Democratic politics is extremely unfriendly to working parents and, to me, it appears to have a larger negative impact than just who works on campaigns.
The culture we’ve allowed to develop negatively impacts who works on campaigns and at firms, as well as how candidates and ballot measures make their arguments to voters.
I wanted to be careful about when I say this so as not to effectively be whining about a campaign right after an incident — and I’m lucky to have a lot of good clients to go against the trend. But I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the nearly four years since I became a parent.
Campaigns tend to embrace a chaotic structure and frenetic communication style that makes it difficult for anyone who has any outside responsibilities to be involved — and that’s a major bug in the system.
A lot of campaign managers will just put 7 p.m. calls on calendars or schedule meetings on a Saturday that easily could have taken place during the week. That puts anyone with kids in the extremely awkward place of either A) blanket rejecting these requests B) trying to awkwardly balance them or C) constantly burning your spouse and kids by not being available at key points for the family like, say, bedtime or soccer practice.
I think a younger me — the one who was desperate to prove how hardcore I was to everyone else in the business — would chime in here and say something like: “That’s what a campaign is like. You signed up for this.”
But that isn’t what they have to be like. People make choices that make them that way.
I have more or less only worked in or around politics for 20 years now. I get how intense it can be and the pace with which it has to operate. But I also know how poorly organized and dysfunctional a lot of these entities are, and how that often contributes to the time demands as much as the pace of politics.
The poor organizational traits, combined with the need to prove that you’re constantly sacrificing culture together creates a problem bigger than just making it difficult for people to work in Democratic politics. I think it drives some truly dumb strategic decisions that make our campaigns less relatable. (I assume this is true for Republican politics too, but that’s not my problem.)
For evidence of this, I’d point to how many campaigns focus on obscure jargon and in-the-weeds political issues instead of the basic needs of their constituents. That’s the crux of it.
There are a lot of highly active voters, volunteers and donors who have no idea what happened on Capitol Hill today. Campaigns anchored to the press releases of party committees and winning Twitter rather than the pressures of everyday life are intentionally creating distance between themselves and the communities they’re running to represent.
Campaigns don’t make active decisions to do this, but they do passively opt-in to that choice by embracing intensity and sacrifice as more important traits for their teams than critical thinking and honesty.
When you elevate and reward people based on the intensity of how they do something — rather than the end product — you’re making an active choice to embrace intensity as the guiding objective of the campaign.
And when the end goal of what we do is supposed to be making broad and favorable appeals to people who largely aren’t paying attention, that’s pretty obviously not the trait we should be indexing towards.
Andy Barr is a managing director at Uplift Campaigns, a Democratic media, ad buying and technology firm.