I’ve waited for years to put down in writing this WinSome strategy.
Is it because political division in this country has suddenly become so repugnant that I couldn’t take it any more?
The reason I waited so long was because, frankly, I didn’t think there was a market for it. I’m not talking about book sales. I could not convince myself that anyone else really wanted to find a way create an atmosphere for civil dialogue.
Most likely, this is due to the realm in which I lived and worked. In 2004 I started writing political satire. That led to making political commentary video for a firm in Los Angeles. In 2009, my limited fame drew some folks to ask me to run for local office. So, for nearly a decade and a half, I’ve been surrounded by readers, viewers and local political activists who all had the same basic mindset: We must debate, defeat and destroy political opponents in order to get what we want. Those who disagree with us are the enemy.
Any time I suggested that we might want to persuade and win some to our “side”, serious people explained to me why this would only waste time. The enemy won’t listen. He’s stupid, evil, or he benefits too much from the status quo to consider adopting our views. A state senator advised me against going door-to-door in the urban part of his district. “They’ll never vote for you,” he said. “The other side will win those precincts four-to-one.”
I asked, “How will we know unless we try?” My limited experience in those areas had shown me that folks had not rejected my ideas —they had never heard them, and many had never talked to a candidate from the other party. They seemed surprised, and honored, that I had invested some time to reach out to them.
I recall a speech I gave to a group of young political activists, who held their meeting in a bar to boost attendance. I said, “If our principles work, then they work for everyone, or they’re not principles. Therefore, when we win, the neighbor who disagrees with you will enjoy a better life, or at least the opportunity to do so.” In other words, I was encouraging them to see their mission in terms of blessing those who disagree, rather than defeating them.
I don’t know if any of these young activists got what I was saying, but that idea didn’t hold much interest in most political circles.
Politics, driven as it is by election cycles, is a naturally-divisive game. So much so, that it’s an insult in one party to say that someone is “reaching across the aisle” to the other party. It’s tantamount to betrayal of party and principle.
So for a long time, I didn’t commit this WinSome strategy to writing because I thought it would be like keeping a diary no one else would read until after my death. Even now, as I write this, I can’t help but think that may be the case.
Why does winning over your enemy seem boring, or fruitless to most players of the game?
Fighting sells. Making friends, not so much.
But, you might ask, isn’t successful politics ultimately about making friends for your ideas?
Sadly, that’s not how most in “the game” seem to see it. There’s an underlying assumption that only personal interest drives decisions, and so there’s not need to persuade another to adopt your views. The best you can hope for in politics and government is to trade your way to success. Here’s what I mean.
During my first run for county executive, the party chairman assembled the local elected officials for a meeting with me, intending to secure their financial support. State representatives and senators gathered with a staffer for our U.S. Congressman, and told me they would do a $50,000 fundraiser for my candidacy. At the time, I didn’t realize what small potatoes that was. In exchange for their support, they said, all they would ask of me is that I would always support their reelection bids, and never back anyone from our party who challenged them in a primary. I asked what I they thought I should do if a dear friend of mine mounted the challenge. These elected officials told me that I would have to reject my friend, and support the incumbent, or at the very least, stay out of the campaign. I told them that I didn’t want them to support me because they had to, or in exchange for anything, but only if they agreed that my ideas and experience were the best for the job. I couldn’t trade anything or their support. A very serious state senator kindly explained to me a little something they call “loyalty.” I felt like I was trapped in a scene from “The Godfather.” I walked away from their offer of financial support. Some of them later supported me anyway, on a much smaller scale — even smaller potatoes. Before discovering this incumbent-protection scheme, I had assumed that principles meant something.
In legislative bodies, like the county commissioner board on which I served for a couple of years, there’s a long tradition of “horse trading” — I’ll give up something that matters to me on one question, if you give up something that matters to you on another. Now, good negotiators usually give up only the things that don’t really matter to them, so when they say this, they’re actually putting on a show (lying). But you get the idea.
As an elected official, I never engaged in horse trading, and I never asked another legislator to do so. I had this crazy notion that good ideas should stand on their own merits. My colleague should support my proposal because he believed it good for the constituents of the county.
I recall one conversation with a commissioner from the other party, a man I respected and loved as a brother, who told me that he actually agreed with me but that there was no way he could vote with me. His own party would eat him alive.
Brothers and sisters, this should not be.
These moments, and many more like them, have inspired me to commit the WinSome strategy to writing, video, speeches —whatever it takes to spread the word.
Despite the possibility that no one will pay attention, or that WinSome will be dismissed and mocked as naive, I believe the only way forward for a Constitutional republic is to establish the basis for civil dialogue. We must have a way of discussing important ideas honestly without demonizing others, nor denigrating them with insults.
We must come to a point where we can imagine that another person sees the world differently that I do, and yet he is not a devil, nor a moron.
Fundamentally, I believe that most people do what they do for the best of reasons. I know that good intentions can get someone killed, or get millions of people killed. But when I’m talking with someone who has good intentions, and believes he has good reasons for his way of thinking, I don’t see how attacking his motives, his intelligence and his basic character will help to change his mind.
There is a better way, and it is achievable by a large percentage of people. This conviction drives me.
I’ve come to believe, that if I don’t endeavor to make the WinSome case, I’ll die without knowing whether it had a chance.
Thank You, Amy
If you find some appeal in the WinSome strategy, you can thank a woman named Amy.
I met her about 10 years ago, then saw her again recently. She abruptly asked me what I really wanted to do with my life.
I suprised myself by immediately talking — with vigor and conviction — about this WinSome strategy that has been percolating within me for such a long time. Amy reacted warmly to the idea, and encouraged me to get to work on it. When I said I thought there was no market for it, she said she wanted to see it, and that there are others like her.
I mention Amy, not just to thank her, but to point out how a single encouraging word can make a difference to another person.
The next day, I secured the website at 2WinSome.com, and began to write. It has not been difficult to write this. It’s a joy.
A week or so later, I sent Amy a link to what I had written so far, and she marvelled at how quickly I had done it.
I replied, “Yeah, it has taken me only 30 years.”
Now, let’s see where it goes.