Dear Obama, Reid and Pelosi,
I’ve been thinking about writing y’all for a couple of months now. Because I thought the Democrats won the Presidency and control of Congress last November. But since then, I’ve not seen much evidence of that. All that talk in November hasn’t been followed by much walk.
And seeing as how the health care bill squeaked by the House by just a few votes, it seems to me there’s a lack of leadership. Or is it cajones? After all, with a single exception, those Republicans voted in lock step. But 39 Democrats voted with them, and one of those “dogs” was the representative from my district. WTF was that all about?
As an anarchist, I really don’t care what the heck happens. But seeing y’all flop around like a fish out of water, instead of acting like the Great White sharks you should be, does offend my sense of…propriety. Y’all shouldn’t be acting like beggars. Or wussies.
Now I know what y’all are thinking: what the heck does an aging anarchist think he has to pass along to the big fish like you? A fair question. While it is true I’ve never been in the big ocean of national politics, that doesn’t mean I’m completely bereft of any leadership experience.
Admittedly, I was in a very small pond – a college campus of 1,000. But in that pond I was a Great White and devoured anyone in my way.
It’s been said that war is the extension of politics by other means. A corollary to that is that politics is a form of war. And in war, there is no substitute for victory….by any means necessary. Capice?
I’ll relate just two “war stories” from my college days. They illustrate the mindset you need to achieve a “take no prisoners” victory. Because if you don’t kick some ass soon, the rank and file troops will be demoralized and go home. And the bad guys will win the next election. Which they’d deserve to. It is not about how you play the game; losers say that. Winning is everything; otherwise, why even be in the game?
So read on and take notes….
In the Spring of ’72, my college roommate and about two dozen other black students walked into the Student Union, ordered everyone out and then locked themselves in. When I heard about it, I was elated – a gen-you-wine radical action! Yee-ha!
Ostensibly, the occupation was because they wanted a Student Union employee who repeatedly made racist remarks to be transferred to a job where he’d not have contact with students. Despite repeated complaints, nothing had been done. Time for some direct action. And by the way, increasing the number of black students, increasing financial aid for them, hiring some black faculty, and setting up a black studies program sure would be nice. What do you say?
Now you’d think that a campus overflowing with Volvo liberals in the faculty and administration would have said: “You’re absolutely right! How can a progressive campus not have these things? We’re on it!”
But noooooo…. Seems even Volvo liberals can get a bit territorial. I guess it’s one thing to be charitable to make partial amends for a good two hundred years of racism, but if the beneficiaries are ungrateful and start getting uppity….
So the administration’s response was the same knee-jerk one we saw at other campuses: “We’ll be happy to discuss these issues but not while you occupy the Student Union.” Our heroes were given 24 hours to leave the building or the police would be called to evict them for trespassing, after which they’d all be expelled. Even I was surprised; but surprise quickly turned to anger, which is a powerful motivator.
The administration’s ultimatum was a typical reaction by those who believe they have the upper hand. Might makes right. The question is: how do you determine who has the greater power? Proper perspective is critical. Otherwise, your ass is the one whupped, not the other guy’s. And you certainly don’t want that embarrassment.
The administration completely misjudged who had the power that could be used, and that error provided a strategic opening which I exploited. Tactically, they had all the advantages. But they failed to think strategically.
I recognized that bringing in the police was a scare tactic, a bluff they could not follow through on. Also, they had set a deadline; that deadline, designed to pressure our heroes, could be used to reverse the pressure. So, I set about employing my own scare tactic and using that deadline as pressure against them.
I advised my roommate to wait a few hours and then advise the administration that during those hours I had rounded up 40 sympathizers prepared to defend their fellow students. (I think it was actually only about a dozen, but that‘s the “fog of war.”) If the police arrived, they would have to fight their way through us before they entered the Student Union.
There’d only be a few of us outside at any one time, in shifts throughout the night. If the police arrived, spotters would see them and we’d get the rest there quickly….after calling the TV and news media to come film and photograph a bloody campus riot. But of course that wasn’t the real message.
