This morning, I’m thinking about whether I have the right temperament for politics. Specifically, about strategic secrecy versus transparency.
More than one person has pointed out that it can be…prudent, to be careful about what I say out loud during campaign season. This is obviously true — for one thing, if I say dumb things (as I have), or even potentially inflammatory things that aren’t dumb, an opposition candidate could certainly take those and try to use them against me.
Another aspect is that if I detail my plans for the next few months, then someone else could take ideas I have and copy them for themselves, possibly weakening the impact of what I do.
And a third aspect has to do with not showing your hand too early — if you seem like a negligible candidate, then your opposition isn’t as likely to mobilize against you. For example, conspicuous large fundraising early in the campaign might send up warning signals that leads the opposition to redouble their own fundraising efforts.
All of this is clearly true, and worth thinking about from a strategic standpoint. But…I’m not sure how well this kind of strategy meshes with my own personality and style.
Here’s the thing — I’ve spent twenty-five years, my entire adult life, being as open as I can be about basically everything I do. Since the day in college when I decided I wanted to stop lying to my parents about dating white boys, because it made my stomach do flips every time I talked to them, I have basically been as straight a shooter as I know how to be. I am MUCH happier that way.
This has played out in a variety of ways — from my time in my 20s as a sex activist, to the way I approach teaching (with as much transparency as possible about my goals in the classroom, so I can hopefully get my students on board and collaborating in their learning), to my keeping a detailed log throughout my cancer diagnosis and treatment, to talking about my son’s challenges in school, etc. and so on.
My preference for openness doesn’t mean I’m incapable of keeping secrets. I have various friends and relatives who prefer to live their lives more privately, and I try my hardest to respect their privacy and not blab things they would rather not have public. And of course, professionally, there’s quite a lot I need to keep confidential about my students, and I have no trouble doing so. If there’s a good reason to keep quiet, I can totally do that.
But for myself — it’s hard to be secretive about things that are important to me personally. It goes against all my habits of transparency and openness. I think I may have lost one job due to this — I thought the interview went very well, but I blogged about the process, and I was passed word afterwards that the committee was uncomfortable with how open I was. Of course, that was more than a decade ago, and people’s attitudes towards blogging have changed quite a bit.
I don’t really have a conclusion here — just thinking out loud about how I plan to approach this campaign. I do want to win, and I’m willing to work for that, and I appreciate, so much, all the advice people have been giving me. I know I have a lot to learn, and there are tried and true methods for winning a campaign that I would be a fool to ignore. I plan to stand outside grocery stores, and knock on neighbors’ doors, hand out buttons and bookmarks, etc. and so on.
But at the same time, I’m not a traditional candidate in a lot of ways, and if I do win, I’m not sure I’ll do it by running a completely traditional campaign. The voters are likely to learn more about me than they might about a lot of other candidates, and the opposition likewise. I have to hope that on balance, that helps my chances of winning the campaign.
And of course, setting aside my own campaign, part of my motivation for detailing this run is to demystify the process overall; that still seems a worthwhile goal to me, and has to get factored into any decisions about how much I do or don’t share.