The Myth of Karl versus 'Home Team'
by Matt Stoller, Fri Oct 27, 2006 at 12:03:41 PM EDT
I'm in awe of the GOP GOTV machine. It's amazing. The Republicans have a tightly knit and centralized organization. When Karl Rove speaks, GOPers jump. The RNC, from their lair in the Virginia suburbs, control every action of every volunteer, in fact every word that comes out of every Republicans' mouth. This machine is beautiful, it is magnificent, it sweats perfume and gold. One of my friends had a fight with his wife, and the GOP GOTV machine came by with some pie and good advice. But it's not just nice. Don't make the GOP GOTV machine angry or Karl Rove will use his mutant powers to morph into a 1000 foot tall SwiftBoatzilla, and he'll have all the Democratic voters paralyzed on election day by using his control of the Matrix.
As for us? Well, there's no way to say this nicely. Bob Shrum has every Democrat under his spell of incompetence, controlling every single word that any of us utter. You may think your comments are your own, but they are not. You are writing them because Shrum planted a chip in your brain and he wants you to write those words. It's worse than that, actually. Democrats shackle James Bond a little too loosely, and then leave the scene to cackle. We kill our volunteers. We constantly get wedgies from smarter, cooler, bigger kids. We never use deodorant. We just hired Saddam as our new spokesperson. We are the kid that never gets away with it. We've never kissed a girl. We get creepy entreaties for threesomes at Match.com and JDate. Sucks to be us, doesn't it?
Does that help clarify the differences between the two party infrastructures? I hope so.
Which brings me to my pet peeve, the myth of Karl Rove. He's a smart guy. He's good at what he does. But he's not an immortal, he makes a lot of mistakes, and he was beaten in Texas by Democrats for years. More than that, he is just an individual, and not particularly important except as a symbol of what can exist when you have an efficient political culture grafted onto a set of partisan church networks, topped off with a sociopathic ideology. Let's be honest about their strengths, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking we are losers and they are deities.
Speaking abstractly, the right has a top-down centralized infrastructure that's more mature than ours. We have a legacy of political disagreements that translate into less efficient yet equally centralized infrastructure. They have little capacity for locally based decision-making, we have a great capacity for local organizing when we decided to use it. They own the media. We are building our own media. They are more experienced and have more savvy about how to manipulate the political system. We are smarter, younger, newer to politics, and we have the passion and energy of a new movement instead of the vicious cynicism of a dying movement.
In other words, they are just not that good, and we are just not that bad. And we are getting better at a far faster rate than they are. In fact, there's good reason to think that in lots of pockets all over the country, there's some incredibly innovative work going on with progressive organizing and campaigning. First of all, let's take the internet. We are so much better than they are it's not even funny. We have almost no investment relative to them, and yet, we have Actblue. Ben Rahn, a physicist from Caltech, is a progressive, and he's building our that site (along with MIT genius Matt Debergalis). We have Dailykos. We have Moveon. We have ColorofChange. What do they have? GOPUSA? Um, that kind of sucks. Church email lists? Yeah, those are valuable, but that's not new infrastructure for them. They are squeezing water from a rock. We are beating them badly on the internet organizing front. Badly. And they know it. We have a lot more talent and it's our medium.
There's also a lot more talent on our side, it's just less establishment, badly paid, and not reliant on media to be effective. Jefferson Smith at the Oregon Bush project is the most charismatic and innovative organizer in Oregon, Justin Krebs is the force behind Drinking Liberally, Marc Laitin is an amazing young consultant, Judith Freeman is a microtargeting wizard, James Rucker is a political genius, Juan Melli a rising star in New Jersey, Gina Cooper a fabulous presence, Jerry Meek a North Carolina inspiration, Zack Exley a movement builder extraordinaire. And that's not to speak of someone like Chris Bowers, who is smarter, more aggressive, more honest, and more effective than Stuart Rothenberg. There are tons more of course, I'm just naming some of the people I think highly of.
More than that, we have the Beth Soto's of the world, the key people on the ground who have their blogs and just make it all work.
But that's not all. On the 72 hour program front, have we forgotten that the RNC learned it from labor?!? I mean come on. This came from us. We can do it better, and in some places, we are doing it better. Take the New York 19th district, where John Hall is running hard against Sue Kelly in New York State. Tate Hausman is the architect of Hall's impressive field campaign called 'Home Team'. They have a thousand plus volunteers from all over the country that use a web-based popvox call system to phone bank. I've used one of these in Connecticut, and they change the phone-banking experience dramatically. Traditionally, phone-banking consists of dialing a number, asking questions, and filling out paper to record the answers, which then must be rekeyed later with more volunteer work (and errors). The popvox system works with your phone. You open the browser, and the program asks you for your phone number. About ten seconds later, the system calls you and places you on hold. A name, a script and a phone number appears on the browser, with several buttons that you can press. Once you press the call button on your browser, the system automatically dials the person's number on the screen, and you have the script laid out for you. If you get an answering machine, you can click a button and the system will automatically leave a pre-recorded message. When you're done talking, you classify them according to the script responses, click 'end' and a new script and person's name comes up on the screen.
Pow. Nice. Neat. Easy. It increased my phone banking effiiciency by at least 50%, and phone-banking was more fun now that I didn't have to dial numbers and read scripts into answering machines. And it helps the campaign because they don't have to rekey information and can tailor phone-banking with a few administrative clicks instead of having to cut and recut lists. It's great.
The John Hall campaign in the 19th district is using this system, and training volunteers from all over the country. They are making thousands of contacts a night with aggressive and talented volunteers, and putting that data back into the system. Each volunteer can keep track of their progress and their goals, and the campaign can identify and reward the best volunteers. Their opponent, Sue Kelly? Not so much. She's being pissy and running nasty ads that will have no resonance after the election, assuming that her contractor/developer husband will shield her from her votes for the war and votes against veterans benefits.
I know it's sexy to say 'microtargeting Karl Rove boogeyman BOO' and we'll get all 'Diebold is scary'. And there's a lot of work to do. But Karl Rove doesn't control the world. Each of us, with our individuals actions and behavior, have our own part to play. We can convince America to be better than its worst instincts. As Wesley Clark says, we can do it, because we are doing it. So volunteer for the terrific John Hall in New York's 19th. You can do it from anywhere.