The Reluctant Activist, or Not Only Can You Fight City Hall, You Can Actually Win

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The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.

~ Chinese Proverb

"That will be thirteen ninety-nine plus a dollar and one cent for tax," said the clerk at Orchard Supply Hardware. I handed him my Visa card. After leaving the store with my wife on a beautiful Saturday morning in Monterey, the world looked suddenly rosier. I felt a profound sense of freedom. The reason was that I had paid $1.01 in tax, rather than the $1.04 I would have paid had the tax rate been 7.75% instead of 7.25%. The word for what I felt was eudamonia, a word I remember from my college study of Aristotle for a feeling of well-being. I felt a love for my fellow Monterey County residents, or at least 38% of them. I felt that in the politicians’ rush to take away our freedom, my allies and I had slowed it down and surprised the hell out of a ruthless, well-funded juggernaut. In the process, I discovered how even a fairly badly organized small group that is willing to make a moral case, take the offensive, and not back down when attacked can beat a much bigger group that thought it had the moral high ground and didn’t. Why, you might ask, would I get this excited about paying an outrageous tax instead of an even more outrageous tax? Had I, a man who believes that taxes should be close to zero, gone off my rocker? Maybe, but that’s not how I see it. Let me explain.

Four days earlier, Tuesday, December 2, 2003, the votes on the all-mail election had been counted. The issue on the ballot: should the sales tax rate be raised from 7.25% to 7.75% to fund Natividad hospital, a government-run, mismanaged (but I repeat myself) hospital? That wasn’t the ballot language, of course. The government officials who put the sales tax proposal on the ballot would never try to sway voters. No. Instead, the "Impartial Analysis by County Counsel" stated that the tax would "avoid life-threatening reductions in Natividad Medical Center’s healthcare delivery system." No bias there. Just the facts, ma’am.

The mail-in ballots had been sent out in the second week of November. Our county, Monterey County, had been decided on by the state government as a testing ground for getting rid of the secret ballot and replacing it with a mail-in ballot that would allow the local government officials who counted them to know how every single person voted.

This was new territory for both the pro-tax and anti-tax sides. The anti-tax side had to ask itself: how do we spend our $4,000, all in voluntary contributions, and our time, through November? The pro-tax side had to ask itself: how do we spend our $450,000, much of it collected from union members who had no say in how their money was used, on signs, incessant scare advertising on TV, and massive get-out-the-vote phone banks. And apparently some on the pro-tax side asked themselves, “How much time should we spend stealing the anti-tax side’s signs every night.” Almost 1,000 of our “No on Q” signs were stolen during the campaign, a fact we were to state often on talk-radio interviews.

I had come to this fight reluctantly. Not that I favored the tax, but rather, that I, like you, have a life. I have a wife I’m deeply in love with, and a daughter about to go off to college. I’ve been working on an academic article and a second edition of The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. And there’s a certain amount of time in the week that I want to use to goof off — surf the TV, surf the web, take walks through the neighborhood. Was I willing to commit to thinking about this issue, writing letters, and talking to people for about five hours a week?

Four things had tipped me. First, I had had one highly successful experience with activism in Canada in 1968 when a small band of us persuaded/threatened one of Prime Minister Trudeau’s closest political allies to back down from a proposal he had made to institute a peacetime draft. See the full story.

Second, I hate it when people are attacked unfairly and I especially hate it when my friends are attacked unfairly. In the summer, Jane Heider, the wife of Lawrence Samuels, a libertarian who led the “No on Q” campaign, had written a cogent letter to the Coast Weekly, the local left-wing newspaper. Here’s her letter:

As one of the anti-tax protestors at the June 24th Supervisor’s meeting, I have to comment on Squid’s comments [SquidFry, June 26—July 2]. First, my understanding of Lawrence Samuels’ and John Tresch’s remarks was not that Natividad should be closed, but that its services should be contracted by the County to some private organization specializing in hospital management rather than in bureaucracy.

But the question of efficiency is secondary — my objection is more fundamental: tax money should not be used to run a hospital at all.

At the meeting we heard quite a bit about sick people who had been helped by Natividad. We were told repeatedly “no price is too high to save a life,” and Squid makes it clear that anyone who feels otherwise is politically incorrect.

But the amount we donate to help other people should be a personal choice. The County Board of Supervisors has no moral right to take tax money from some people and use it for others, even if they do have a public forum to discuss how much they will take.

