They keep pushing me to run…

Today after Rotary, Kathryn F. buttonholed me and started egging me to run for office. Hey, it’s easy for her to say — I’m the one who would be making a fool of himself, not to mention having to go to all those chicken dinners.

Run for what, you’re thinking? Yeah, I know — it’s hard to remember what Brad isn’t running for today: Is it the S.C. House? Or governor? Or Congress?

In this case, it’s specifically Congress that I’m being coy about.

Kathryn’s not the only one, by the way. Nathan Ballentine asked me about it when I ran into him this morning. Of course, he said it with a smile.

Anyway, I gave Kathryn all the reasons why I can’t run, and she tried to knock them all down:

  • Neither of the parties can stomach me, and I can’t stomach the parties. And so far, no member of the UnParty has been elected to Congress. There’s a reason for this: Anything as stretched out and gerrymandered as a congressional district in the former Confederacy is really tough to win by shoe leather and personal perseverance. A state House seat, maybe. But a district that stretches to Beaufort sort of needs the simple answers and mass media approach and organization that only a party can provide. And on some of the hot-button issues that separate the parties, I agree with one side, and on some of them with the other. And on some of those issues, I have no easily explained opinion, but explaining WHY I don’t have a position is the work of at least a newspaper column, and how do you get a majority of voters in a congressional district to pay attention to something with that kind of nuance?
  • I don’t have a job, and I need to get one and get some money coming in soon. Kathryn says running for Congress would BE my job. But far as I know, you’re not allowed to pay your mortgage and personal phone and light bills with campaign contributions — assuming I can get campaign contributions (and who’s going to contribute to someone who’s neither a Democrat nor a Republican?). And when I get a job, the odds are that it will be one that wouldn’t allow me to run for Congress. Most jobs wouldn’t allow you to run for Congress. If I were independently wealthy, yeah, this would be a great time to run. But as things are…
  • Who would vote for me? Based on the kinds of comments I get here, not even a majority of my putative base here on the blog would vote for me. I mean, if the overall electorate receives my ideas the way some of y’all do, I’ll be lucky not to be ridden out of the district on a rail. I’m way too candid with y’all about too many things to be a successful candidate for high office.
  • Of the three offices I’m not running for, Congress would be my least favorite. Running for governor or state legislator, I would feel pretty confident that I would know the issues better than just about anyone who ran against me, and the issues aren’t nearly as bifurcated according to party. There’s more room for a Third Way kind of guy like me. With Congress, every conversation is a big political battle. Say I tell folks what I think about health care — well, that would automatically label me as being to the left of Barack Obama (that’s the area assigned to us single-payer types), which would endear me to the Democrats (some of them) and make me persona non grata to the Republicans. And there’d be no avoiding that issue. But suppose abortion comes up (no reason it should since we’re not talking about the Senate, but suppose it did)? On that one I’d be solid with the Republicans, and the Democrats would despise me. And people would accuse me of waffling, when it is my personal belief that I’m the coherent one, and “left” and “right” as they are currently defined don’t make sense. But could I sell that, with all the other messages out there being against me?

And lots and lots of other reasons. Y’all can probably think of more reasons than I can — after all, I would vote for myself.

At least, I think I would. The idea of sending myself up to Ground Zero of all the partisan madness I constantly decry… well, it’s not something I’d wish on a yaller dog. Or an elephant.

But at least Kathryn has given me a small taste of that phenomenon that causes candidates to piously claim that they’re only running because of the people urging them to do so…

Anyway, now that I’ve totally turned you off with my self-absorption — and made some of you laugh because it may sound like I’m actually considering this… Think about this: Almost any normal person who thinks about running for office goes through these same sorts of thoughts. And for almost any normal person, the answers to all these questions would add up to a big, resounding NO. In fact, you have to ask, given that there are all these natural objections to running for office, what it is that’s wrong with the people who actually DO? And you begin to understand why politics is as messed up as it is…

22 thoughts on “They keep pushing me to run…

  1. jstevens

    If you can make yourself appear dumber, more uninteresting and possible more racist than McMaster, you are a shoe in for Gov.

    Remember winning here involves shooting as low as possible without hitting your feet.

  2. Karen McLeod

    It would be refreshing to have someone running for govenor who was neither shilling for his party nor riding his own personal hobby horse (and no, I don’t know if ‘shilling’ is an actual word when used in this fashion, but you get the idea).

  3. doug_ross


    I would vote for you over any other career politician. We may be 180 degree polar opposites in terms of the issues, but at least you pass the honest and intelligent test.

    I think you should run just for the experience. It may be an eye opener for you when you see what happens behind the scenes where the sausage is made. What’s the worst thing that could happen? You could lose badly and you’ll be no worse off than you are now. You could lose a close race and start the ball rolling for the Unparty in 2010. You could win and eventually become another corrupt politician who only cares about getting re-elected.

