Even though I was often accused, like many other bloggers, of sitting on the fence too long when it came to endorsing a candidate in 2007, the truth is that I was publicly backing Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin for President since early 2005. In fact, I was backing him so hard, that I was ready to move to Wisconsin to work on his potential presidential campaign as soon as he announced, and some very, very preliminary and exploratory behind the scenes discussions had already occurred on that subject. I was ready to do it, and the prospect excited me. When I was called by a member of his staff in early mid-November of 2006 and told that Feingold would not be running, I was pretty disappointed for a while.
But really, thank God I didn't end up working on a presidential campaign this cycle. Had I done so, I probably would have had to live with supporting ridiculous spin like this:
On the Hillary conference call, Hillary chief strategist Geoff Garin made the case for her electability in some of the most explicitly race-based terms I've heard yet.
Garin argued that the North Carolina contest, which Obama won by 14 points, represented "progress" for Hillary because she did better among white voters there than she did in Virginia.
"When we began in North Carolina," Garin said, "our internal polling and much of the public polling [showed] we were running exactly even with white voters."
Garin said that the Virginia electorate was the "closest white electorate in the country" to North Carolina, and added that Hillary "started even" among whites in North Carolina, and "ended up earning a significant win of 24 points."
"We obviously did not do as well as we would want or needed to among African American voters," Garin concluded.
There was a very interesting discussion on the flight back to D.C. from Indianapolis. By the time we landed, the Clinton campaign was proclaiming, "We shocked the world" by winning Indiana. "A win is a win," was the rallying cry, as the margin narrowed.
Meanwhile, the Clinton press team did everything possible to minimize Barack Obama's win in North Carolina. He has a "built-in advantage" there, they said. It was a state where they knew the "demographics" were going to be tough, referring the state's African-American community. Turns out, his margin overall was greater than her's in Pennsylvania.
But Clinton's aides continue to argue she's the stronger nominee, because she continues to do well with the most important voters, crucial swing voters, who will make the difference in a race with John McCain in November, blue-collar and working-class voters, most of whom are white.
Awesome. Let's spin crippling losses as huge victories, and talk about the importance of voters in explicitly racial terms. And I'm not really picking on this specific case of absurd spin, but rather trying to extend it to a general principle of the habit of campaigns to spin things that go truly badly for them as actually having gone really well. After four years of writing whatever I wanted and giving my honest opinion about how I feel on any given subject, that sort of thing would have been really hard to swallow.
I actually feel a good deal of sympathy for campaign workers who have to do this, because really you don't have a choice to just up and leave a campaign if it starts sending out press releases you don't like. Campaigns are institutions with a singular purpose: to win the election the campaign has entered. Further, if you want a career as a campaign operative, then you need to serve the purpose of the institutions for which you work. So, as unpalatable as it may seem, staffers don't really have any other choice than to often push some pretty crazy spin. Do it, or switch careers.
Among the many lessons I have learned as a blogger, one of the bigger ones is that I don't want to make a habit out of working for electoral campaigns. While I don't blame the people who work for campaigns for having to say some outrageous stuff, it is also a position I don't want to be in myself.