And how did the Coast Weekly summarize her statement of principle? They titled her letter, “Let ‘Em Bleed.” The next week, the Coast Weekly ran a letter attacking Jane for being selfish and not caring about the poor people who needed health care at Natividad. The response made me mad. Jane wasn’t being selfish. In fact, she was taking time from her busy day to defend the rights of hundreds of thousands of county residents. The truly selfish person (I know, I know, Ayn Rand insisted on her peculiar use of the word “selfish”, but I think she was wrong) is the one who wants the government to forcibly take other people’s money and use it on ends that the person advocating force agrees with.

The third impetus was that on a Saturday morning in September, when I was driving in my neighborhood, I saw people walking door to door with clip boards and “Yes on Q” signs. “Holy cow,” I thought, “these people are serious.” The first thought, actually, almost dissuaded me from getting involved. But the second thought, which took a little longer, was, “They must not think they have it in the bag. And it probably wouldn’t take much clear reasoning to at least get people to see some of the huge problems with a tax increase.” Had the vote for a tax increase required a simple majority, I wouldn’t have bothered fighting. But, under California’s constitution, tax increases for specific spending programs, other than school bonds, require a 2/3 vote. It should be possible, I thought, to get 33.4 percent of the voters to oppose a permanent sales tax increase.

The fourth and final impetus was that the aforementioned Lawrence Samuels had invited me to be on his side in a debate on Measure Q to be held November 11, Veterans’ Day. (I still call it Remembrance Day, the term used in my native Canada. I like Canada’s term better because it gets us to remember war and think about whether we want more or fewer of them. Fewer wars means fewer veterans.) The debate was sponsored by the League of Women Voters. That’s an interestingly-named organization. You don’t have to be a woman to join, and so the name seems odd. Given the positions they take on things, they would be more honestly labeled the League of Leftist Voters, or, if you still want to use the acronym LWV, Leftist Women Voters. But the LWV is not like some other liberal groups. My impression of them over the years, admittedly at a distance, is that they have a basic sense of fairness in debate, and that, because they love politics, they love controversy and debate. I love debate too and, even more, I love debating in front of hostile audiences. It’s a real challenge to win them over, or, more realistically, to get them to think about things they’ve never thought about.

I was hooked.

My plan had simply been to do a little prep for the debate and not much else. But, talking to Lawrence one day, I noted that the number of pro-Q letters in the Monterey Herald seemed about double the number of anti-Q letters, not a good sign. The number of “Yes on Q” signs was roughly 4 times the number of “No on Q” signs, but that didn’t disturb me as much because it mainly reflected the massively higher budget and manpower of the “Yes on Q” side.

“That’s what I’ve been telling you, David. People like you need to write letters. I’ve been telling you this for over a month.”

“But Lawrence, I have a daughter starting private college in January and I’ve got to pay full tuition, which means I need to be making free-lance income and doing my regular job,” I whined.

Lawrence made an offer. He would write a letter and I could edit it to my style and put my name on it. The next day Lawrence’s draft arrived and, although I didn’t disagree with anything in it, it didn’t reflect what I would have wanted to write. So I sat down and wrote my own letter, sending it to the Salinas Daily Californian and the Monterey Herald.

Here’s what I wrote:

The proponents of Measure Q, a cent sales tax increase, are seriously misleading the public. In literature they are handing out, they call Measure Q “a temporary half percent sales tax.” It is not temporary. Measure Q’s own language says that the sales tax “shall remain in effect for not less than ten years.” Moreover, even after 10 years it will not end automatically. Only the Monterey County Board of Supervisors can vote to end it. Given that their vote to put the tax increase on the ballot was unanimous, and given their refusal to consider other options for improving Natividad, how likely are they to repeal the tax in 10 years? Politicians who vote to cut sales taxes are about as rare as the bald eagle.

The proponents often present Measure Q as a pro-community measure. It is the exact opposite. A real community is one in which people give their own money to help worthy causes. But a tax increase is a forcible extraction of your money. When governments take over such causes, we as individuals reduce our giving. Measure Q is a loud statement of government distrust of its citizens. I’m voting NO.

/signed/
David R. Henderson

This was my standard formula for writing a good letter. Start by saying that the other side is seriously misleading the public. Who will not want to read on when they see a statement like that? Of course, you shouldn’t say they’re misleading people if they’re not, but clearly they were. Second, lay out what they’re saying and why it’s misleading. Third, explain other problems with it, for example, how their proposal undercuts the very virtues or values they claim they want. Fourth, if and only if it’s applicable, tell how the other side’s proposal is based on mistrust of humans, which it usually is. Fifth, end with the bottom-line conclusion, namely the vote. Many people would end by saying, “Vote No on Q.” But I’ve never liked people telling me how to vote. And so I don’t want to do the same to others.

