• The Dogcatcher Strategy

    Email Print
    Share

    “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.

    Email Print
    Share