No doubt there is urgency and excitement charging through the Marianne Williamson campaign for Congress. And Los Angeles progressives have many reasons to celebrate the best-selling author's entry into the race for the 33rd district.
Her platform reads like a wish list for the unabashed left. Even campaign finance reform receives serious attention. Williamson has sworn off Political Action Committee (PAC) money as well as donations from lobbyists.
The bad news? Beside the local media-spun caricatures that portray her as a granola-eating Boulder hippy, Williamson's already being written off as an "also ran" in the company of rival candidates Wendy Greuel and Ted Lieu.
So, what can the Williamson campaign do before voter opinion cements around her dark horse status? What will it take to accelerate her campaign into a competitive pace with Greuel and Lieu?
For advice let's turn to DC Beltway insider Chris Cillizza, a columnist for The Washington Post. His "5 immutable rules of politics" are useful, specifically rule number three: "[N]o swing voter cares about campaign finance reform." Fortunately, that is not the end of the conversation.
When polled, a broad consensus of voters say we need to get money out of politics. Here's the hitch, in Cillizza's own words: "But they don't vote on campaign finance"( his italics).
So, what would it take for the Williamson campaign to give residents of the 33rd district a chance to vote on the issue of campaign finance accountability?
Two mutually-dependent messaging strategies would lift Marianne Williamson's profile in the congressional contest and reset the image the media has of her.
First, her campaign should directly challenge the Greuel and Lieu camps on the issue of campaign finance. Invite each of her rivals to forego PAC and lobbyist money. The voters win big should they accept the challenge. If not, Williamson has an issue to illustrate her superior appeal. Should she get elected, she will owe no favors to campaign funders and can faithfully represent residents of the 33rd.
Second--and crucial to the first--involves addressing voters about their role in the campaign finance equation; the reason candidates for public office must be constantly dialing for dollars: to pay for television and radio ads to reach a mostly disengaged electorate.
In the myriad conversations going on in this country about campaign finance reform, one almost never hears about the role voters play. A majority of us can acknowledge that there is something seriously wrong with how decisions over public policy get made. The Federal Elections Commission is a fig leaf that barely conceals the pay-to-play transactions that buy off incumbents and challengers alike--long before election day arrives. Worse yet, elite financial interests almost always prevail over, and at the expense of, the common good.
Since the Williamson campaign seeks to have a transformational impact on politics, I can think of no other message that would awaken voters' commitment to our republic as effectively.
They must be reminded that electoral politics is a two-way street--between citizens and the officials they elect. The greater the voter engagement (quality and quantity), the better chance they have at electing a representative they can hold accountable.
Truly straight talk with voters along these lines would also throttle the media's image of her as a loopy idealist. Nothing illustrates leadership like unpleasant but necessary acts of restoring accountability. Voters, especially the apathetic among us, are long overdue for a lovingly delivered reprimand.
If the Williamson campaign can succeed with these messaging strategies, it would send voters across the country a crucial message of hope--that government by citizen consensus is well within their grasp.