Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Crucial Political Lesson

Anybody who has worked on a political campaign will likely have compiled some “political lessons learned,” even if just mentally. I know I have. Periodically, I like to share mine in the form of “Worden’s Rules.” Here’s a classic one.

"NEVER let someone 'pimp you.' "

This happens when somebody makes faux derogatory comments about another to induce you to join them in a bash fest. They then use the intelligence you handed them to incise your back with finely-sharpened cutlery.

It was 1996, and I was managing Jeff Modisett’s campaign for Attorney General. I was distraught over the lack of progress by Vendor X, and I had apparently grumbled enough in-house to unknowingly draw the attention of a very influential D politician who is now a township trustee.

He came to my office and started asking questions about how things were going, and, almost as if he had read my mind, asked me who we were using to provide the service in question. He even cleverly threw in a name of a rival vendor instead of X.

“You guys are using Y, right?”

“No,” I said. “We’re using X.”

He replies, “I heard they’re (insert harsh critique of their work here).”

Fully thinking this person and I are simpatico and bonding, I made a joke about the irony of the vendor’s name in relation to our problem. Think along the lines of a vendor named “Stellar” who does sub-par work, but make it a cleverer riposte.

What I didn’t know at the time was that this politico was best friends with one of the principals of Vendor X. My comment was relayed before the pol had left the building.

I know this because within ten minutes, the principal (whose company did a fair share of complimentary work for the Indiana Democratic Party) had called then-chairman Joe Andrew and ripped him a new one, Joe had “passed it on” to my boss, and fecal gravity being what it is, Jeff gave it to me.

That, my friends, is major league pimpage courtesy of one of the game’s finest. This politician knew what he wanted to get before he got there, and he played me like a Stradivarius. I was never sure why he did this, but I later took it as a favor because he taught me a crucial lesson in politics.

I’ll never forget that episode, and I haven’t trusted him since. That doesn’t mean I don’t recognize his political savvy. He has moments of brilliance. But I wouldn’t believe him if he told me he was standing in front of me, even if I actually SAW him standing in front of me. I would just assume he figured out a way to project a holographic image just to put one over on me.

He apologized to me later, and I almost laughed because he acted like he had no connection to what happened, but rather, had just heard about it “through the grapevine.”

The absurdity of his apology reminded me of comedian Chris Rock talking about his next door neighbor stealing from him on the sly and acting innocent about it.

Neighbor: “Hey, man, I heard you got robbed last night.”

Chris Rock: “No, you weren’t hearing sh*t…because you were too busy doing sh*t.”

This guy pushed the boulder from the top of the hill and then had the gall to act like he had no idea how it got rolling fast enough to plow me over.

But this leads me to another Worden Rule.

“You can’t survive in politics with sworn enemies, so don’t make any.”

You might need that person tomorrow to further your own interests. When you encounter “the pimps,” just adjust your expectations so you can read between the lines. This will sound crazy, I know, but once you know you’re dealing with a chronic liar and/or manipulator, you can really establish a healthy relationship with him/her because you’ll be sensitive to the “real” meanings to his or her words. It's like you'll develop "spider senses." They may even become your best source of political information unknowingly because you can read them like a bad card player.

This was illustrated recently with crystal clarity by the very individual who burned me. This politician addressed a bunch of Democrats and told them to stop worrying about an upcoming vacancy in a political office because we all needed to focus on winning in November.

Had I never met this guy, I might think, “Wow, what a truly committed party man! He wants us to keep our eyes on the November prize.” BUT because I knew him well, I was able to easily translate his comment from bullsheeteeze into English, thereby discerning what he REALLY meant, which was:

“I have somebody I want in this soon-to-be open position, so I’d appreciate it if all of YOU focus on November. That will make it easier for me to get a leg up on you because you will be standing still while I’m working like a madman behind-the-scenes to line up enough big name support that by the time you actually create a campaign committee, my protégé and I will have this thing locked up.”

Class dismissed.



varangianguard said...

Wow. Too bad most of the iterations of "cynic" are take already by other bloggers. ;)

Anonymous said...

Hell I know this guy was there when he said "forget that judgeship for now." You are right on. But you know what. Damn near everyone knows his persona.

Anonymous said...

My cousin was lucky enough to pick up some tickets to see him last year. He’s one of the best comedians in years in my opinion so I will really be excited when I will see him on June. My cousin has recommended me a site where I can get cheap tickets , so I’m sure it’s gonna be a great show. Here is the link if you’re looking for tix too:

Chris Worden said...

Anon 5:07....uhhh, I never said anything about a judgeship. So, um...that must have been somebody else.