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Chapter Eleven: Campaigning at a Distance

 

Stuck in Minneapolis, I tried to run a national campaign at a distance, clinging stubbornly to my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to run for President. I produced a torrent of issues statements that I hoped the media would work into their coverage of the campaign. By regular mail, fax, and, especially, email, I sent these messages to people on the various lists. The best way to narrate this part of the campaign is to take it chronologically. The first two months of the campaign were spent promoting the book, creating the web site, and preparing for the August 16th event in Des Moines. I also did a bulk mailing with an announcement of my candidacy, a four-color book brochure, and two issues statements to political reporters on the Bradley list.

After the Des Moines event, I refocused on employment issues which I felt were my strong suit. In checking the other candidates’ web sites, I concluded that none squarely addressed the causes of our “jobless recovery”, especially the fact that high-paying U.S. jobs were being sent abroad. I wrote two opinion articles for newspapers. The first, titled “A Challenge to my Opponents”, stated that jobs were the main issue in this campaign and that, while most of the other candidates had no idea what was happening, I did. This went out to several large newspapers on August 21st. Then, on August 25th, I sent out a second opinion article titled “Let’s Cut to the Chase on Jobs”. Here were my proposed remedies for employment problems: shorter working hours and trade protection through tariffs.

The campaign proper started in early September when I faxed press releases to perhaps a hundred reporters urging that we pull out of Iraq and hand over the problem to the United Nations. One such message was in the form of an open letter to President Bush. Then, a week later, I attacked one of the Democrats’ core constituencies in a faxed press release which claimed that the labor unions had “lost their way” in focusing on qualifying for overtime pay instead of trying to reduce work hours. While this did not quite put me in the Bush camp, I was at odds with most Democrats.

Between September 17th and 19th, I spent much time faxing announcements of my candidacy to talk-radio stations around the country. The announcement covered both personal background and campaign issues. The slow pace of faxing messages convinced me that there had to be a better way to communicate. Then, on September 21st, I sent several hundred emails to book reviewers at daily newspapers offering free review copies of my book in case they had not yet received one. I also sent faxes to ninety real-estate organizations pointing out that a Minneapolis landlord was running for President.

On September 22nd, the basic announcement of my candidacy went by email to 600 political reporters on the Bradley list. On the following three days, I sent 1,000 reporters on the same list an email titled “Straight Talk on Jobs”. This rehashed arguments in my two opinion pieces. I again stressed the fact that highly paid U.S. workers could not compete in a free-trade environment. Protective tariffs and shorter work hours were the answer.

On September 30th, I sent email messages to both daily and community newspapers in key primary states - New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Louisiana - giving interesting facts about myself as a candidate. A day later, I emailed a short, humorous message titled “Clairvoyant President?”, referring to the fact that the Google search engine sent persons to the web site for my world-history book who typed in the words “predict the future.” If media people did not like serious position statements, they might go for something like this.

Between October 5th and 7th, it was back to statements on the Iraq war and jobs. Here I used a list of newspaper editorial writers from the Bradley data base, arranged in inverse order of circulation. There was a change of pace on October 8th when I wrote an opinion article interpreting Arnold Schwarzenegger’s election in light of world-history trends. I also sent faxes giving my views on trade and jobs to several hundred editorial writers at medium-circulation newspapers, asking that my statement be considered as an opinion article.

A group of short-hours activists, led by Seattle documentary producer John De Graaf, had been working for more than a year on an event called “Take Back Your Time Day.” This day, October 24th, was picked because “the date falls nine weeks before the end of the year, making the point that we Americans now work nine weeks more each year than Western Europeans do.”
During the period leading up to that event, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman published an article debunking the argument that reduced work time created jobs on the grounds that it reflected a “lump-of-labor fallacy” identified by economist Paul Samuelson and others. I responded with an opinion article pointing out that this “fallacy”, whose argument was based on an early 20th Century public-relations handout opposing the 8-hour day, was itself fallacious and untrue.

