Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Q: I recently lost a primary race, largely because a bunch of elected officials I had helped for years ended up screwing me. What’s the best way to get back at them? —Name and location withheld

By not spending another minute thinking about getting back at them.

One day in prison, a veteran convict pulled me aside and told me that his brother-in-law had told the feds where his (cocaine) bricks were. “Wow,” I said. “What did you do to him?”

“Thought about the motherf—– for my first three years straight,” he said. “Laid awake every night. Worst three years of my life. But then one day I let it go. Just like that. ’Cause you can’t do time like that. Your boy with the wire…you can’t even think about [the] dude. It’ll make you crazy.” It was the best advice I got in prison; after that, I rarely thought about my ex–best friend.

Your resentment is weighing you down and will reduce the odds of you succeeding in your next endeavor, which would be the best revenge.

By the way, in the future, don’t help others in the hope that they’ll reciprocate. Help people you truly want to see succeed, and then be pleasantly surprised if they reciprocate.

Q: In your last column, some would-be candidate told you he hated asking for money. Instead of providing constructive advice on how to do it, you gave him glib advice about marrying a rich person and other long-shot strategies. How about a better answer? —J.J., New York City

Asking for money can be soul-crushing. But unless we enshrine the public financing of campaigns, it will be a necessary evil. That said, here’s some practical advice about how to make it feel less seamy—and how to succeed at it:

When you first meet a prospective donor, ask for general advice. A few weeks later when an issue arises on which she has expertise, call her and ask for specific advice, but do not ask for money. Then two weeks after that, ask her if she’d be willing to serve in an advisory role on your campaign, a member of “Businesswomen for J.J.” or something. If she agrees, ask for money two weeks later.

Why will this work? First, because now she’s much more invested in you than she would have been had you asked initially. Second, it’s like dating: An attractive woman at a bar gets hit on 10 times a night. A guy can distinguish himself by approaching her without asking her out. When he leaves, she often thinks about the guy who didn’t hit on her more than about the dozen who did.

In other words, after the first few conversations, your prospective donor may be intrigued by the fact that you haven’t asked for money. It’s a fine line to walk, but you can be persistent without being desperate.

Q: I’m a longtime Hill rat, and my boss—who’s amazing—sent me on the road to help a U.S. Senate candidate who’s an idiot. It’s beautiful here and I love the beach, but I can’t bear the thought of getting berated for the next six weeks by someone who knows less about public policy than most interns. What should I do? —Wishing for Washington, D.C.

Suck it up. If people can clean toilets or unload trucks for 40 years, I’m confident you can write press releases and do beachfront debate prep for six weeks. If you want, ask for a raise when you get back. And thank God that your boss knows something about public policy and doesn’t berate you.

Q: I am planning to run and win the Venezuela presidency in 2017. I currently live in the U.S., in Oregon. One day I was working on my campaign website and I turned the TV on and came across Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? To this day I have watched your film about 12 different times. In fact, my wife, who has no interest in politics whatsoever, has watched your film several times. People from all walks of life can learn about determination, hard work, creativity—and most important, if you can dream it, you can achieve it. Thank you.

I will not run for mayor, governor, Senate or any other political position. I will win the presidency of Venezuela hands down. Jeff, I can touch it, I can smell it, I go to bed and I wake up with this feeling. If I am driving, I think about it. If I am eating with my family, I think about it. If I am taking a shower, I think about it. I want this and I will get it, and no one will stop me from accomplishing what is meant to be, period.

I will use any advice that you throw my way. —A.B., Sherwood, Ore.

I love your determination. Seriously. I don’t know Venezuelan politics, but it can’t be that different from here, right?

So maybe you should move back home and start a pizza chain. Think of two words with positive connotations, like God and father, and combine them to form a franchise name. Make millions. Then announce your candidacy with a slogan based on cutting taxes. Your tax plan should have three digits that must all be the same. The digit you choose is unimportant. Finally—and this is critical—keep your hands off any women other than your wife. Good luck!

(Cross-posted, with permission of the author, from City and State New York)

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The Award-Winning Documentary about Jeff’s Early Career (2006):

The Recent New Republic Article About Jeff (2011):

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