To appear in the next issue of the Berkeley Political Review:
On March 28th, the Democratic National Committee organized a “Unity Dinner” in DC featuring John Kerry, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, Howard Dean, and the rest of the Democratic superstars. At a $1000 per plate minimum, the likelihood that I would be able to attend seemed about as high as the chances that John Kerry would win the Democratic Presidential nomination circa January 2004. So, I faced two options: sell my soul to the DNC and volunteer or pretend to be a real journalist. Since I didn’t really want to work, the choice seemed clear. Armed with an old copy of BPR, a letter from our esteemed Editor-in-Chief Shane, and the phone number of our faculty advisor Susan Rasky I set off for the nation’s capital to dicker my way into the dinner.
But to travel all the way to DC for one event seemed like an inefficient use of my time. As luck would have it, the DNC planned two more events: the grand opening of the new DNC Headquarters and an After Hours Youth Event at a nightclub. My journey would have me traverse those events as well. But this is not a story about the Who, What, When, Where, or Why. This is a story about the How: how I managed to cajole my way into three events that I had no business ever being in.
Lesson One: Credentials Scrementials
As you might guess, an old copy of BPR, a letter from Shane, and the phone number of a faculty advisor make not one’s journalistic credentials. At the DNC Headquarters and later the Unity Dinner, the tables had a “strict” credentials required policy. Technically speaking, I couldn’t get in. The solution? Arrive early enough so that the interns manning the press tables haven’t been briefed on how strictly they’re supposed to enforce such policies. Then, claim that your credentials were stolen! Naïve interns will believe you because you are in DC, a place where the White House is as much of an institution as are muggings on the weekends. In both instances, I managed to acquire my press badge.
Lesson Two: Initials are Your Friends
So, after the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the DNC gave tours of the new facility. The senior Press Officer for the DNC divided us into two groups: those that matter and those that don’t. Sadly, I was in the latter category. Those that matter received a personal tour by Terry McAuliffe. Everyone else walked around with interns. Clearly, I wanted McAuliffe. With that objective in mind, I waited for the senior press lady to leave, and I simply melded with his entourage. But victory could have been seized from me by the jaws of failure when one DNC official asked me what organization I worked for. While the Berkeley Political Review may have more journalistic integrity than Fox News or USA Today, we don’t quite make the same radar. So, I told the official the god’s-honest truth: I write for BeuNPR. By muffling the first letter of BPR to make it vaguely resemble NPR (National Public Radio), they left me alone.
Lesson Three: Flattery is Cheaper than Bribery
Working my way through the Unity Dinner proved surprisingly easy. Despite having neither credentials nor a driver’s license (I had misplaced it earlier), I managed to work my way into the same room as two former presidents, one former vice president, and one current presidential candidate. To my surprise, the real difficulties occurred in trying to enter the nightclub for the youth party. It seems the DNC had relinquished most of their control to the security forces of the club. Furthermore, despite the fact that I had reserved my spot on the press list in advance, the DNC and the club decided to make a pool of reporters the day before, and I did not make the cut. Yes, I could have paid the $100 entry fee, but what’s the fun in that? As a journalist, I believe that I am mandated by god and the Constitution to attend every event that I can at no charge. So, I tried a different approach: flattery. After haggling with the man in charge for too long, I decided to seek others. I briefly talked to the lowly DNC interns, but they proved themselves verifiably useless. Instead, I approached every person who worked for the club and used a very simple line, “Excuse me sir, you look like somebody in charge! Can you help me?” While my first two attempts failed, I eventually managed to find someone that wished he was in charge enough to flex his muscles to prove to me that he was indeed in charge. He told me to wait for a few minutes, so I did. Eventually, the human beat box Doug E. Fresh arrived with his crew. As they proceeded to walk through the VIP line, the man waved me through along with them. It was quite exciting. For one brief moment, the white bread boy from Pennsylvania achieved his life-long goal of becoming an accessory to an aging Hip Hop star. More importantly, I managed to work my way inside the club.
Combined, these three lessons converge to form the most important lesson of all: with enough grace and stubbornness, you can talk your way into pretty much anything. Actually, the most important lesson of all is that our nation has feeble security since a man with no legitimate identification managed to get himself within yards of a major presidential candidate. But let’s focus on the second most important lesson of all: journalism is not a profession, it’s a state of mind. By declaring myself a journalist for the day, I actually became one! My lessons may not be universally applicable, but I hope I’ve inspired some of you to get out there and lie your way into a different tax bracket, if only for one pleasant evening. You won’t be disappointed.
Last night, I heard two disturbing statistics from John Arquilla, who is a professor of defense analysis at the US Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.
* When we first invaded Iraq, 50% of Iraqis saw us as liberators. Today, only 2% do.
* The primary responsibility of 90% of our troops in Iraq is to protect each other. (There are relatively few missions because troops die on missions, and that doesn't look good in the press back home.)
Arquilla, who co-authored "Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime and Militancy," was very critical of the Bush administration, but for reasons I hadn't heard before.
He said that one of the major reasons the War on Terror took us to Iraq is because U.S. troops are trained to fight nation-states. In Richard Clark's account of post-9/11 planning, Rumsfeld said, "There aren't any good targets in Afghanistan and there are lots of good targets in Iraq." That was exactly Arquilla's point. The reason that Al Qaeda has been so effective is that they don't have a home base. They are only as effective as they are elusive, and the notion that we are fighting a battle against terrorism in Iraq so that we don't fight it in the U.S. is naive. With so many U.S. resources focused in Iraq, Al Qaeda and other networks will be focused elsewhere. Arquilla is confident that Madrid is only a sign of things to come.
This is a new kind of war, and rather than attacking countries because they offer good targets (and seeking justifications later) we need to change our strategy - which means relying more on information sharing and intelligence and less on brute force.
In case anyone missed it when Mickey Kaus was calling attention to it, here is a sample of John Kerry's versification:
I had a talk with a deer today/we met upon the road some way . . . between his frequent snorts/He asked me if I sought his pelt/cause if I did he said he felt/quite out of sorts!