I titled this piece “Wizard-of-Oz Economics.” The idea was that the news media projected the magnified image of Wizard-like authority figures such as Samuelson, a Nobel Prize winner, to convince the public that certain views had to be true. No, I said, economic proposals had to be considered on their own merits. I was prepared to make an economic argument for the shorter-workweek proposal, whatever Samuelson’s opinion.

I followed this up with another article, emailed on October 22nd and 23rd, which went into the economics of reduced work time. Titled “Circling Back to the ‘30s”, it made arguments based upon the productivity equation (which relates output, productivity, employment, and average work hours). Beyond this, I suggested that U.S. economic policy makers in the 1930s had taken a detour into monetary and fiscal theory and neglected basic labor economics. Contemporary events might force a reversal of that policy.

Next, between October 28th and 31th, I switched back to racial issues with a fax titled “Straight Talk on Race” which was sent to syndicated columnists and opinion-page editors at the larger newspapers. This statement argued that both political parties were exploiting the race issue, albeit in different ways. Racial prejudice, being a matter of personal attitudes, was beyond the scope of effective government action. I also argued that race was being used by the nation’s economic elite to beat down poor white people and eventually this would hurt working people of all races.

This was about the time that the above-mentioned computer professional taught me how to send email messages more efficiently. Prior to this time, my campaign messages were sent sporadically by email, letter, or fax. Now faxes and letters were out. So were time-consuming postings of email messages to particular lists. Now I could send emails quickly to news people on all the lists in a short time.

MSNBC and the Democratic National Committee planned to sponsor a debate among the Democratic presidential candidates in Des Moines, Iowa, on Monday, November 24th. Since Des Moines was within my traveling range,I thought I might attend. This prompted an email message sent on November 17th and 18th, which was titled: “10th candidate for President at Des Moines debate.” The message tried to put a positive spin on the fact that I was a political outsider ( who would be standing outside the convention center) by pointing out some of the interesting, unconventional things that I had done in my life.

Next, I read a column by the Boston Globe reporter Jeff Jacoby chiding the media for criticizing Howard Dean’s remark about “white guys with confederate flags on the pickup trucks” while they gave a pass to that race-monger Al Sharpton. My position was that both Dean and Sharpton should be allowed to speak their minds freely. “Let Al Sharpton (and Howard Dean) speak,” was the subject title of that email message sent on November 12th. The voters, not political pundits, should be the ones to evaluate politicians’ racial positions.

As the 40th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination approached, I watched the History Channel series on “The Men Who Killed Kennedy”. I had met the author of a book about the Kennedy assassination at the taping of Jesse Ventura’s America a month earlier. On November 19th and 20th, I sent an email, “journalist, pursue Kennedy assassination story,” to the media lists suggesting that the U.S. news media had gone totally limp on the story. (This may not have won any new friends.)

The presidential debate took place in Des Moines on November 24th. Along with John Kerry’s campaign staff and supporters, I watched the television broadcast in a sports bar near the convention center. What struck me most was Wesley Clark’s response to Tom Brokaw’s statement that, by 2010, India would have more computer-software professionals than the United States. He had said: “ Let them do the software in India. We’ll do other things in this country.” I was appalled by Clark’s cavalier assumption that America could continue to lose jobs to other countries trusting that better “high tech” jobs would take their place. I titled my protest, dispatched on November 25th and 26th, “Wesley Clark’s Gaffe in Monday’s Presidential Debate.”

On November 27th, Thanksgiving Day, I watched the television news reports of George W. Bush serving turkey dinners to our soldiers in Baghdad. OK, I thought, the President finally did something right. Caught up in the emotion as well as wanting to show I was not a Bush hater, I sent an email, “President Bush hits a home run”, later that day.

After Thanksgiving dinner, it was back to jobs. Jobs were, in my estimation, the most important campaign issue but the nine candidates had yet to discuss it in any meaningful way. On December 3rd, I sent an email to the political list posing this question: “When are we going to discuss job strategy?” The question was asked in the context of news reports that the economy was showing a strong recovery yet the federal budget appeared to be out of control. To pull us through the ballooning debt, we would need a foundation of many taxable, high-paying jobs. Instead, these jobs were going overseas. Let’s talk about this, I suggested.

