I am still enjoying my extended visit with my parents in the great state of Ohio and, as chance would have it, my father was invited to attend a reception for Ohio Supreme Court Justice, Evelyn Stratton. Noting that she would be speaking at the Ashbrook Center in September, I decided to tag along.
The event was a fundraiser for her campaign and, because I’ve never heard a judge give a campaign speech, I was very interested to see how she would do it. A judge cannot and, really, should not campaign in the same way as a Congressman or a State Representative. The job description of a judge requires impartiality before the law and not naked partisanship. To be sure, one may speak of one’s understanding of the Constitution and laws but it cannot be in such a way as to promise outcomes or guarantee certain types of decisions. Justice Stratton gave a clear accounting of her strict constructionist judicial philosophy but--what was more important for this audience and also helped to illuminate her understanding of the Constitution--was that she told a great story explaining who she is and what she is all about.
You can hear that story here. You get the sense that this is a woman who understands herself and who knows, not only what she is doing, but why she is doing it.
It seems to me that there is probably a lesson to be learned for McCain in this narrative approach to a campaign. Stratton has a great story to tell and she tells it well. McCain could and should do the same. And do note the multiple postings on YouTube for Stratton. According to Stratton, this is explained by the fact that people under the age of 39 don’t really watch television in the same way that people used to do. If they want to make a decision about who to vote for in an election (especially a judicial election) they’re more apt to Google the person’s name than remember anything they’ve seen in a TV ad. (I know this is true because I plead guilty to the charge! I always do that when I have to vote for judges . . . how else would one know a thing about them?)
TV ads cannot be considered as effective as they once were in campaigning for this reason and because you have to run them so much earlier to get the absentee votes. This makes them more expensive and less effective. Thus, money--though still important--becomes much less important than old fashioned methods of campaigning like word of mouth, new fashioned methods like email (Stratton called this "the power of send" . . . as in email 25 of your friends about her), and other unconventional methods of getting one’s story told like YouTube. If this is all true, I have to say first that I am impressed with Stratton’s adaptation to the new order of campaigning and, second, that I think it is a positive development in the history American campaigns. Television ads, even when clever, are sorry substitutes for an engaging story and thoughtful conversation between citizens. Of course, a Presidential election is very different from an election for a judge and an engaging story isn’t the only thing a candidate should offer the voting public (substantive engagement on the issues would be wonderful too) but it is a start. If I were John McCain, I’d be talking to Eve Stratton.