Monday, June 2, 2008

What Happens When You Push

Let's discuss some Laws of Politics, class.

"To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."

This is one of Newton's Laws of Motion, but it should be co-titled "Newton's Law of Political Persuasion." When people are TOLD what to do instead of being convinced what to do, they will push back or rebel.

This is human nature. People want to make up their own minds. This is why any good trial attorney will tell you your objective is not to tell a jury your client is right, it's to give them the facts in such a convincing fashion that they have no choice but to conclude your client is right.

Here's Worden's Corollary:

"The fewer meaningful decisions a person gets to make, the more likely they are to rebel when pushed."

In other words, "Newton's Law of Political Persuasion" applies most forcefully to the front-line political soldiers - the precinct committee people and the county chairs. These folks do the "heavy lifting" for the parties, and in exchange, their rewards are some signed photos with elected officials and a handful of opportunities to vote for candidates in special caucuses and at their state conventions.

Mitch Daniels and people like Marion County Republican Chair Tom John would do well to remember this and the history lesson of 1992.

Former Republican Attorney General Linley Pearson (who serves as the Clinton County Circuit Court Judge the last time I checked) was running for Governor. In the Attorney General's race, Pearson wanted his number two from the AG's, David Miller, to fill his slot, just as Steve Carter is seeking to have Greg Zoeller step into his shoes now.

For Pearson, this wasn't about having his friend on the ticket, it was about NOT having Tim Bookwalter. Bookwalter (currently the Putnam County Prosecutor) was a charismatic bow-tied attorney out of Greencastle, and he was gaining traction by serving red meat. He was telling Republicans how he would crawl up and die in Evan Bayh's behind, and he was attacking Democrat AG candidate Pam Carter with a pithy quote about how he would be a "watch dog, not a lap dog."

The problem was that Bookwalter was controversial. He had spent a good deal of his time as a criminal defense attorney, and his own law partner had serious misgivings about his fitness for office. Pearson, afraid of violating Reagan's 11th Commandment -- "Never Speak Ill of a Fellow Republican" -- just assumed people would "get the word." They didn't.

So the closer it got to the convention date, the more desperate Pearson got. Surrogates started making calls that were increasingly threatening in tone, and people who were on the fence started jumping to Bookwalter in retaliation. Ultimately, the deal was cinched when Pearson actually threatened the day of the convention to LEAVE in protest. When the remaining undecided precinct committee people got wind of THAT threat, they issued a resounding "Ef U" to Pearson and overwhelmingly broke to Bookwalter, almost as if out of morbid curiosity to see what Pearson would actually do.

As Pam Carter's campaign manager, I CELEBRATED when Bookwalter got the nod.

First, Bookwalter was as controversial as expected. He ran a blatantly racist campaign that helped energize our base. Bookwalter arbitrarily scheduled debates in all 92 counties, actually SENT us 92 separate letters, and then when we didn't attend because we, of course, had our own schedule, he pulled out a cardboard cut-out of Pam to ensure that everybody knew she was African-American.

A few papers took the bait and ran photos of the cut-out, but most were too put off. John Schwantes of the Indianapolis Star joked that Bookwalter kept a second cut-out just in case the first one faded.

But more critically, we were able to bash Bookwalter for representing "drug dealers, molesters, rapists, and murderers." Though the Fraternal Order of Police won't say it publicly, Bookwalter's background sealed their endorsement for Pam, which was critical to our effort.

Had David Miller been nominated, I have no idea how we would have went at him. All I can say is, "Thank God Linley Pearson pushed."

My colleague at Hoosier Pundit has done a masterful job cataloging the extremes of the Mitch Daniels-led effort to make Valpo Mayor Jon Costas the consensus pick.

What's notable is that while Daniels has lined up a lot of elected officials who support Costas, Zoeller has gotten an astonishing number of....(drum roll).....the county chairs.

You can't push on them without having them push back.


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