The Power of Stunting
It's so hard to get any attention in this distracted, short-attention-span culture we have, that unconventional means must be applied to conventional ends. So this is the kind of thing we'll need to see more often. I got this email from the Charlie Brown for Congress campaign:
Fifty two days after first agreeing to meet retired Air Force Officer Charlie Brown in a public forum, John Doolittle has refused to commit to a schedule of debates
On recess since July 31st, Doolittle has ignored no fewer than 7 invitations from local media outlets, community organizations, a local high school government class, and a second letter from Brown proposing a series of joint town hall meetings to discuss issues like national security, gas prices, corruption, and the soaring federal debt.
“John Doolittle doesn’t want to talk about the real issues that voters care about,” Brown said.
Earlier today, dozens of local voters turned out to Doolittle’s Granite Bay Campaign office to protest the Congressman’s well documented ethical problems, and failure to debate Brown. Playing on Doolittle’s insistence that local voters “hire a lobbyist” to get his attention, a chicken called “Jack Abracluck” was on hand to pose as a lobbyist for 4th CD Voters, advocating for debate dates and poking fun at Doolittle’s close ties to disgraced Congressional briber Jack Abramoff.
I almost wish it wasn't this way. Issues should be enough to capture people's attention. Who our Congressman is absolutely has an impact on people's lives. But we're in an age where politics is almost completely invisible to most people. The media is far more concerned with JonBenet's murder than the 4th Congressional District of California, even IN the 4th Congressional District of California.
This necessitates implementing things like Jack Abracluck. And it's nothing new. The first political stunt happened during the campaign of 1840:
Consider, for example, the first "modern" political campaign -- the Whig campaign for William Henry Harrison in 1840. Apart from some success as an Indian killer, Harrison had minimal credentials, but the Whigs figured out how to use the tremendous organizational apparatus of their party to promote him. They fabricated the image of Harrison as the "log cabin and hard cider" candidate, despite his more patrician roots, and used the party organization to enforce discipline around the fabrication -- to get everyone to say the same thing at the same time. In America's first political mass media stunt, they constructed a 10-foot-high ball of twine, wood and tin, covered it with Whig political slogans, and rolled it first from Cleveland to Columbus and then from town to town across the country (hence the expression "Keep the ball rolling").
Political stunts are part of the long history of America. But never before have they been so necessary. The rise of alternative media channels like YouTube and the like can make stunts like these very powerful, and can disseminate them to a wider audience. This is key for underdog candidates and campaigns. Channel 89 is an online channel devoted to Proposition 89 in California, which would provide public financing for all state candidates. Watch the Batman video, where the Caped Crusader tries to interview big lobbysists going into a fundraising event. This is not the entire future, but it's a small part of it.
Every Democratic campaign out there would do well to have their version of a "Kiss float". Political stunts are an important tool, all of a sudden, and we have a lot of creative people on our side. We need to take advantage of this creativity.