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Mar 1, 2008

TPM: Talk At Your Own Risk

The Political Manual: Talk At Your Own Risk

The most difficult discipline for the ascendant politician is to Stop Talking. We are being intentionally direct here, because you must remember and practice this.

Isn't it ironic? You have spent your life talking to people who would not listen to you. Now you have a chance at real power, at fulfilling your dreams of telling others what to do, at hearing your own words strike awe into subordinates and opponents. But, outside of carefully crafted speeches and sound bites, we recommend silence.

People can hear what you say and testify to it later. And, remember those pesky cell phone recorders. You must approve many actions and projects that will cause trouble for you if they become known to the public. Sadly, some of them will become known. If anyone can testify that you said "put the earmark into the appropriation bill, and make sure we get a $20,000 contribution from those bastards", then you are damaged or sunk.

Your CBOPA (Certified Black Ops Political Advisor) will train a few trusted aides. Your aides won't say anything very direct in discussions with you, but you will know what they are talking about. You can and should say "No" where appropriate. Say "I don't like that idea, it needs work" when you mean Maybe. Say "I could support that idea if we remove the objectionable parts" when you mean Yes. You will have plausible deniability if a recording of your meeting surfaces on YouTube or in the local FBI office.

You may object that this keeps you from forming policy and crafting your own ideas into law. May we point out that your positions derive from polls and focus groups that your aides are most familiar with. You should rely on your research people who are expert in arcane policy points. Relax and enjoy being CEO of a political organization. You have enough to do memorizing speeches and coordinating your positions with other politicians to smooth over inevitable frictions.

Above all, you do not want a reputation as someone who reads the legislation or understands the details (a policy wonk). You want to be known as a high level thinker who looks at the big picture. You can then deny responsibility for the problems that arise from your "pick the winners" legislation.

In the extreme, you might avoid voting on controversial legislation. The risk is that you may be seen as doing nothing in office. You will not be able to argue that at least you did no harm. Find the solution to this problem in the chapter "Voting Both Ways".

Certainly do not say anything definite anywhere outside your offices, to anyone. People will often be mystified as to what your position is, or even what you are referring to. You can usually meet with them again after your staff has prepared the way. Most of the time they will get the drift.

You may want to feel the thrill of "doing a deal" yourself without your staff knowing. This is risky, but may be necessary. Please start any such discussion with the phrase "In what follows, I do not intend to do or say anything improper." Memorize this exactly, because it has been tested in criminal practice.

In a famous case, Politician "Z" said in a meeting "Deliver the cash to my offices after 9:00 PM tonight." At the trial, "Z" testified that he did not intend anything improper, as he had said at the time, and any mistakes he made came from his ignorance of all the minor legal details. He was acquitted, because a plea of ignorance from a politician is very believable.

In the rare and sad case that a piece of legislation or an earmark becomes a scandal, you can fire the legislative aide that understood the bill. This does not work if you have given speeches showing detailed knowledge of what you have proposed or voted on.

May we suggest that you protect your aides with a BOPA Scandal Policy. For a relatively small cost, the policy provides support for your aide and his or her family during the period of low-profile repentance. The aide will get useful training at BOPA and reenter politics at the same or higher salary. Some of the best aides in politics have done this more than once. If you want to hire the best aides and shift responsibility onto them, they need the reassurance that this policy provides.

The above methods may not be enough for sexual scandals. These are very difficult to manage. Obviously, you are "doing the deal" yourself, and the public has a clear understanding and visceral interest in this type of story. Against all history and repeated disclosures to the contrary, the public expects politicians to be upstanding and moral. This is just a difficult and restrictive fact. We feel for you. Learn more in the chapter "Bimbo Eruptions".


Presidential nominees John McCain and Barack Obama, and Presidential candidate John Edwards, are examples of applying the above advice.

Mr. Obama seems to have managed well his record of controversial political opinion. As an Illinois State Senator for 8 years he voted "present" nearly 130 times.

Obama Proved Pragmatic and Shrewd
July 30, 2007 - The New York Times by Janny Scott

Mr. Obama did not bring revolution to Springfield in his eight years in the Senate, the longest chapter in his short public life. But he turned out to be practical and shrewd, a politician capable of playing hardball to win election (he squeezed every opponent out of his first race), a legislator with a sharp eye for an opportunity, a strategist willing to compromise to accomplish things.

It’s Not Just ‘Ayes’ and ‘Nays’
December 20, 2007 - The New York Times by Raymond Hernandez and Christopher Drew

In Illinois, political experts say voting "present" is a relatively common way for lawmakers to express disapproval of a measure. It can at times help avoid running the risks of voting no, they add.

“If you are worried about your next election, voting "present" gives you political cover,” said Kent D. Redfield, a professor of political studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “This is an option that does not exist in every state and reflects Illinois political culture.”

Amid McCain's new status, old scandals stir
02/28/08 - Boston Globe by Michael Kranish
Mr. McCain avoided being badly hurt in April 1987 in the Keating Five Scandal. McCain was accused of pressuring bank regulators to go easy on Lincoln Savings and Loan, a bank owned by political contributor and close friend Charles Keating.

"I don't want any part of our conversation to be improper," McCain said, according to Black's notes. Then he launched into a complaint about how regulators were conducting an examination of Lincoln's finances. "It seems to me, from talking to many folks in Arizona, that there's a problem," McCain said, according to Black's notes.

Black later told the Senate Ethics Committee that the actions of the five senators were clearly "improper."

Mr. Edwards stated that rumors of his affair and expected child were false in 12/2007. Instead, a member of his campaign claimed to be the lover and father. Unfortunately Edwards was caught visiting his rumored lover, and he admitted to the affair on 8/08/08.

John Edwards aide claims paternity 08/01/08 - Mcclatchy Newspapers by Lisa Zagaroli and Lorenzo Perez.

The National Enquirer reported that John Edwards had a sexual relationship, and later a baby, with Rielle Hunter, who had been hired last year by Edwards' presidential campaign.

The National Enquirer reported Rielle's statement "The fact that I am expecting a child is my personal and private business. This has no relationship to nor does it involve John Edwards in any way. Andrew Young is the father of my unborn child."

Young was a fundraiser for Edwards' campaign. Young's Washington attorney stated at the time “As confirmed by Ms. Hunter, Andrew Young is the father of her unborn child. Senator Edwards knew nothing about the relationship between these former co-workers, which began when they worked together in 2006. As a private citizen who no longer works for the campaign, Mr. Young asks that the media respect his privacy while he works to make amends with his family.”


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