The next email, “why there’s a ‘jobless recovery’ and what to do about it”, was the most comprehensive statement of my position on the employment issue. In light of rapid advances in labor productivity and historically high levels of overtime, reduced work hours were one of the prongs in my two-pronged jobs proposal. The other was a new system of tariffs, tailored to the individual business firm, which would offset the cost advantage of outsourcing to low-wage countries. A major concern was the debt problem, both federal debt and mounting consumer debt, now caused primarily by borrowing against the increased equity in homes. If housing prices ever came down, it might cause problems in both the housing and credit markets. That’s why job growth was so important. This message went out on December 9th.

On December 10th, following Al Gore’s endorsement of Howard Dean, I sent another email message titled “a bone to pick with Howard Dean.” “Actually, I like Howard Dean,” my statement began; then it took Dean to task for his muddle-headed belief that including workers rights in trade agreements would solve the outsourcing problem. “The sad fact is,” I wrote, “it is no violation of any international recognized labor standard for wages in India, Sri Lanka, or China to be so much lower than in the United States.” Stop moralizing about these “evil people” stealing our jobs and simply slap tariffs on products imported from low-wage countries. Wages are low in India or China because the process of industrialization is less advanced. No one needs to be blamed.

Even so, the Democratic presidential candidates continued to view our country’s trade deficit as a result of “unfair trade practices” by our trading partners, especially the Chinese. Many believed that the Chinese were competing unfairly through “currency manipulation”. After disclosing the fact that I was married to a Chinese woman, I blasted politicians’ tendency to blame the Chinese government for preferring its own peoples’ interest to ours. It was American business executives, not the Chinese government, who decided to close down U.S. factories and open up ones in China to take advantage of cheap labor.

But “the real culprits,” I wrote, “ are the U.S. government officials who have a responsibility to protect the interests of the American people but who are actually loyal to their campaign contributors.” I also blamed “the academic hired guns, the think-tank people and talking heads, and the journalists who played up their side of the story while ridiculing or minimizing the other side. You bums! Watch your own country go down as a result.” This outburst was delivered on December 15th and 16th.
One journalist, though, did get the picture. That was Lou Dobbs, host of an evening news report on CNN. Dobbs had made a point of highlighting what he called “the exporting of America” and of naming U.S. companies which outsource production.

On December 20th, I sent an email titled “Lou Dobbs for President (or Vice President)” in which I pledged to end my own presidential campaign and support Dobbs if he became a candidate. Lou Dobbs, I said, would make an ideal candidate for the Democrats, because he could bring along many middle-class Americans, worried about job loss, to vote for the ticket.

Again hitting upon jobs, I analyzed the Democratic presidential candidates’ proposals in the areas of employment, trade, and worker protection, comparing their approaches to mine. That email, titled “Some of the Democratic Presidential Candidates’ Proposals in the area of Employment and Trade,” was sent on December 22nd. While the other candidates spoke of tax incentives to stay in the country, job-retraining programs, health-care reform, increased research spending, and extended unemployment benefits, my proposals were targeted to the particular causes of employment loss.

Finally, on December 29th, I sent what was intended to be my last email to the list of political reporters. I picked what I thought was a cute title: “campaign sitting at a red light (our last email to you)”. “Sitting at a red light” was a phrase appearing in a song of Jonny Lang which was frequently played on radio stations during this period. The idea here was that my campaign for President had been “sitting at a red light” - i.e., was stalled in traffic - for a long time now while I was confined to Minneapolis because of the duplex project. But now the light was about to change. Within a week, I would be off and running - first to South Carolina and then to Louisiana - to campaign in the presidential primaries. Adios, amigos in the press.

Whether my months-long barrage of journalists by email was useful for them is unclear. With each email, two or three persons asked to be taken off the list. A columnist in Missouri did contact me by email about my campaign but we never managed to reach each other by phone. Otherwise, there was a vast, deep silence. It was obvious that mine would not be a winning campaign so long as it consisted of issuing position statements from a distance.

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