Don’t Hate The Player. Call Out The Game & Then Show Love
[The following are excerpts (one on strategy/one on an issue) from my new book Don’t Think Of A Republican – How I Won A Republican Primary As A Lefty Progressive And You Can Too, which recounts the rhetoric and game plan of satirical candidate H.F. Valentine’s unprecedented 2022 primary run. See the whole book here.]
Don’t Hate The Player. Call Out The Game.
Excerpt from H.F. Valentine’s first Interview with Greg Killebrew, MSNBC
Greg Killebrew: Mr. Valentine, it’s not a stretch to say that you are the least popular candidate.
HFV: Popular? Popular with who? Because I know you’re not talking about the voters. The only reason why you’re interviewing me right now is because of ratings. Which means that the people can’t get enough of what I’m saying.
Now, if you’re saying I’m not popular with the colleagues I’m going to serve with, you’re absolutely right. Which is one of the reasons why the voters can’t get enough of what I’m saying. I know the Congress can’t stand me. But you know what, people can’t stand the Congress. And I don’t mind being the middle finger they send to the Congress. I don’t mind it because the Congress deserves it.
Seriously, these politicians and think tanks and, yes, journalists are not mad because I’m brash, or because I curse too much, or because I don’t have the right haircut. They’re mad about the clarity with which I’m shining a light onto corruption within our political system, and the institutions that facilitate such corruption.
GK: So give us an example of what you’re talking about when you say corruption?
HFV: Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me with that question? You think that’s journalism? Asking for evidence of corruption in DC? Asking for evidence of corruption in DC is like asking for evidence of photosynthesis while standing in a garden. The better question would be, “Can you name me one issue where there isn’t some kind of moneyed interest working behind the scenes to control both the vote and the media narrative?”
GK: Why do you always seem so hostile toward the media?
HFV: Because y’all are fucking us. Every time y’all act like you can’t tell whether the sky is really blue or not…
GK: Mr. Valentine, we’re not going to allow you to be abusive. If you can’t be civil in your language, we’re going to end the interview.
HFV: Oh, what, you mean the cursing? You don’t want me to curse? Ok, I won’t curse. But don’t give me any of that stuff about being civil. Because I think we got different definitions of what it means to be civil. And I think your definition of being civil is not upsetting your advertisers or the establishment powerbrokers you want to keep access to.
I know you like to think you’re above the fray. But y’all ain’t no better than the politicians. Y’all put y’all’s interest before the interest of your audience every day of the week.
GK: And just how do we do that?
HFV: By picking the lowest hanging fruit for yourselves and then acting like the rest of the fruit is out of reach.
GK: I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean.
HFV: It means y’all patted y’allself on the back for calling Donald Trump’s claims about the election a lie. But you spent two decades saying he-said/she-said about Climate Change. Y’all patted y’allself on the back for debunking anti-vaxxer claims. But you’ve spent a decade acting like you don’t know the facts on single payer healthcare.
If I’m not mistaken, y’all haven’t even properly apologized for the way you covered the lead up to the War in Iraq. That’s a million dead on your head. And you want to talk about curse words?
GK: I’m not here to re-litigate the Iraq War. I’m here to…
HFV: Then what are you here for? Because it sure ain’t fact checking my policy claims. The only thing y’all ever do is act like my campaign isn’t serious or try to call me out for something I said the wrong way.
But you know what? You ain’t calling me out. I’m calling you out.
You’re the ones who have to answer. Not me. I’m for ending the preventable deaths of over 60,000 people a year and saving money while doing it, like every other industrialized nation on the planet. You’re the ones who have to answer for why you’ve pretended this not to be the case.
I’m the one for doing whatever it takes to save our species from Climate Change. You’re the ones who perpetuated Denialism with he-said/she-said and brought on economists to tell us saving our way of life was too expensive. You’re the ones who did that. Not me. You have to answer for that.
GK: I think you’re mischaracterizing our reporting.
HFV: Oh, is that what you think? Then prove me wrong. Because, you know what? I’ll give you a break. How about you don’t have to answer for any of what I just said if you commit right here right now to quit bullshitting the American public.
Quit confining your reporting to conventional wisdom; quit having on pundits to your shows who don’t ever have to suffer the consequences of the topic you’re talking about. Quit doing softball interviews with people who have proven to be just fine with the status quo. Quit all of that and start giving the people a little humanity.
And if you can’t quit all that, then you’re the ones who are going to have to answer. Not to me, but to the viewers and readers who smell the status quo stink all over you.
GK: I think this interview is over.
HFV: It’s only over because you know I’m right.
GK: No, I don’t think you’re right. I think you’re being unfair.
