Dowd: Breaking the Rules of Halloween and Politics

Matthew Dowd

By Matthew Dowd

Oct 31, 2011 11:00am

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays.  Growing up in a large family in Michigan it always signified cool weather, raking and burning rustling fall leaves, football, cider mills, candy apples and getting a pillowcase full of candy by nights end.    But I think more deeply I loved the idea that Halloween is one of the few holidays that celebrates breaking rules.

I grew up in a house with a mom and dad who, even though they were fairly conservative Catholics, didn’t believe in always following society’s rules.  They would encourage us to question authority or the idea of following rules for rules sake.  Somewhere along the way I learned a mantra I continue to live by: I would rather ask forgiveness than permission.

Halloween is a holiday for the different, the independent, the iconoclast, and the trickster.  You can dress up anyway you want that day, in any costume desired and you’re accepted.    You can carve jack-o-lanterns in any style you want, scary or funny, and put a light inside and show the world your creativity.   You can yell and howl at the moon and feel normal.  You can walk up to a complete stranger’s house, knock on their door in the middle of the night, and ask for a treat.  And if they don’t give you one, well then, you can play a trick on them.  (Sometimes the tricks were more fun than the treats).

Yes, a holiday which celebrates the freedom to be who you want to be, and act the way that you feel is a huge part of why Halloween is one of my favorite times of year.  And I am glad we have it, and hope we can learn from this holiday that, as Stephen Jobs often said, it isn’t the rulekeepers who change the world but the rulebreakers.

Having just last week gone to see the fabulous Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, DC, I am reminded he was a rulebreaker.  Blacks would never have gotten the right to vote or the civil rights movement would never happened or Barack Obama been elected president if folks followed the rules.  Women would never have been able to vote or gotten into corporate board rooms in this country or had control over their own bodies if no one ever burned a bra.  There is a great slogan I have seen on t-shirts Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: “Wellbehaved women rarely make history.”  Advances in science,  technology and medicine would not have occurred if thinkers didn’t get out of their lanes and break a few rules.

This applies to the upcoming election cycle.

Too many times folks have been surprised because they are following an old playbook or judging events and campaigns by a set of rules that no longer apply.  The folks who usually win understand that you can’t run the same campaign as before and be successful.  You have to be creative, and not follow traditional or accepted thinking.

Herman Cain is a perfect example of this.  He may be a flawed candidate (and recent personal allegations may doom him); a tipping point will likely be reached soon where voters decide he isn’t prepared to be president. Nonetheless, his campaign has been successful even though he hasn’t followed many of the rules or fit the way many observers want to judge political success.  By the usual measures — organization, experience or money raised, — you would say Cain would be in last place.  Yet, he is currently leading the field in many polls, and in second in all the others.  He has shown times have changed and we need to start looking at campaigns differently in this day and age.  And take a look at Ron Paul whose conduct and policy positions have broken nearly every campaign and Republican rule, yet, in the polls, he is solidly in third place ahead of other, more orthodox candidates.

If Gov. Rick Perry and his campaign had absorbed this lesson and not been worried about putting a standard organization together and spending huge amounts of time raising money — the rulebook for previous campaigns — he might be in a better position.  Perry might still be leading the pack had he had seen that this year (and the last five years or so) having a easily understood economic plan and free media (as opposed to paid commercials) mattered the most.

Recently, I thought Perry and his campaign were going to think outside the box and not necessarily do all the upcoming debates just like everyone else.  I think Michelle Bachmann would be smart also to reconsider her debate strategy and spend much needed time in Iowa, realizing that at this point debates are not helping her as they have helped Cain.  Each of these candidates needs to do something to change the dynamic.  As the famous quote attributed to Einstein says, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”  But Bachmann has decided to keep doing debates (though there is no real rationale at this point for it helping her), and Perry has again backtracked on one of his campaign’s statements by now saying he will do most if not all the debates on the calendar.

Yes, America is a country that lauds the rule of law. We believe in justice and authority, and tradition is very important. But we also are a country founded by revolutionaries who didn’t always follow the rules.   And that is one thing I am going to celebrate this Halloween.

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