The real message: yes, we’d certainly lose that battle and all be expelled. But the college would lose how many millions in donations from the statewide publicity? We all knew the college was on shaky financial ground. I was offering a potential death sentence for the college. Did they want to take me up on that?
Now even though I was just a sophomore, the college administration was aware of me. At the end of my freshman year, I had organized opposition to an announcement that the college’s name would be changed the next year. And I looked pretty dangerous because of my “big hair.” (But the women loved it!)
Since the administration’s interaction with me had been limited, they could not be sure of what I was willing to do. I cultivated an image that suggested SDS, not Quaker. At the start of my sophomore year, I had helped resurrect the campus newspaper and wrote a column in the editorial section called “Gadfly.” My writing style was intentionally inflammatory but those were the days of “burn, baby, burn” and I was popular.
In a situation with many unknowns, “rational” persons often act conservatively. That’s what I was counting on the administration to do; after all, all these folks had Ph.D.s and so were very rational. I was only 20 and very impassioned, so they could not assume I’d act rationally. I was, in fact, engaging in cold calculation while appearing, for tactical effect, to be irrational and unpredictable.
So I wasn’t too surprised when my roommate and the other black students walked out of the Student Union the next day just before the deadline expired. The administration could not roll the dice on a “riot”; they had folded and agreed to every one of the…”requests.” (I thought they’d split the difference, so complete victory was a surprise.) As a face-saving gesture for the administration, it was agreed that they, not the students, would announce the “new initiatives” and there’d be a week’s delay so it would not be too blatant that the administration had caved. No disciplinary action was taken against any student. It was as if the incident never happened.
A few weeks later, with my role in the incident known campus wide, I won a landslide victory to a Student Government executive officer position. As did my roommate. And also my next year’s roommate. The three of us now held half of the executive officer positions on the powerful Executive Committee. Our allies had run as dormitory representatives and I appeared in their dorms to endorse them. Almost all of them won.
The radicals now had a majority in the Student Government. And I was their leader. I did not feign to be a statesman, but instead took the role of Robespierre: there would be (political) blood! (A friend of mine had the role of “good cop.”)
There was one small problem. It appeared the new SG members would not take office until next school year. I was already a dormitory representative, so I was already in the SG as that. Also, my next year’s roommate was the sitting Chairman of the SG. He had been appointed to fill that vacancy earlier in the Spring and had now been elected to the position for next year. (He had been appointed to neutralize his vote since the Chairman doesn’t vote except to break ties; but I was elected as his replacement, probably thanks to my “Gadfly” notoriety.)
If you’re going to be in the game, you need to know the rules. I was very familiar with Robert’s Rules of Order. I now decided to closely read the SG Constitution to see how I might use it to my advantage.
And guess what? I found nothing there about when newly elected officers are seated. I just assumed it was there. Then, I checked the by-laws; they were also silent. Ka-ching! Knowledge is power….
I met with the Chairman to plan a procedural coup. When the election results were brought to the SG the week after the election for perfunctory ratification, the Chairman made sure it was the first agenda item. All of my allies who had been elected were at the meeting. That raised no suspicion; the others assumed they just wanted to see the ratification and observe how SG worked.
There was a unanimous vote to ratify the results. I immediately rose on a point of order: “Mr. Chairman, since the election results have been ratified, the new officers and representatives are entitled to be seated immediately.” Defeated representatives who did not share my agenda looked at me with incredulity. One rose and matter-of-factly advised me that the new SG is not seated until the next school year. The trap was closing….
Prepared, I walked over to him with the Constitution and by-laws and asked him to read to us from either document where it said what he had just told me. After reviewing both documents, he conceded they were silent on that point. He then said that seating the new SG in the next school year was the tradition.
I enjoy theater, so I decided to savor the moment since I was “on stage.” I slowly walked away from him to the center of the room, turned to face everyone, and said in a measured, firm tone: “the election was about trashing traditions that hold back progress; it was about creating new traditions to further the mandate the students gave the new SG, and this is the first tradition we’re changing because lame ducks have no right to one more second of power. You lost, we won.” My allies cheered.
