Monday, January 15, 2007

Personal Asides: More About Political Consultants…Presidential Trivia.

Political Consultants.

Political consultants generally come in two categories: media-strategy and grassroots organization. Of the two, the grassroots organization types can be more easily judged…the wheat sifted from the chaff. Most media consultants are sheep-shearers, stripping the gentle lamb to naked proportions for lucrative TV commissions.

Last week I wrote about the evolution of political media consultants and the damage they can do when they operate as runamok, without proper guidance from either seasoned candidates, responsible finance people or candidate’s staffs. Media consultants can be effective but one has to watch them closely. They all have the same approach: often wrong but never in doubt. They attract to themselves the aura of genius; most often—not always—they are parasitical to very wealthy candidates because they see that by flattery they can get an innocent candidate to spend a lot of money on a campaign which means automatically the consultant who designs TV ads will get fat commissions. One test on how honest a general consultant is involves how important he/she thinks money spent on precinct organization is. Nine times out of ten, the general consultant will shrug this off because the consultant does not get a rake-off from such expenditures but from media buys.

After fifty-two years in this business, I have come to respect campaign managers as the real General Pattons of the effort and grassroots consultants as the true warriors in the army. With some exceptions, I have found that media consultants have been camp followers, the type that hang around the GI mess with some flirtatious beckonings on how a candidate can be made overnight into a presidential contender with just the right TV consultant.

Instead, usually, the media consultant will suggest more and more TV which is bound to ingratiate himself with a novice candidate who likes to see himself on the tube. I have found grassroots organization consultants to be generally more integrity-filled; media consultants are usually the highbinders. Precinct organization is dull-dull-dull but rewarding when dedicated work is applied and results can be seen on election day. When Roseanna Polido took over Winnebago county for Jim Oberweis it was hoped she would do just okay in a tough situation. She did extremely well and carried the county against all expectations. My experience has been that media consultants are a dime and dozen and the bad ones usually charge far more than the good. But good grassroots consultants are pure gold. Among the excellent ones I would list Jim Leahy and Charlie Johnston.

Avaricious media consultants suck up all the finance oxygen for media which rewards them and not the candidate. Most novice candidates are suckered by this. I have no complaint with Oberweis’ media campaign this time around (although in earlier ventures his media consultants did not do him a service). But the offender was not a professional media consultant but a very amateur one. It was obvious that Sen. Brady’s very influential brother told him the name of the game was to control the right by harpooning the leading conservative. That was a disastrous strategy, gaining Brady nothing but the enmity of Oberweis conservatives…when, by playing the game straight…by either running for state treasurer or as a non-Oberweis-baiting conservative, Brady would be in a logical position now to run for anything he wants. The brother’s influence was so great on Brady that when staffers tried to tell the candidate the truth, they were suspected as being disloyal. That usually comes from beyond the candidate—from someone who does not want to be dislodged and views constructive criticism as enmity.

The brother-induced Brady series of attacks on Oberweis, proves once again that family members should be used for brochure photos but not political consulting. Love a brother but don’t use him in these delicate matters any more than you’d use a brother to direct a surgeon how to perform brain surgery on you. In all American history only one brother did well in the political consulting business—and that was Bobby Kennedy whose own experience as a staffer to Sen. John McClellan (D-Ark.) as chief counsel on the Teamsters investigation and as minority counsel to the Army-McCarthy hearings gave him experience that was priceless.

Brady, who is interested in running for the Senate, seems to be coming up with a John McCain-like approach to politics—stressing his own campaign finance reform in hopes yet again of building up a kind of p. r.-oriented alternative conservatism: a reform approach ala what McCain has done nationally. This stuff is more of the same that we’ve seen from Brady during the campaign…likely brother intrusion again. If he’s serious about running for the Senate, Brady’s goal should be to command the conservative base. And he’s not going to do that without making up for past mistakes with Oberweis, whom he maimed. State campaign “reform” piggy-backing on the federal McCain-Feingold misnamed reform is not the way to go—and it can’t affect Brady anyhow since he wants to run for a federal office. But that’s Brady’s problem. His job is to realize that he should get his brother out of the dining-room table consulting business. Anyhow, it’s probably too late.

My guess is that someone entirely different from the regular names we know will come forth to run for the Senate: who, I don’t know. But if that’s my guess, my earnest prayer is that this person will not be controlled by arrogant know-it-all’ness masquerading as political astuteness which will shear the candidate and his/her backers like a sheep being rendered shiveringly skin-naked. The way to avoid exploitation by sheep-shearers is to build up a strong professional Illinois State Central staff under a wise chairman who can ward off the shearers and supply good statewide consulting year-round so the candidate tasks can be taken up smoothly by approved and reputable species. The first way to pick out a sheep-shearing schlock media consultant is to see how cock-sure he is and how powerfully he projects a profile of metaphysical certainty. He’s the guy to get rid of quickly.

The next thing to do is to keep brothers, brothers-in-law, fathers, mothers, fathers-in-law, sisters, aunts, children, barbers, old school classmates, close ministers, priests, rabbis, kid campaign drivers and newspaper reporter friends who mean well out of the strategy. I once had a candidate who started telling the media straight-off the various options he was weighing—and quickly got the onus as an indecisive Hamlet “should I do this or that or the other thing?” It turned out his neighbor was an AP sports reporter, another amateur dining-room table consultant, who told him that in all things be glaringly candid and divulge what you’re thinking. We cut that neighbor off at the pass…the sports guy returned to writing about the Vikings... and my guy got elected governor. The first thing to do for a statewide race is to start out with a very good grassroots consultant and once you get the ground game going start shopping around for a media type who will listen…and listen…and listen…and listen. And then either recommend or, better yet, seek to implement the self-same image the candidate wants to project: it’d be unique.

Presidential Trivia.

What do all these names have in common?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Lyndon Baines Johnson

Richard Milhous Nixon

Ronald Wilson Reagan


  1. John Berrnard PowersJanuary 15, 2007 at 3:19 AM

    All of the above have their mother's maiden name as a middle name (I think).


  2. The middle names are their mothers' maiden names.

  3. none of the above names contain the letters X or Z.

  4. The common factor is that their middle names are their mother's maiden names.

  5. Jack Roeser (no relation!)January 16, 2007 at 8:11 AM

    Tom - right on about consultants - it's extremely good advice. I couldn't said it better or add anything to what you wrote. We're linking it and hopefully sending some folks to your blog to read it.