    You’ve obviously got the network within the political community to make a reasonable attempt.

    Come up with a new, cheap campaign based solely on free media: Twitter, Facebook, Youtube. Exploit those interfaces in ways traditional candidates will not or can not. All it takes is one viral video to see exponential growth.

    I am going to send you an idea I have for a campaign commercial via email so nobody will steal it. If you could pull it off, I guarantee you would get the kind of bump in blog readers that would blow away your Sanford surge.

    But here’s the one question you should ask yourself:

    “Would The State newspaper endorse Brad Warthen for Congress?”

    The answer to that should give you the answer you need to decide whether to go forward or not.

    But do it anyway. It doesn’t cost much to run a cheap campaign and maybe the public would be ready for a Jesse Ventura/Al Franken protest vote.

  4. Brad Warthen

    Yep — and a welcome answer it is!

    And Doug, I don’t know whether I’d get The State’s endorsement or not. It would depend on my competition. I think I’d fare well against Joe or Rob Miller, but there are stronger candidates out there.

    Here’s the toughest question they would ask me (and I would have asked, too): Should you start with Congress? Shouldn’t you run for some smaller office, closer to home, first, so voters can keep an eye on you and see how you do before entrusting something this big to you?

    Doug wouldn’t ask that question, but you don’t have to be a “career politician” to demonstrate some aptitude on a smaller stage before you ask folks to send you to Congress, so it’s a reasonable question.

    I think I could answer it by saying I believe my life experiences have prepared me to be a better representative, in Washington or anywhere, than either Joe or Rob. Whether that would persuade my former colleagues, only they would know.

  5. kbfenner

    You don’t HAVE to have a position on all the issues. That would be refreshing in and of itself.

    I said you keep doing what you do now to get a job and run for office, which would also help you get a job, either elected or otherwise. If you get an otherwise job first, you drop out, and we still got a lot of value from the fact of your running. You know what’s up.You know how to tell us.

    You hit the nail on the head when you said what this state needs is a “Great Man.” Now, not to get you all swelled up, but maybe humble, bow-tied you might be that person. Someone completely different.

    Think about Souper Bowl Brad.

  6. Karen McLeod

    I suggest you consider statewide offices first. You are very cognizant of the challenges facing the state, as well as the strengths we have (and yes we have strengths, however hard some of our elected representatives try to hide them). It’s noticably cheaper to run in a state wide election, and considering the competition you’d have…well, it’s unlikely that you’d really have a lot of competition based on knowledge, or ability to communicate sensibly.

  7. Brad Warthen

    Wow, this is really humbling (am I sounding like a candidate yet? they’re supposed to say stuff like that).

    Karen’s right, you know — I’m better suited for state office. Those are the issues I’m most knowledgeable about and passionate about. Not that I don’t know as much as (or more than) the other declared candidates for Congress about national and international issues. I would just feel pretty weird going off to Washington and watching another lame governor take office back here. And you know what? My own mother called me up the other day and said I should run for governor. So that’s one vote I could count on, I guess.

    You know what I need at this point? I need Peter Boyle to come see me and make a pitch. You ever see “The Candidate?” Excellent movie. Peter Boyle plays a political consultant type who talks Robert Redford — son of a prominent politician — into running for the U.S. Senate. Redford is a nonprofit activist who is uninterested in the compromises one must make to run for office. Boyle promises him he can stand up for everything he believes in, and points out that this is a great opportunity to give those things he believes in greater exposure. Redford asks something like How does that work? or What’s the catch? and Boyle hands him a matchbook on which he has written two words: “You lose.” On that basis, Redford agrees to run.
    But as the campaign proceeds, the itch to win — or at least not lose by an embarrassing margin — starts to get to him….

    Anyway, what I need is a Peter Boyle moment — somebody to say, we’ll take care of the mechanics of the campaign, you just be the candidate. Because I’m an issues guy, not a mechanics guy. Renting an office and getting phone lines set up would be the overwhelming part for me. Seriously.

    This, of course, is why most people run under the auspices of parties. Each of the parties has loads of people like Peter Boyle who can say, here’s your infrastructure, you just concentrate on running for office.

    What I need is an UnParty Peter Boyle. I guess that would be a party stalwart who has become disillusioned. Or who sees greater opportunity in breaking away from the two-party dichotomy.

    It’s interesting to contemplate where such a person would come from. On an earlier post, I speculated that if I were to give in and run under the banner of one of the parties next year for pragmatic reasons (see the above discourse on Peter Boyle), especially for Congress, it would probably have to be the Democratic Party. Why? Well, not because I’m a Democrat, but because I don’t see a Republican having a good-enough shot against an incumbent of that party. Too much of an uphill climb.