One of the items Lawrence gave me to help me prepare for the debate was the Grand Jury report done on Natividad in 1996 that had talked about the financial mess it was in then and had advocated privatizing. I looked through it and found it somewhat helpful. One day, Ron Pasquinelli, a man who had been head of the Monterey Peninsula Taxpayers Association for decades, called me up because Lawrence had told him I had a copy. So I copied it and arranged to meet him at my downtown office. He proved to be a delightful gentleman and so I offered to treat him to coffee at the Starbuck’s near my office. On the way to Starbuck’s, I asked him, as a veteran of many anti-tax campaigns, whether he thought we would win. “Let me tell you a story,” he said. This was his story.

Back in 1974, the state government had been collecting a tax that went to Sacramento. A proposal was made to allow each county to keep that tax revenue instead of having it go to Sacramento. But to keep that tax revenue, each county had to vote, by a simple majority, to do so. My organization looked at it and realized that this was not a new tax but, instead, was just a shift of revenue from the state government to the local government. And so we said we had no problem with it and sent out a mailing to our members telling them that we recommended a “yes” vote. Well, you should have heard the firestorm. I had long-time members calling up and saying, “You’ve sold out; you shouldn’t be advocating higher taxes.” I would patiently explain the facts to them and they would calm down. But when the votes came in about 30% of the people had voted against letting the county keep the revenue. They must have thought it was an increased tax. So that tells you that there are at least 30% who will vote against any new tax and it’s probably higher than that because some people who voted yes were anti-tax too but had the right information.

“So if 30 to 40 percent of people will vote “no” when they see the word ‘tax’”, I asked, “how come the signs don’t mention the word ‘tax?’ All they say is, ‘No on Q. Stop Bad Management.’”

“You’re right,” said Ron, “but it’s too late now. We’ve made our signs.”

“Yes, but they’re being stolen every night,” I replied, “and so the next time you place an order, you should have signs that read, ‘No on Q. No new taxes.’” Later that day, I called Lawrence and made the suggestion to him and he ran with it. Within a few days, “No new taxes” signs were showing up all over.

Over coffee, Ron told me that his strategy was to send out a letter to a list of about 10,000 voters in the Monterey Peninsula and hope that a large percent of them would vote no. That was the extent of the campaign he would run. I promised to send a check for $200 to his organization and left our meeting encouraged by his story but concerned about having only a one-time mailing. But I had a life to live.

A few days before the debate, Lawrence asked me if I wanted to go on an afternoon talk radio show with him and a conservative host named Karen Grant. The station was KION 1460 AM, a Clear Channel station. I said I did. That day, she was broadcasting from the top of the tallest hotel in Monterey, and so we got to make our case with a beautiful view of the ocean and the Monterey Peninsula. She told us that she had invited people from the “Yes on Q” side but that they had declined because they hadn’t received enough notice. I had hoped they would show up so that we could have a dry run before the November 11 debate. That they didn’t have enough notice seemed strange to me at the time. Here was a side that I thought would outspend us 20 to 1 (and ended up outspending us 100 to 1) and that sent troops of people door to door and they didn’t have spokesmen who could show up with only a few hours notice? I didn’t wonder then — but I should have wondered — whether they had such a weak case that they just weren’t prepared to contend. Their ad campaign on TV had started and it was pure scare tactics: they talked about how people would die if Natividad closed. But what they never tried to establish was that Natividad would close. Maybe, I wondered, they had little evidence to back up their claims.

Anyway, the interview went well, and we got to say, on the air, that people on the other side were stealing our signs and that Lawrence had contacted the Registrar of Voters and the District Attorney. Lawrence pointed out that it had to be people on the other side, rather than police or pranksters, because they always left the “Yes on Q” signs in place. At the show’s end, Doug Moschetti, a KION morning talk show host who had been listening, invited me to call in to his show some morning if I wanted to discuss the issues further.

