Wholesale vs. Retail Politics: Real World Edition
Trying To Be Serious During The Primary

Wholesale vs. Retail Politics: UMOC Edition

Sometimes, the lessons we think we are learning turn out not to be the most large-scale lessons we could learn. For example, in 1976, two years after the events described, I wrote this:

Dignity? I proved I had none during my campaign for Ugliest Man On Campus, a charity campaign at MIT. It was fall of my senior year. It was not my idea to run really, although I certainly had the chance to withdraw if I wanted to. But the staff of the student newspaper, The Tech, entered me and knew I wouldn’t back down. My best fund-raising trick (I lacked the guts to walk around and ask people for money, I had to have a trick) was selling people a chance to throw a cream pie at me (actually, they were shaving cream, just like on television).

My then girlfriend thought it was an awfully cheap and undignified way to run the campaign and that it heaped unnecessary indignity on me. She also disliked the demeaning newspaper ad my managing editor ran several times in The Tech. She said somehow the other candidates managed to maintain their dignity and pride and I did not.

Do you see the lesson hidden in this story that is relevant to today? I do. In fact, I have been describing this incident for years as teaching me that retail politics work, wholesale politics don't. [It wasn't until I started typing up my 1976 journal that I realized I had thought, at the time, it was a lesson about dignity]. While I was running newspaper ads and holding [pie-throwing] "rallies" in the lobby of Building 10, my opponents were applying old-fashioned shoe leather, going from door to door asking people directly to put money in their tins. And I was beaten like a drum. In the years since, I have seen multiple political campaigns in which someone tries to win wholesale. Sometimes that happens. Usually, retail and personal wins in politics. I suspect that will happen again this year.