    But it occurs to me that my theoretical Peter Boyle would be more likely to come from the Republican Party. It’s the party in trouble. It’s the party that’s falling apart, rather pathetically clinging to slogans and petty resentments that have not served it well of late. It seems more likely that a smart Republican would calculate that an UnParty bid would be advisable than would a smart Democrat. Democrats are smelling opportunity now, and are unlikely to jump ship.

    Anyway, now would be a good time for my Peter Boyle to step forward. I’ve got a job interview later this week, and possibly another soon after. This window won’t be open for long (I certainly hope.)

  8. Lee Muller

    I see that Warren Bolton has dropped his crusade against the “payday lenders”, and is backing Steve Benjamen for mayor.

    Why does a job in journalism have to prevent anyone from running for office? No believes that baloney about objective, non-partisan reporting.

  9. Brad Warthen

    You can’t do it, Lee. It doesn’t matter what you believe about journalists; it’s simply against the rules. You sign documents that say you understand you cannot get involved in a campaign. At least, I did as management. For nonmanagement people, there’s simply the understood policy: You don’t do politics.

    Some journalists take it to extremes, such as not voting, but that’s never made any sense to me. Abdicating your responsibility as a citizen just removes you from the kinds of concerns and decisions that citizens must make, and you need to understand things like that if you are to serve your readership well.

    I don’t believe in the whole “journalist-as-apolitical-monk” thing. As I’ve noted, I have hired people straight out of politics in the past (such as Nina Brook, who defected to my staff from then-Gov. Jim Hodges’ in 2000), and I value their experience. They know things about the inner workings of politics that journalists who have kept themselves “pure” and aloof don’t know. And that adds value for the reader.

    Personally, I think running for office, or participating in someone else’s campaign, would make me a better journalist. Sure, there would be folks like Lee who would say, See, he was a (insert name of party) all along, and would use that to batter my credibility in the future. But I would submit to my readers that I would be writing from a deeper well of understanding, and I think that would be an overriding consideration. It would for me, anyway, and I think it would be for more discerning readers.

  10. Brad Warthen

    I should add that another reason that holding oneself too aloof from politics is that if you’re constantly telling yourself and your readers that you have no preferences — that all candidates are the same to you — then you fail to use most of your brain. If you’re not forming judgments about candidates, if you’re stopping your brain before it can make such judgments, then you’re not thinking hard enough about what you’re writing about.

    Worse, you will be subconsciously forming judgments anyway. But since objectivity is so important to your self-concept, then your unspoken judgments go unchallenged — by you, and by your readers. And therefore they remain immature, poorly thought-out. And so your coverage will be (unintentionally) informed by these half-baked, unacknowledged opinions seething beneath the surface.

    This, by the way, is at the root of a lot of what folks like Lee perceive as “liberal bias” in the media. As political creatures, journalists tend to be frozen at the stage of development of college sophomores. That was about the age at which they started walling themselves off from consciously forming political opinions. And what do college sophomores tend to be? Rather one-dimensional, reflexive “liberals,” as conventionally defined. They don’t THINK that’s what they are, but it’s what they are, on an unspoken level.

    If journalists would just live normal lives, and vote and support or oppose candidates and exchange opinions with other adults as they leave college and go to work and marry and have kids, their opinions would become more varied, nuanced and mature. But instead, they walk around with these hermetically sealed, half-formed sophomoric attitudes, rather than carefully considered, mature opinions.

    That’s been my observation, anyway.

  11. Lee Muller

    Dan Rather hosted fundraisers for the DNC while he was head of ABC News.

    86% of editors and broadcast producers and reporters are registered Democrats.

    You don’t think is shows in their biased coverage, or refusal to report, on the Democrats’ agenda?

  12. Lee Muller

    “As political creatures, journalists tend to be frozen at the stage of development of college sophomores.”


    No intellectual growth. No change. Tribal mentality.

  13. kbfenner

    There are tons of sophomoric right-wingers. Tuned into Faux News lately?

    USC has lots of verrrrry conservative younguns, BTW.

  14. Brad Warthen

    Not in the journalism department. Young conservatives go into business or something. Or if they do journalism, they follow the advertising sequence.

    It’s human nature. News is bad stuff. Nobody signs up to be the town crier so they can call “All’s well.” They sign on to be the one who tells people what’s wrong — to tell about the big fire, or the plane crash, or the crooked councilman. It takes a mind set that sees something wrong in the established order; it presupposes an affinity toward CHANGE — which is inherently liberal. A true conservative thinks the status quo is just fine, and resents the rabble rouser who wants to get folks stirred up about it. A journalist tends to be an agitator, if only in a mild way.
    You do find journalists — sometimes very good journalists — who have been conservatives since their school days. But the tendency is the other way.

  15. Karen McLeod

    Given your explanation about change, seeing something wrong in the established order, and being a rabble rouser, would Jesus be a journalist if he showed up incarnate today?


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