When the event ended, Lawrence and I made plans to meet on the morning of November 11 with the editorial board of the Monterey Herald. They wanted to have both sides present their case so that they could decide what position to recommend in an editorial. So on the morning of November 11, Ron Pasquinelli, Lawrence Samuels, and I showed up at the Monterey Herald building. On the other side was Maria Giurato, a Salinas City Council member. She looked familiar: I had seen her picture on the front page of the paper a day or two earlier. She was a county welfare worker who was touting a plan to replace food stamps with cards that looked like credit cards in order to remove the “stigma” of being on welfare. The other two on her side were Dr. John Clark, a doctor at Natividad, and Mary Ann Leffel, a local banker who is also head of the Board of Trustees of Natividad. The questioners were Executive Editor Carolina Garcia and Managing Editor Laurel Shackleford.

The ground rules were that everything was on the record, that each side would get 5 minutes to present its case, and that the two editors would follow up with questions. One of our side’s main criticisms was, as mentioned in my above letter to the editor, that the other side was claiming as temporary a tax that had no sunset clause. Carolina Garcia put the hard question to the other side: why is there no real sunset clause? Maria answered by laying out why they needed a revenue stream for 10 years. I started to point out that Maria hadn’t answered the question, but Carolina held up her hand to stop me and asked Maria, “But why is there no sunset clause?” Carolina Garcia was clearly doing her job.

Then Maria replied, “Isn’t it interesting how upset people get about taxes when they’re going to help a heavily Latino population?” I found it odd that Maria would try to play the Latino race card with someone whose name was Carolina Garcia. I thought Carolina would ignore it and continue, but she backed off.

The tough question they asked us was, “What if you thought Natividad would close without a tax increase? Would you favor the tax increase?” It was the right tough question to ask. Interestingly, no one at the debate later that night, even though the audience was 90% against us, thought to ask it that clearly. But more on that later. I can’t remember what Ron answered. But I have a policy that has rarely failed me. If someone asks the tough question and you think your honest answer might turn them to the other side, answer it quickly and succinctly and then go on to lay out alternatives. You get points for being forthright and then they’re more willing to listen to your alternatives. Lawrence seemed to have the same policy. He said he wouldn’t support a tax increase because the government shouldn’t be running a hospital and some private party would likely take it over and run it better. I answered that a tax increase is wrong because it takes people’s money without their consent.

Outside the Herald building after the meeting, the six partisans stood around and chatted for a minute. Mary Ann Leffel invited me to join the Board of Advisers of Natividad. I got slightly interested. "How many hours a year would I have to spend?" I asked.

"We meet 5 or 6 mornings a month," she replied. My interest vanished. But I took another tack. In our conversation with the editors, Mary Ann had said that the mix of patients at Natividad was changing, that increasingly their patients, instead of being Latino farmworkers, were low-wage workers from retail outlets and other firms on the Monterey Peninsula that were no longer providing health insurance for their employees. I have a solution that would go a long way toward solving that, I said. Get rid of the state insurance regulations that are pricing employer-provided insurance out of reach for employers of low-wage workers. "See," said Mary Ann, "that’s why we need you on the Board of Advisers. You’ll come with ideas."

It didn’t ring true. If I was being invited to help them strategize about dealing with Sacramento, maybe. But it looked like too indirect a way to get to where I wanted to go.

Late that afternoon, I drove to the debate with my friend Tom Lee. I had met Tom at a men’s retreat in January 1991. Within 5 minutes of meeting him and seeing his independent mind at work, I predicted that we would be friends. I was right. I had asked Tom to go with me both for moral support and for physical support. The moral support part is obvious: the audience would likely be full of people who wanted the tax increase. In fact, by my estimate, going by "Yes on Q" buttons and by nasty derisive laughs, over 90% of the audience wanted the tax increase. But also, I had once spoken at a labor union strike rally in San Francisco, on stage with a member of the Irish Republican Army and Dolores Huerta, a woman who was later to head Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers union, and I knew how violent the rhetoric could get. If the rhetoric ever affected actions, I wanted protection. I wanted, frankly, to have a big man — Tom is six feet tall and I’m 5’5" — walk in with me.

When we arrived, Lawrence was already at a "No on Q" literature table with about four or five allies holding signs. But to get to them we had to walk by about 50 or so people all carrying candles and many carrying signs saying “Yes on Q.” I had expected the candles because a few days earlier I had received an e-mail from an antiwar group I’ve contributed money to, the Peace Coalition of Monterey County, urging people to show up with candles and support this tax. Tom and I entered the building where I met Mark Carbonero, a local radio personality, who would ask the questions after they had been vetted by the officials of the League of Women Voters. Carbonero was with the local radio station KION and so I expected that he would be an ally. He was. The forum was to be carried live on KION and would be heard by an audience that would be much more opposed to the tax than the people in the room. I knew I needed to remember that fact, no matter how nasty the audience got. If I knew I was talking to someone who actually cared to listen, then I could more easily handle hostility.

