The Dogcatcher Strategy

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“President,
n. The leading figure in a small group of men of whom — and
of whom only — it is positively known that immense numbers
of their countrymen did not want any of them for President.” —
Ambrose Bierce, The
Devil’s Dictionary
(1911).

No
matter who is declared the winner in this year’s unforgettable fiasco,
he will be deeply resented by half the American electorate, whose
political representatives will vow revenge in the mid-term Congressional
elections and then in 2004. Having said almost nothing of substance
during a year of campaigning, so as not to ruffle anyone’s feathers,
the winner will find that he has ruffled more feathers than any
President in the last hundred years. Such is the irony of winning
the Presidency.

Three
modern Presidents have believed in politics above all else: Lyndon
Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton. The first two were eventually
consumed by the god they served so faithfully. Clinton, so far,
has not. But memories are short, and space in history textbooks
is scarce. He will be remembered in fifty years, if at all, for
only one thing: he was impeached. He will be remembered as the true
political successor of Johnson: Andrew,
not Lyndon.

Meanwhile,
disappointed voters in the third party (fourth party, fifth party)
fringes ask themselves: "Why don’t good guys ever win the Presidency?"
This question greatly bothers people who think it’s worth winning
the Presidency. But why is it worth winning?

It
is worth winning as a symbol of comprehensive political success,
which begins at the lowest offices in the land. It is worth winning
as the expression of a majority of voters’ decisions regarding the
moral legitimacy of, and limits to, the State. But voters think
of the Presidency in the same way that Adam thought of the forbidden
fruit: a bypass around successful moral decision-making, not the
culmination of a comprehensive, widely shared world view. The Presidency’s
frantic pursuers want to attain the knowledge of good and evil on
their own terms — a formal numerical victory that skips over
the substantive issues of comprehensive representation.

What
good is it to have "your man" win the Presidency if the
principles he stands for are out of favor with the electorate? Why
does anyone really believe that the Presidency is so important —
if it’s just the Presidency? Yes, it’s a bully pulpit. But if the
President is not backed up by Congress, and if Congress is not backed
up by state legislatures, and if state legislatures are not backed
up by county commissioners, then what’s the point of a bully pulpit?
Ask Andrew Johnson.

That
magnificent cynic, Ambrose Bierce, defined the Presidency as "the
greased pig in the field game of American politics." Well,
a lot of men have vainly pursued that pig around the field, taking
millions of voters and voters’ money with them in the vain chase.
And even among those who caught the squealer, what positive legacy
did they leave?

Back
in the waning years of Reagan’s Presidency, I spoke with Paul Weyrich,
who runs the Free Congress Foundation. He is a skilled technician
in the area of getting candidates elected. He lamented the fact
that he could get all the neophyte candidates he wanted if he offered
to fund their campaign for the U.S. Senate, but the lower the office,
the fewer the candidates.

Who
wants to run for dogcatcher? We hear the old phrase, "I wouldn’t
vote for him for dogcatcher." Why doesn’t this motivate people
to run for dogcatcher? If it’s the bottom of the electoral barrel,
why not use it as the first rung up the ladder? But no one thinks
to himself: "If the public won’t vote for that guy to be dogcatcher,
maybe I can win." People want to play in the World Series without
learning the game in the minors.

Ron
Paul won his Congressional race again. As usual, he didn’t surrender
to voter preference on any controversial issue. Leonard E. Read,
who bootstrapped modern libertarianism with his Foundation for Economic
Education, used to offer his highest praise by saying, "He
doesn’t leak." Ron Paul doesn’t leak. In 1984, he ran for the
U.S. Senate and lost to Phil Gramm. So, he is content to be a non-leaking
Congressman.

Why
do libertarians think they have to field a candidate for President
when they have not yet put anyone into the office of dogcatcher?
Why does anyone believe that he should send money to a political
party that has never won anything locally? I think it’s a way for
people to tell their friends, "I’m fed up." Fine; but
don’t take politics seriously. "I’m fed up" is not a campaign
platform or a way to effect political change. Don’t imagine that
it matters who wins a no-win party’s nomination. Don’t give any
post-election thought to the question, "How could we have won
2% of the vote instead of less than 1%" It doesn’t matter.
It really doesn’t.

What
matters is the red section of the country in the map
of the counties
: the heartland. These are the counties that
voted for George W. Bush. There are over 3,000 counties in the United
States. There are over 100,000 offices to get elected to, if you
count school boards. This is the playing field that matters, not
the Presidency.

But
conservative and libertarian voters want to feel that they have
done something important when they vote for "their man"
in The Big One. They still believe in the modern conception of the
Presidency. They have emotionally accepted the legitimacy of centralized
political power. They have not only abandoned the Articles of Confederation;
they have abandoned Madison, Jefferson, and John Quincy Adams, who
ran for Congress and won after he lost the Presidency in the election
of 1828.

Ron
Paul has shown the way. Start your climb to power no higher than
the top rung that your weight-lifting leg can reach. This may be
the office of dogcatcher. Don’t pick a party banner to run under
that you suspect cannot carry you to the highest rung that you are
capable of attaining without developing leaks. If you don’t plan
to climb very high, join that party whose local voters and spokesmen
may listen to your suggestions once in a while.

If you want one book to read on what it really takes to have local
political clout for initially unpopular causes, with no budget to
speak of, read Douglas Hyde’s little masterpiece, Dedication
and Leadership
. He was a Communist Party organizer in England
in the 1940′s, but later converted to Catholicism. He shows how
the really bad guys did it, way back when.

Go,
thou, and do likewise.

November
17, 2000

Gary North is the author of a ten-volume series, An Economic
Commentary on the Bible. The latest volume is Sacrifice and
Dominion: An Economic Commentary on Acts. The series can be downloaded
free of charge at www.freebooks.com.

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