, January 23, 2008
I found this book to be full of valuable and measurable campaign tactics--Creamer is obviously someone who carefully plans, not hopes, for success--and I banked away some fresh ideas for communications and organizing. For activists, organizers and even candidates with multiple re-elections under their belts, it breaks down the elements of a successful campaign and gives rise to the notion of a "movement." I'd recommend this book in particular to those considering running for office, but any would-be activist will find practical tools for motivation and execution, along with improved message development and communication.
To change voter behavior, Creamer says, you must first understand it, and he draws upon the works of contemporary authoritative sources such as Malcolm Gladwell, George Lakoff and Jared Diamond to help put the self-interests of voters into cultural and anthropological context. I found this summation and application to current events very thought-provoking. The conclusions of the many human behavior experiments cited tie in to political behavior--to oversimplify an example, if you want to increase the likelihood that someone will go to the polls (or the Health Clinic), draw them a map, let them visualize themselves doing the desired behavior.
What is said to voters is not always what is heard by voters. By examining the success and failures of actual historical and current examples, one gets a better understanding of how Republicans in recent years have been so successful at "re-framing" the issues so that so many people actually vote against their economic self-interests, or why others don't vote at all. Some of the illustrations used are somewhat weighty concepts but some are as simple as re-naming the estate tax a "death tax", implying that middle-income families would be affected by it.
Creamer writes in a style that breaks down complex subjects into simple concepts, and illustrates many points with anecdotes from first-person, behind-the-scenes observations. It's common for us to look back at a point in history and understanding meaning and consequence that wasn't so obvious as it was developing. Creamer puts that kind of "big picture" look at contemporary events. For example, how the progressive movement will continue to strengthen the bonds with religious communities and lay claim, quite properly, to the shared goals of a moral society.
It's helpful, if not downright entertaining, to have examples illustrating the points being made. It demonstrates how subtle, seemingly insignificant things can impact our democratic society--organize to get a crosswalk put in on your street, and end up as POTUS. Cut down the very last tree on your island and seal the fate of your isolated society.
I'm not a fast reader. It took me awhile to get through the book but I didn't have any trouble staying interested: Stand Up Straight changed tempo, from studies of human behavior to critical tasks for election day, which tied the sociological concepts to desired goals and outcomes. Creamer drives home the critical need to combine strategy, vision and values on the one hand, with nuts and bolts execution on the other. Knowledge without action, or action without knowledge, will not rebuild America. A "weapon of mass instruction" like this will.