home > archive > 2004 > this article
The art of politics
By Steven Martinovich
When it comes to municipal politics there is probably no better training ground than New York City. Serving as Ed Koch's advance man and press secretary Bill Rauch was able to witness firsthand how a political master operates in the rough and tumble world of New York politics. Rauch is now a mayor himself -- in Beaufort, South Carolina -- but the lessons learned in New York remain valid.
Rauch distills those lessons in the entertaining Politicking: How to Get Elected, Take Action, and Make an Impact in Your Community. The challenges facing Beaufort are on a different scale from those of New York, and perhaps your own community, but as Rauch proves the same skill sets are necessary. Politicking is a collection of advice covering everything from how to get elected, airing your opponent's dirty laundry to how to avoid defeat and what to do when that happens.
Rather than a dry manual, Rauch employs a humorous style to illustrate his points. Admonishments and advice are seamlessly woven in with anecdotes from his days in New York and Beaufort. Some of his advice is obvious even to those with no political experience -- make sure to be available to the people you want to represent and avoid waffling -- while other tidbits would seem counterintuitive to readers. For example, aspiring politicians -- contrary to popular perception about elected representatives -- shouldn't talk too much. It's a good way avoid saying something stupid and it allows the voters to speak their minds.
It's not all high-minded ideals that come into play, unfortunately. In one jarring chapter that departs from Rauch's folksy tone he discusses the art of the smear. Timing is everything and it helps if you can enlist others to do the dirty work for you. How effective it can be was proved during the 2000 Republican primary in South Carolina. At the time Sen. John McCain was enjoying a hefty lead over George W. Bush. That changed, however, after a whisper campaign during the final weeks of the campaign was launched that accused McCain of fathering an illegitimate child, being married to a drug addict and serving alcohol to children. The end result was a huge Bush victory and the end of McCain's hopes for the presidency.
As Politicking makes clear, however, politics is about making a difference. Running for office isn't an ends unto itself, it's about using the office you achieve in order to make your community a better place. That's why it's important that many different voices become involved in the process. Everyone has a stake in the results and those motivated to make a difference are the most valuable resource a community has.
"Occasionally, however, an individual comes along who wants to challenge the power structure, who is willing to try to live by his or her political wits outside the cozy confines of the establishment. She may be a housewife who gets steamed up about the siting of a school and decides to do something about the city's dumb zoning laws. He may be a retired history teacher who goes to a meeting and is appalled by some selectman's rudeness, and decides to run to bring civility to his local government. ... These candidates often bring with them a simple, selfless agenda: they seek to improve the city's quality of life for their constituents."
Though at times Politicking occasionally comes across as a one-sided testament to Rauch's apparent ability to always occupy the moral high ground, he never seems to have been on the wrong side of an issue, overall it is a fine guide for aspiring politicians. Even those not brave -- or foolhardy -- enough to throw their hats in the ring will find Politicking an entertaining look into how and why decisions are made that effect them.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
Buy Politicking: How to Get Elected, Take Action, and Make an Impact in Your Community at Amazon.com for only $16.10 (30% off)
Get weekly updates about new issues of ESR!
© 1996-2013, Enter Stage Right and/or its creators. All rights reserved.