A Brief Defense of Patrick Ruffini

Ralph Benko has a good defense of the grassroots at ParcBench, but I think the premise on which it is based (a statement by Patrick Ruffini) is a misreading of Patrick Ruffini.I haven’t actually talked to Patrick, but I venture to guess that I know him well enough to know what he meant. Patrick’s original is here.The nugget rubbing people the wrong way is this:

Now, what happens when the campaign goes away? What happens when the enthusiasm inevitably ebbs and the hard work of governing begins? The immediate benefits of a bottom-up strategy become less clear. You revert to traditional instincts, where powerful obstacles stand in the way of getting things done — even amongst your base, and the wielding of massive political machinery cannot be left to amateurs.

Emphasis added.The reference to amateurs has Ralph defending the grassroots. By the way, as I type this I realize I’m violating one of my top rules: never write about meta-narratives between blogs.In any event, I think Patrick is right and Ralph is misreading him. I will say too that Patrick wrote inartfully and that Ralph’s presumption is easily understood — the dumping the tea party activists is all too common lately among establishment Republicans who out of one side of their mouth sign freedom and out of the other suck up to establishment porkers.All that said, here’s the way I read Patrick and why I think he is right based on my reading.The conversation Patrick was responding to was about the “bottom-up” campaigning of the Obama campaign. Basically, you had a bunch of people inspired by his campaign who used their raw talents for the web, for art, for video, for tech, etc. all working together without the organization of the Obama team in an effort to promote Obama.Over time, the campaign harnessed the talents, deploying them as they could be used best, etc. I think it is nonsense to say the Obama campaign really was “bottom-up,” but they sure pretended it was. Above it all, though, were long time professionals calling the shots, deploying the people and resources as necessary.And this is what I think Ruffini is getting at. There are people in the grassroots who watch Schoolhouse Rock and really think the one about how a bill becomes law is totally accurate. But it is not. Constitutionally, yes it is, but the reality is quite different.Among the grassroots there are consummate professionals who know how to drive the agenda of the grassroots forward. When the grassroots have effected a victory, the winning candidate would be wise not to necessarily put the leader of the grassroots in charge, but find the person among the grassroots with the best skill sets to be put in charge.There are, frankly, amateurs in the grassroots movement — people who have not made politics their cause until inspired or incited to get involved. Some of them may develop the skill sets to become the professionals once in government, but not necessarily. I know many guys who got involved in politics because of events, stayed in the fight, developed the skill sets to lobby and advance the agenda, and are now helping run the show.I think and I hope that is what Patrick meant about putting professionals, not amateurs, in charge.If you want a real world example of the necessity of this, look at the Obama administration. The man is an academic who put a bunch of academics and non-profit workers in charge of a very real economy. They are amateurs at and enemies of capitalism. In the Pentagon and Homeland Security, he packed it full of amateurs with no experience in the subjects they are in charge of.The whole place is falling apart. Say what you will about Bush, but he brought in a number of amateurs from the grassroots, but did not put them in charge directly. He put them under professionals and trained them to themselves become professional. See e.g. Patrick Ruffini himself.Again, I assume, think, and hope that is what Patrick is talking about. Ralph makes a very good point — the elites don’t necessarily see it that way and often pull from the establishment professionals, not the grassroots professionals. There is a huge difference.That is why we must continue to fight the establishment and that is why we should all monitor guys like McDonnell et al to see who exactly they are picking to run things.