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October 10, 2007

Presidential Campaign Advisors Are People Too
Posted by David Shorr

Let me tell you about my new policy for the current cycle: I'm now viewing all standard tactics of election-year issue advocacy as out of date. I still believe in the importance of pressing for substantive discussion of foreign policy; the last several years are nothing if not a reminder of the importance of the electoral mandate. As a career-long advocate, I have personally run many of the standard plays from the playbook: questionaires, bird-dogging, one-minute 'conversations' with candidates... Unless significantly updated though, they're not a good use of anyone's time and effort.

Here's the problem. While it's true that campaigning lays the groundwork for governing, it is not governing and to look for a straight line from campaign platform to post-election policy agenda isnt realistic. It's not duplicity I'm talking about either; made-to-be-broken promises are a separate problem. Just look, from a day-to-day practical level, at the structure of political campaigns. What do most campaign staff staff do all day? Suffice it to say that the the number of people focused on substantive issues in campaigns is a tiny fraction of what the legislature and executive have at their disposal. Is it healthy? Probably not. Will the former ever catch up to the latter? Definitely not.

More optimistically, I am really pleased with some things about the current campaign. In a post a couple of months ago, I took stock of the extensive set of major policy speeches and articles that are out there (and there have been more since). My main point here is about expectations. Advocates of any issue should be mindful of the very narrow channel of substantive policy output any campaign has. It's a supply v. demand problem. [At the risk of betraying Wonkism, I'm even becoming skeptical of whether campaigns should present positions on the full range of issues in detail (I hope they don't excommunicate me).] To explain the title of this post, one standard tactic is called "getting my materials into the hands of the key campaign adviser." This is another one I've tried personally, and on reflection, I have to say it really feels forced and inorganic.

Having said all that, let me highlight an impressive initiative of retired generals and admirals (from both parties) pressing the candidates to definitively renounce torture. This issue would certainly pass my own test of belonging on any short list of priority issues, and camping out for a couple of days in an early primary state is brilliant. [Disclosure: During the 2000 cycle, I had a year-long consultancy with Human Rights First to pull together their policy agenda publication.]


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