there are limited resources, and yet there is no power able to force men to cooperate. Every person is always in fear of losing his life to another. They have no capacity to ensure the long-term satisfaction of their needs or desires. No long-term or complex cooperation is possible because the State of Nature can be aptly described as a state of utter distrust. Given Hobbes' reasonable assumption that most people want first and foremost to avoid their own deaths, he concludes that the State of Nature is the worst possible situation in which men can find themselves. It is the state of perpetual and unavoidable war” (Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
Hobbes in his theories states that in our natural state we would distill into perpetual war due to our intrinsic and burning inclination toward self-interest. He goes on to deduce that because we are also reasonable and rational and in order to protect against a descent into chaos, men have chosen to, “live together under common laws and create an enforcement mechanism”. Beyond just creating laws men have and must, “imbue some one person or assembly of persons with the authority and power to enforce”, law and cooperation between persons (Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
That assembly is government in its many forms and, “while living under the authority of a Sovereign can be harsh it is at least better than living in the State of Nature. And, no matter how much we may object to how poorly a Sovereign manages the affairs of the state and regulates our own lives, we are never justified in resisting his power because it is the only thing which stands between us and what we most want to avoid, the State of Nature” (Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
Becoming Government, That Sovereign Body
Hobbes’ political theories equal in significance to those of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Locke and other early philosophers as they explain why whether you are an American, African, Asian, an Englishman, whomever, as long as you are human, the reason why government is needed.
How to become the ascendant few bestowed with the responsibility of regulating the masses against our naturally erosive way of being? Run for something ... Well, at least in America.
Running for Office: Where Do I Start?
“Running for office is really fucking hard” - says Amanda Litman in her book Don't Just March, Run For Something. She would know, she has worked high up for the Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigns. She continues, “but very little angers me more than people who complain endlessly without offering solutions or trying to fix problems” (Run For Something).
Turns out in America, there are several levels to which you can engage and make a difference via public office. From the presidency to Congress, “state legislatures, city council, school boards and mayors, there are more than half a million elected offices in the United States” (Run For Something).
“Local office matters more than federal office. Local office makes a greater impact on day-to-day life than nearly anything Congress ever does”. In fact, “states are considered the country’s laboratories for democracy.
Healthcare is a great example: The Massachusetts legislature passed ‘Romneycare’ in 2006 based on the premise that all citizens of Massachusetts had a right to affordable insurance. Ultimately 97 percent of Massachusetts residents had health coverage because of the law. President Obama acknowledged that Romneycare was part of the model for how he wanted to structure Obamacare. The Obama administration knew it would work because the experiment had worked in Massachusetts” (Run For Something).
Start local is the point! From council member, to mayor, city council, sheriff, the school board, comptroller or even as high as seeking the office of governor (the highest elected official in a state), there is room to run.
(Source: Don't Just March, Run For Something)
Things You Don’t Need To Run For Office
1) You Don’t Have To Go To Law School
“We need more teachers, scientists, technologists, social workers, nurses, doctors, stay-at-home parents, veterans, janitors, professors, students, entrepreneurs, writers, artists - your experience and your perspective will make you better at governing: You come at this with fresh eyes and a unique viewpoint” (Run For Something).
2) You Don’t Need To Be Flawless (Online or Offline)
Let’s talk the Overton Window. The Overton Window is an idea based in public policy that explains, “the range of ideas that are tolerated in public discourse. The window includes a range of policies considered politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being considered too extreme to gain or keep public office” (Wikipedia).
Litman in Don't Just March, Run For Something puts it so well: “Trump’s victory pushed the limits of what we deem to be appropriate behavior for a political candidate. [Furthermore], the kinds of mistakes most people make are quickly becoming normalized for our elected officials. As we begin to flood the zone with scores of people who’ve grown up on the internet and have lived in public for much of their lives, it stops being interesting when someone has a silly tweet or Instagram post, because everyone has one of those. The public has shown the outer limits of what they’re willing to tolerate from a public official. Your flaws make you real and genuine - you are the kind of person many politicians have to be coached into being. Lean into it” (Run For Something).
3) You Don’t Have to Have Tons of Money
“You know who is most likely to vote for you? Someone who has given you money and is financially invested in your success. Don’t think you have to fund your race yourself. Fundraising is hard and often exhausting, but it is how you get people invested in your race. You’re asking someone to invest in their values. You are giving people a way to actually do something with their beliefs” (Run For Something).
4) You Don’t Need to Know Everything There is to Know About Policy
One word: advisors. Build a smart team around you! “You don’t have to be an expert in everything. You can learn the ins and outs of policy on the job. You can get help from people who lovingly geek out over the tax code and who will patiently walk you through every line of a new zoning ordinance. You do have to be passionate about what drives you and be willing to listen and learn” (Run For Something).
5) You Don’t Need to Know Everything About Everything
Don’t lie. “When you don’t have an answer to someone’s question, say so! Be honest and tell people, ‘thank you for bringing that up - I don’t know enough yet. Where do you stand?” (Run For Something).
My general rule in life is to stay curious. I make it an effort to read diverse material and encounter people from many different backgrounds. In effect, I try to know a little bit about a lot.
Things You Need To Run For Office
1) An Understanding of Community
“Resumes don’t matter, but deep roots do. Your most important currency in politics is your relationship with others” (Run For Something).
I don’t care if you understand community because you went to Burning Man and you helped build a camp or that you help organize your company’s soccer team on the weekends - no matter how little, all of these experiences are transferable when it comes to garnering yourself momentum to run for seat. “You’re going to build a network of people who care about what happens next. Running for office needs to be about what you believe you can do to fix your community” (Run For Something).
2) You Need To Want To Solve a Specific Problem
“Don’t run because you want to be something. Run because you want to do something. Run because there’s a problem you want to solve and an office that lets you solve it” (Run For Something).
3) At Least You Will Have Tried
I’ll leave you with this, also from Litman’s book, but a quote from Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat”.