I gave him a quick bio and entered the room where the forum would be held. I saw five of my students there, which was heartening. It’s always good to have allies in the audience. Our opponents were two doctors at Natividad named Mark Tunzi and Melissa Larsen. I decided to call them by their first names, a practice I usually follow with my own doctors. It’s important to remind them, and the audience, that doctors are just as human and just as fallible as the rest of us. Lawrence came in slightly late. It turned out that one of the TV stations had wanted to interview him, but every time he tried to answer, many of the Yes on Q people shouted so that his answers could not be heard. So by the time they found a quiet area to do the interview, we were running late.

The ground rules were that a question would be addressed to either our side or the other side, a question written by someone in the audience or e-mailed. Given the composition of the audience, that meant that if the LWV chose randomly, about 90% of the questions would be hostile to us. The LWV could have seen itself as the entity that made sure the questions were roughly 50/50. I’ll leave you in suspense about what they did. Then each side had 2 minutes that it could allocate between its two members in any way it wanted. The other side then had 2 minutes to respond. Of course, that gave an advantage to the people who went second, and so the side that went first was alternated. But you can probably predict how each side adjusted to this rule. Early on, when our side had the last word on one of the questions, Melissa used her turn on the next question to answer that one but also to respond to what we had said in response to the previous question. So the next time we were in the same situation, I told the audience that I would do what Melissa had done — both answer the current question and respond to the previous one.

Also, the audience was told, in no uncertain terms, that no one from the audience could ask questions except by writing them out. They were also told not to applaud, cheer, or boo. When that rule was announced, I looked at a libertarian/conservative political consultant in the audience whom I had met some months earlier, and he looked back at me and shook his head. I smiled back, thinking that he was probably thinking what I was thinking. People, especially liberals, complain about how apathetic Americans are about politics and about how little they go out and participate in forums. Then when they do go out, they’re told they can’t act like humans. Imagine how many people would go to a football game if they couldn’t cheer or boo.

There is one thing, though, besides being willing to hold the debate, for which I give the League of Women Voters huge credit. They had two attractive ladies at the front, an older one with a stop watch and a younger one with a bunch of signs, who would hold them up at the appropriate times so that each side would stop on time. And both sides complied. This was refreshing. I’ve been on countless panels with others and we’re all told in advance that we have x minutes to speak. I prepare my speech in advance and hone it to x minutes. Many of my fellow panelists, especially if they’re academics, go as much as x plus 10 minutes. I’ve found this to be uncorrelated with their political views — libertarians are as bad as liberals. It was refreshing to have this equal allocation enforced.

The first question went to us. “How,” asked the questioner, “would a free market work for medical care?” I whispered to Lawrence that I would take it. I pointed out that the United States had not had a free market in medical care for about 100 years and that, therefore, things would look much different than they do now. Insurance companies would not be regulated and, therefore, would offer insurance to those who wanted bare-bones coverage with high deductibles. Doctors would be free to enter contracts with patients that specified in advance the liability that they would take on and, therefore, huge malpractice premiums and expensive defensive medicine would be much less common. I’ve forgotten what else I said and what the other side said. I’ve forgotten a lot of the evening. What I remember is that about the first three questions covered issues I had been prepared for and that I did most of the talking for our side.

I guess the audience noticed I’d done most of the talking too, because a woman about 5 rows back suddenly stood up and said, “How come we’re just hearing from the hired gun from outside the area. I want to hear from the local guy on that side.” My wife, Rena, was at home listening to it on the radio. When I got home that night she told me that she heard a short period of silence (the woman was not miked up) followed by a loud outraged “What?” from me. “No one hired me to come here,” I answered, “and I’ve lived in this area for 19 years. I came here at my own expense and I could be at home enjoying the evening with my wife. And you’re breaking the rules, lady. We on the panel are following them. I expect you to follow them too.” I was glad it happened. The whole incident pumped me up and gave me energy, which I sorely needed because I had, mistakenly, decided not to eat dinner beforehand.

