Some years ago I had the incredibly bad judgment to run as a libertarian-leaning Republican for the United States Senate. I had no money, no connections, and no success.
To give you a feel for what the experience was like, I’d like to share an incident from the campaign trail that is totally 100% true, as far as I can remember it.
Steamboat Springs, a swanky resort town, lies up in northern Colorado, well out of the way of anything. It sports a slightly uppity air, though it seems to have never completely escaped its earthier, hippie roots. I walked into the Gucci-style hotel where I’d be attending a two-day conference about political liberty. I was there to gin up support for my campaign.
Loitering in the hall outside the main room, I met Leo. He struck me as a typical pissed-off conservative, the kind I was meeting a lot of on the campaign trail. Nevertheless, we had a pleasant discussion, and he seemed a bit receptive to my candidacy. But then . . .
That evening at the outdoor cocktail reception I ambled up to a picnic table at which about seven women and one man were seated, having what seemed to me to be a muted small-talk kind of conversation. I did my routine introduction. “Hi, I’m Luke and I’m running for the United States Senate. What would you folks like to see from your next U.S. Senator?” Leo, whom I had not recognized at first, spoke up.
“BALLS!” he shouted. “I want to know that you’ve got some BALLS!”
Grinning, I said, “Well, I’ve got a family with two kids at home and I’ve taken a big risk-”
“I don’t want to hear about your kids! I want to hear that you’ve got BALLS!” The women around the table seemed to be chuckling uncomfortably, as if they were half-embarrassed, half-amused. “All’a them crooked politicians wuss out when they get to Washington, so you’ve gotta have some BALLS!”
I moved to extricate myself from the conversation.
“I’m telling you, you gotta have BALLS!”
Leo was not abnormal. A little drunk, maybe, but more or less typical for what I regularly ran into among the polity. For example, there was the pleasant-looking woman who, upon learning I was running for office, started yelling at me. This was at the same political freedom conference where I met Leo.
Then there was the deli owner I met in Buena Vista who suggested that we should drop nuclear bombs on Iran. He was pissed — really, really pissed — that I didn’t agree.
I met with a “liberty-minded” group in Boulder that professed to agree with policy positions that I also held. When I met with them for the purpose of expressing my agreement with their policies, they treated me like I was crazy. (The hell of it is, they were right.)
Over in Grand Junction, I met with some other “liberty” types. Under intense and vehement questioning from one of the guys there, I allowed as how — in extreme cases — a politician might have to stretch the Commerce Clause and some spend federal money to improve the Grand Junction area. His wife later said in a group email that I should be “slaughtered in the streets.”
All of these people were on “my” side in political matters. I know what you’re thinking, and no, the problem wasn’t that I was on the wrong team. I saw enough of the Democrat side of things to know that there was plenty of crazy there, too.
In the months and years after my abortive and embarrassing foray into politics, I had plenty of time to reflect. What did I do wrong? What the hell was I thinking? What is the deal with people…and with me?
It didn’t take too much reflection to figure out my mistake. Though I knew better, I treated people as if they knew their own preferences, knew what they believed, meant what they said, and would act in reasonable accordance with those things. Of course they wouldn’t!
People are crazy and corrupt and irrational! By “people” I mean you, personally, and me. You don’t believe me on this point. But you are irrational almost all of the time. As am I.
In the subsequent years, a few people asked whether I’d ever run for political office again. I told them that if I were ever to run again, I’d run a satirical campaign. It’d be a two-pronged approach:
(1) Use and embody the slogan, “I agree with you!” No matter what any regular person you meet on the campaign trail says to you, agree with a smile and truly, sincerely, feigned authenticity.
(2) Any time a political opponent articulates a policy position, vehemently state your disagreement with it and then promptly restate the same policy — in simpler words — as your own position.
People gave me a courtesy laugh when I said I’d actually get elected despite the satirical approach. Do you really think it wouldn’t work? It just did. I give you: President Trump.