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Hullabaloo


Thursday, October 08, 2015

 

No, Barack cannot come to the phone

by Tom Sullivan

In some documentary about the band Heart, a band member holds up two shoes in the dressing room before a show. One is the shoe he wore to the theater. The other is a knee-high, leather boot that screams rock and roll. "This is reality," he says, holding up an ordinary desert boot. Holding up the knee-high, leather model, he says, "This is fantasy."

Now, I answer voice mail about once a week at the local Democratic Party headquarters. Our county is one of the handful in the state that actually has one (and a land line). It's amazing the expectations the uninitiated have when they call for the first time, the way independent-leaning noobs did because of Barack Obama in 2008, or Bernie Sanders now. They imagine they are calling the DNC headquarters or the White House, and that a full-time, paid staff is just waiting to pick up the phone 24/7/365. This is fantasy.

No, I don't know when Hillary is coming to town.
No, we don't have any Bernie t-shirts in your size or any size.
No, I cannot give the president a message.
Yes, I know the listing says Democratic Party.

Sometimes they say something snarky or hang up in a huff. Our failure to live up to their fantasy confirms how utterly calcified the Democratic Party is, just as they already suspected. Except they wanted to speak with the base commander and called the political equivalent of the motor pool. It's all volunteers down here just like any grassroots campaign. We just have a permanent office. It's staffed on an irregular schedule and with little budget. There is no direct line to the Clinton campaign headquarters in Brooklyn. Sorry. Here in the provinces, we haven't heard a peep from the Clinton campaign and don't expect to for months.

Or maybe callers want information on Bernie's local campaign but could find none. That's because there is just an ad hoc team of enthusiastic volunteers operating out of someone's house, with no field office, staff or phone. So they call the local Democratic Party headquarters because we do. Yet because we can't give them any Bernie swag (his campaign hasn't sent any — like either of us have money to burn), we're the ones who are worthless. But not Bernie.

So it goes.

What the public does not see is the thousands of unglamorous, behind the scenes man-hours that go into putting on a general election. Most voters see only the same four or five retirees (essentially volunteers on a stipend) working at their local precinct on Election Day. Every other year here the local parties spend months recruiting them. There are eighty precincts in this county (granted, one of the larger ones). There are 100 counties in this state, and 50 states, plus the territories and the District of Columbia. Do the math. Democracy is a helluva logistical effort. Plus, it takes showing up at monthly Board of Elections meetings to lobby for additional Early Voting locations and to fend off assaults on voting rights. And trying, trying to get out the vote in municipal and off-year elections most first-time callers never bother with, thus allowing the T-party to control Congress and state legislatures.

What first-time callers don't know they don't know is that local political operations in reality are a little different from what they imagine from watching presidential campaigns on TV.

In pretty much any spy movie or TV police drama, characters can sit down at a computer and with a few mouse clicks pull up full-color, detailed dossiers on any suspect and all their known associates going back to grade school. You know that's fantasy too, right?