I turned to the Chairman and asked for a ruling. He played along and “considered it” for about a minute, stroking his goatee for effect, and then ruled: the new SG would be seated immediately. There was some pandemonium but after it quieted down one of the conservatives jumped up and appealed the Chairman’s ruling. This meant the SG would vote to uphold or reverse his ruling.
Of course, I expected the appeal and was prepared. I rose on a point of order: “Mr. Chairman, as we all know, until the SG votes to reverse the ruling, it stands. Since there has been no vote to reverse it, the ruling is still in effect. That means the new SG will vote on the ruling, not the old SG.” Dead silence as what I said sank in. I waited about 10 seconds for effect and then asked: “Is there any point in proceeding with a vote on the appeal?”
After a few seconds, one or two of the defeated SG members got up and left the room. They were followed by all the other defeated members. The new members took their seats. We were now in control. And for the next two years, I was the Great White in that sea. Resistance was futile.
At the end of my junior year, I faced a dilemma: SG President or Editor of the newspaper? Both were elective offices, so I had to choose one. I decided I’d be more effective controlling the newspaper because it was widely read but few students attended SG meetings. And, I could “advise” the SG from the Editor’s office. One of my friends ran for SG and everyone knew that a vote for him was a vote for me. (By that time, I was also Editor of the Editorials section and principal editorial writer. Guess who the student newspaper endorsed?)
No one would challenge me for the Editor’s position but I did not want anyone saying I held the office by default. I “requested” the SG to allow a “yes” or “no” vote so I would have legitimacy. And of course they indulged me. The election results surprised even me: I received more “yes” votes than the total number of votes cast in the Presidential election for those two candidates.
So now I was unofficially the SG President too. You can imagine my senior year: I was the singular, ruling philosopher-king. Nothing happened unless I approved it. The power of one….
So here’s my advice to y‘all:
1. Ms. Pelosi needs to sit down with the 39 “dogs” who abandoned her and advise them that if they ever do that again, then they can expect, and will receive, no favors from her. Their bills will be buried. Their projects will not be funded. No favors granted. Nothing. You are with the Speaker or you are not, and if you are not…. I can’t believe this discussion didn’t take place before the vote. If it did, then those 39 “dogs” need to be euthanized, politically speaking.
2. Mr. Reid needs to sit the Senate Republican leaders down and remind them that when they were in control a few years back, and felt the Democrats were being “obstructionist” on judicial confirmations, they threatened a rules change (which only needs a majority vote) to disallow a filibuster if the Democrats did not allow a straight “up or down” vote. Since the Republicans unsheathed that sword, Mr. Reid should tell the Republicans that he will use it to decapitate them if they suddenly take a liking to a filibuster on any bill. All bills shall have a straight “up or down” vote. The filibuster is not in the Constitution and is little more than an anachronistic, anti-democratic example of self-indulgence by narcissistic Senators that belongs in the dustbin of history. (That last sentence is an example of my speaking style back then.)
3. Thankfully, Mr. President, you appear to have junked that “bi-partisanship” talk and should never speak of it again. The Republicans are not bi-partisan; nor has that been the tradition for most of this country’s history. The Democrats won the election at all three levels, and to the victor go the spoils. As President, you also have a lot of favors you can dispense. None of them should go to any Republican unless there is a favor in return.
4. Mr. President, I know you are intelligent. Keep it in the Oval Office, OK? The people do not respond to analysis. Take a cue from the Republicans. They seek to invoke fear and all sorts of negative emotions. What’s good for the Republican goose is good for the Democratic gander. Speak on an emotional level, but on a positive one. Just like during the campaign.
I was (and still am) an excellent public speaker. My technique then was about 1/3 facts and 2/3 emotions. I got the desired results. And given the economy, I’d say emotions are pretty high. Take advantage of that.
Time to play political ball…hardball!. Yes, you can! You have just one goal: victory…by any means necessary.