Books For Political Activists Who Lost and Won [OPINION]
The midterm elections had something for everyone, and that is rare. The Democrats captured the House and the Republicans maintained their Senate majority.
People who work on political campaigns are the least appreciated volunteers in the world of volunteers. They are the people that give us the choices we demand on Election Day. Candidates are on the ballot because of the work of their volunteer supporters, and only because of the volunteers' hard work.
I love campaign workers. I don't care what candidate they support or their political beliefs. Campaign workers agree on working within the system, and that elections matter.
With that in mind, I am recommending a few books for folks who are interested in working on political campaigns. The books are from liberals and conservatives - strategy and tactics are ideologically neutral.
Read anything you can find by or about Richard Viguerie. As a young man, he recognized the power of direct mail to communicate with individual voters, and that some of those voters would respond by sending a financial contribution to the candidate or the organization. Richard Viguerie is generous with his knowledge of politics and has written numerous books that every activist should buy, read and re-read.
Having his books on hand to reference when developing a campaign plan is something an activist should do, and they should hope their opposition isn’t doing it as well. I would recommend you start with The New Right and America’s Right Turn. If you are a liberal, the titles will turn you off, but you will cheat yourself if you stop there. Viguerie’s books are filled with recommendations of other books to follow up, too.
Besides Atlas Shrugged, I have probably given out more copies of this book than any other, and I'm a dedicated book giver. Judge Lawrence Grey's masterpiece How to Win a Local Election is perfect. He explains how to win a precinct, and how if you can do that enough times, you can win an election. He wrote this before the internet and social media. He explains how to forecast precinct turnouts based on past elections and how to make a campaign plan for voter contact based on turnout models. Get this book and marvel all of your family and friends when you win a local election.
In 2008, Senator Barack Obama rocked the world by wrestling the Democrat Party nomination away from Senator Hillary Clinton, and then defeating Senator John McCain to become President of the United States. His campaign manager was David Plouffe, and he was kind enough to share his experience in his book The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama's Historic Victory. Want to take on an incumbent or an establishment favorite? Get Plouffe's book and take notes. If you're a conservative and you are turned off because of the candidate and don't read the book--get out of politics now rather than wasting your time, and the time of other people.
In 1976, Ronald Reagan took on President Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination for President. Conservative political consultant and historian Craig Shirley has written a masterpiece on that inner party battle. His book Reagan's Revolution is well written, entertaining, and a solid contribution to modern political history. For the political activist, the book is required reading. Primary fights are unique and rare. Shirley explains the importance of the calendar, direct mail fundraising and knowing the rules.
The books I have recommended are all written by people who are actually involved in political campaigns. There are plenty of great books about politics written by journalists and historians who have been close observers of elections. I read and value books written by the observers of events.
However, the books I recommend today are about increasing practical knowledge. These authors are sharing their knowledge from the campaign trail. They didn't observe what others did--they did it or didn't do it, or had it done to them and their candidate. This is the first of many recommendations on the subject, and I would love to hear from you on similar books.
Chris McCarthy is the host of The Chris McCarthy Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Chris_topher_Mc. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.