I’m generally not one for New Years resolutions. They don’t tend to stick as well as things I decide to do over a period of time and launch into when it makes sense rather than on some magical, preordained date on the calendar. But given how much trouble some of our politicians – particularly the Republicans – manage to get into on a regular basis, taking part in this holiday tradition might be appropriate. With that in mind, I would offer a few resolutions which they should consider. And I’m not just talking about members of Congress and presidential aspirants here. I mean governors, state assembly and senate members, mayors, dog catchers and every kid out there thinking of running for the town council with an eye toward eventual higher office.
Jot these resolutions down on the back of your hand and stick with them all year. You’ll do well in your career.
1. Speak for yourself. Take control of your own Twitter account, Facebook page and all other social media. If you entrust that to anyone else you’re asking for problems and you will still be held accountable if they get drunk and send out a selfie with a stripper. Plus, people respond to authenticity. If you’re going to “do” social media, do it for real. Talk to people and interact in a human way. If you’re only going to use it to advertise your brand, don’t bother. We won’t want to read it. And if you wake up one morning and realize you pulled a Weiner the night before, just resign. It’s over.
2. Keep the snakes out of your own garden. Vet your own people. Everyone is interested in oppo research on the Democrats, but you are setting yourself up for failure if you forget that the dagger that strikes deepest is the one closest to you. No matter how much you like and trust Bob, you need to know his entire history as well as you know your own. One month before your first congressional primary election is no time to discover that Bob used to be the publicist for the Westboro Baptist Church.
3. Stop. Breathe. Consider. There is almost never a time when you have to rush into a big decision. President Obama’s maxim of foreign policy may have failed for him, but it’s still completely valid: Don’t Do Stupid Stuff. Look at your advertisement again before you sign off. Read the speech three times instead of two. Pause before answering the reporter’s question. Turn on your filters and don’t give ammunition to the enemy.
4. Wash your hands after using the bathroom. It’s not just hygienic and a way to prevent catching the flu. Chuck Todd is probably in the next stall waiting to see if you do it or not.
5. Know your limits. This applies to working fully as much as drinking. Everyone hits the wall after a while and that’s when you start making stupid mistakes. Don’t listen to the young bucks saying, I’ll sleep when I’m dead. That’s a lie. You’ll just be dead when you’re dead. Get a solid night’s sleep whenever possible and don’t go crazy at the open bar.
6. Don’t be a (media) whore. Be judicious in your media hits. The old maxim about getting your face out there anywhere as long as they spell your name right is a lie. The media has no vested interest in seeing you happy or getting your message out. You are only of value to them if they can tear you down and destroy you. They are the enemy and you have no friends in the media corps. No Republican’s career has ever seen a sudden upsurge by talking to Rachel Maddow or Chris Hayes.
7. Tend to the sprouts. Nurture good conservative candidates at every level. It’s easy to get lost in your own needs and goals, but if you are called to service for the right reasons you are only one small piece in a vast puzzle. No matter how high you rise, keep an eye out for those coming up behind you. Real change happens at the state and local level. And someday, if those up and comers make it big, they will remember your kindness.
8. Don’t chase the squirrel. Maintain focus on the issues where you can make a difference and the things your prospective constituents care about. Not every story requires your input, no matter how tempting the cameras and the microphones may be. CNN will spend months talking about the plane that crashed into the ocean. You are not an aviator. Unless you’re shooting for a position with the FAA you don’t need to comment on it beyond expressing your condolences to the families. Stick to what you know.
9. You are not the guardian of the rest of the party. You are not responsible for what anyone outside of your own campaign says. One of the favorite tactics of the media is to find the craziest person on the campaign trail saying something offensive or stupid and then demand that every other Republican either defend or repudiate it. When the MSNBC host opens with, “Congressman McArglebargle said that Hillary Clinton worships Satan,” the state of politics would be vastly improved if more Republicans said, “Your question is offensive and reveals your agenda. They will answer to their own voters and I’ll answer to mine. Next question.” Cut their knees out from under them.
10. Get out of the media soup. It’s far too easy to get lost in headlines, the poisonous slings and arrows of columnists and bloggers or the chatter of cable news talking heads. Never forget that the percentage of Americans paying attention to all of the noise we generate is miniscule. The vast majority of voters don’t know or care who is manning the desk on political shows and CSPAN is a foreign acronym on their cable guide which they probably think shows documentaries on bridges. Most of the people are at home or at work, worrying about paying their bills and maybe watching Sports Center. Get out and meet some of them. Lots of them. You can accomplish more by knocking on 50 doors than you can by doing 100 interviews.
So there are ten resolutions for everyone who wants to take the field on the GOP side. Trust me… you could do worse than to keep these things in mind for 2015.