The major other audience reaction was laughter, sometimes at Lawrence and often at me, which got louder and longer as the evening progressed. This could easily have been predicted. Think about it. You’re in the audience. You don’t like what someone’s saying. You’re not allowed to boo him after he says it and you’re not even allowed to applaud or cheer when the person on your side disagrees with him. So what do you? They can’t realistically tell the audience not to laugh. So the audience laughs. And as more and more people figure out the game, they laugh louder and longer. I found this hard to take after a while; ridicule gets to me. But now that I’ve had the experience, I think I’ll be stronger next time.

Charley Hooper, my friend and co-author of our forthcoming book, Just Thinking: Making Good Decisions in the Business of Life, gave me a different take when I told him the next morning how it had gone. “Laughter’s a good sign,” he said. “It’s often people’s first reaction to a new idea that contradicts what they believe.”

“If that’s so, Charley,” I said, ” we changed a lot of minds.”

I still do think that much of the laughter was ridicule. But there was at least one moment when I think what Charley said applied. Someone had asked what the medical care situation would look like if Natividad were privatized, an option we were advocating. I said that you couldn’t say what it would look like, just as you can’t say for sure what any industry will look like in a few years. I said that one of Friedrich Hayek’s main contributions to economics was his insight that no central planner can plan an economy well because the information required to plan it exists in little bits in millions of minds and can’t be integrated in one mind. That, I said, was why socialism failed so spectacularly. That’s also, I said, why no one can predict how an industry will evolve. When I finished, the audience howled with laughter, but it didn’t seem to be the ridiculing kind.

There were other great moments too. At one point, Melissa Larsen said that increasing the tax and giving the money to the hospital was "the compassionate thing to do." I responded, "No, it’s not. It has nothing to do with compassion. If you gave your own money to the hospital, that would be compassionate. But taking other people’s money without their consent is not compassion; it’s coercion." When I said that, there seemed to be a one- or two-second silence. And no laughter followed. I think the silence happened for two reasons. First, probably 90% of the audience thought the tax increase was compassionate and I had given them something new to think about. Second, probably 90% of the audience thought their pro-tax side had the moral high ground and I had just come along and cut it out from underneath them. I had also prepared an answer to a question I had expected to come up, the question, "Don’t people have a right to medical care?" I give the extended answer in my book, The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey, and I had planned to draw on that answer. (The short answer is, "No.") But the question never came up. I’m wondering now if the reason is that the other side was afraid to raise it because Lawrence and I might take away their moral high ground there too.

The discussion went back and forth and the main things I remember are the highlights where we did well. Mark Tunzi, the doctor on the other side, stated that government had been involved in medical care for a long time. I agreed with him and pointed that the first major modern intervention in medical care was by Otto von Bismarck, who implemented socialized medicine so that he could keep the middle class dependent on the government. One other highlight was the question, “Isn’t it true that the sales tax is a regressive tax?” That question was written by my friend Tom Lee. Melissa Larsen answered that it was not regressive because it would take more money from higher-income people. I responded that it absolutely is regressive. A regressive tax, I pointed out, is one that takes a higher percentage of income from lower-income people. Sales taxes, gasoline taxes, and cigarette taxes, I pointed out, are all examples of regressive taxes. The reason is that lower-income people spend a greater percentage of their income on items subject to these taxes. If Melissa was claiming that higher-income people would pay more than lower-income people, I said, she was right. But higher-income people would pay a lower percent of their income than lower-income people.

There was one young, well-dressed Hispanic looking man near the front of the room, sitting with a very attractive lady. Whenever I speak, I like to look at the people I’m reaching and so I look for people who smile. It helps me focus and do my best to reach people. I quickly spotted him as a smiler, but also quickly figured out that he seemed to be smiling in a ridiculing way. After about the 3rd time, I was sure of it. The LWV had scheduled a 10-minute break a little over halfway through. During that break, I went up to the guy and said, "I’m really glad you’re enjoying the things I’m saying." He held up his hand, opened his mouth, and said, "But . . .," and then stopped. I think he was about to say that he was smiling to ridicule me, but that his professional ethics (I think he was a doctor) got in the way of admitting that. After the break, I noticed that he and his lady friend were sitting far back in the room.

Next installment: The outcome of the campaign and how we knew it before anyone else did.

(This is the first of a three-part series.)

David R. Henderson [send him mail] is an associate professor of economics at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California and a research fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He was previously a senior economist with President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers. He is author of The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey (Prentice Hall, 2002). His web site is www.davidrhenderson.com.

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