National Commentary

How to Win Elections for Free

nfbentonpicWhew! Another election is behind us, and for about one day, the email inbox on my computer was relatively calm.

But then it starts right back up again. Alarmist headlines and personal chastisements aimed at me for my scant contributions to the latest campaign. Yes, me, even though they don’t even spell my name right.

If they take the liberty to call me “dear,” they should take the trouble to get my name right. Also, for those who do, stop calling me “Dear Benton!”

And if they want to “reach out to me” (oh, my God, that phrase is getting so annoying! Reaching out? Better not touch me, or I will call the cops!). It’s no longer, “I wanted to call you” it’s “I wanted to reach out to you!” No thanks.

It’s become so pervasive a phrase in all walks of life that people are seriously not even aware they’re saying it anymore.

But I comment in this way not just to complain. There is a serious problem here that requires something that this growing blizzard of graspy political campaign emails is missing entirely, and it can start with the word “creativity.”

Consider the mammoth contrast: A Tea Party candidate in Virginia raises a pittance, but it’s more than enough to easily topple one of the most powerful congressmen in Washington. Compare that to the latest news of the Koch brothers and their plans to outdo themselves in spending on the mid-term elections. Hundreds of millions.

Is there a disconnect here? Does anybody get it? Having lunch with a member of the state legislature this week, a perfectly nice and talented person, there was no way in his mind to disassociate votes from money. Everything came down to the idea of raising more money than your opponent, and I’m sure this well-meaning person didn’t even see the significance of what he was saying.

(It’s not elections that matter in campaigns anymore, it’s filing dates for submitting fundraising reports. If you’ve given any money to any candidates recently I’m sure you’re getting all the emails, too.Six hours to the deadline!!!! Two hours to the deadline!!!! Come on, Benton, you freeloader, just click here and at least give $5!!!!)

But there is such an opportunity being missed by all this, by all this one-dimensional Internet thuggery being led by cadres of former football players now calling themselves campaign strategists. They lack any of the charms to be viable candidates, themselves, but they know how to go for “three yards and a cloud of dust.”

These are the hordes of the uncreative who are driving constituents crazy by refusing to let up on an approach they think, by their arithmetic, works.

Trust me, everyone I talk to about this is just as pissed as I am. It doesn’t matter, even, who the candidate is. This is a huge, huge turnoff.

But tragically it is an even bigger error from the perspective of what the Internet, this free line of communication, should represent for campaigns. You shouldn’t use something that is free to simply pitch for money to spend on things that cost. It is an approach that might have worked six years ago, but is now stuck in neutral.

Here’s the paradigm shift we need to focus on: We can now win elections for no money!

What does that do to the mighty Koch brothers and Citizens United? Why not devise campaigns that say, rather than “we have to raise more money than those guys,” says, “We don’t need a dime! Here’s what we do need! It’s you! It’s your mind, not your dollar!”

Thoughtful, creative, funny, polemical use of the Internet can completely supplant the almighty dollar if it is done right.

The combination of that and picking up a telephone or knocking on a door that is what the Koch brothers can’t, and don’t know how to, stop.
Otherwise, impersonal Internet intimidation is already, I believe, driving voters away. The operative word in that is “impersonal.”

If the personal gets lost in politics, then it doesn’t really matter what ever else may follow.