HFV: Well, like I said, if you think I’m being unfair, then prove me wrong.
Start proving me wrong. Do better. Tell the truth and not just what each side says, like there’s no context, like there’s no other side. There’s more than the frame they allow you.
Take a walk around outside the status quo. You might just like it.
GK: I can assure you that no one tells us what to say.
HFV: Ain’t nobody got to tell you what to say. You just got to know what you’ll be rewarded for saying. And what you’ll be not rewarded for saying. I mean I shouldn’t have to tell you to read Manufacturing Consent. You should care enough about journalism to have already read it.
But you should read it. You should try stepping outside of that framework they expect you to think in. There’s a whole world out here.
You should join me in it. It’s freeing. It really is.
GK: Thank you for your time, Mr. Valentine.
HFV: I’m serious now. I’ll be right here.
When you’re ready, I’ll take you on the tour.
GK: Goodbye, Mr. Valentine.
Even more important than calling out the hypocrisy of our primary opponents, my team and I made it our mission to whip the corporate think out of each and every journalist we encountered.
Now, some might think that’s a dangerous strategy considering we were going to have to rely on news coverage if we had any possibility of winning. The problem with such trepidation is that it assumes there’s even a chance that they wouldn’t be shitting on our campaign every opportunity they got anyway. Which, as we knew they would, they did.
So I said why not embrace their confrontational, contrarian, condescending stance and turn it around on them. But do it in a way that makes it irresistible for them as well.
You don’t have to hate the player. You just have to call out the game. And the more you call out the game, the player is either going to have to defend the game or be ashamed of being a player.
Whenever they tried to call us out for some bullshit, or tried to twist my words into something they definitely were not, or were merely overly aggressive in the service of the status quo, I didn’t just answer the question. I answered it with total fucking swagger and then implored them to tell me when they or their network would ever be as forceful with my opponents over issue x, y, and z.
I asked them why the corporate media asks as many tough questions of the powerful as a virgin speed dating with the cast of America’s Next Top Model.
I asked them when they were going to drop the facade and just name their show, “He Said She Said.”
I asked them why they were reinforcing the rigidity of these political identities. I asked them if they recognized the level of their culpability in beating these labels into our brains, just like they’ve beat the status quo into our brains. I asked them if they realized that that’s the underlying purpose of their job.
And you know what? That shit was hot. Voters loved watching that shit. And, low and behold, the networks loved the ratings.
So I straight up told them. I’ll give you your ratings, but you gotta come candid. That’s the bargain. You want an interview, you gotta admit shit. Any reporter sitting down with me has gotta acknowledge what color the political sky is. And by that, I mean money fucking green.
None of this sparring for the sake of a fight. Interviewing me was going to be like taking a goddamn political lie detector test, for the reporters. The point being to create enough pressure in the room that it popped their establishment bubble and forced them to fess up to the average voter’s reality.
Now, as much as I would like to tell you it worked out that way every time and that we were able to call them out enough they actually adopted our narrative, you and I both know that type of expectation wouldn’t have met the threshold for wishful thinking.
Lucky for us, it wasn’t about making them propagandists for the Left. Because, the truth is, people don’t need forcing leftward. People just need proper information and vibrant debate.
That was the goal. And we were never going to get there if we were always the ones on defense. Our strategy of going on the offense was to make them defend the indefensible until they became so self-conscious they started taking seriously the stakes involved in their contribution.
And in the process of trying to make them humans again, we made their asses stars. Clinically symbiotic, our goals were compatible. We both needed numbers. Ears and eyes. And the ratings we supplied made it a privilege to get my time.
Thus the bargain was struck. We provided wide eyes and dropped jaws, and they provided it right back.
Then Show Love
Excerpt from H.F. Valentine’s address to the Hartsdale Rotary Club
“I don’t care what they do. I just don’t want to see it.”
“I don’t really have a problem with it. I just don’t like when they throw it in my face.”
“I love everybody. I just think they can keep it to themselves.”
How many times have you heard someone say something like that? How many times have you said it?
I’ve said it.
I was as homophobic as every other boy I grew up with. I’m of an age where I didn’t even know transgender was a thing.
That is to say I have struggled with these issues, and it was a much longer journey for me to get where I am today than I would like to admit.
But it’s the truth.
Like all the personal growth in my life, I owe a great deal to the questions I was finally willing to ask. But it wasn’t until I befriended and was befriended by members of the LGBTQ community that I was able to ask those questions.
Now, I’m not saying we have to see eye to eye on policy here. What I do have to do though is provide you the basis for my policy. Lucky for me, I don’t believe I have to school any of you on the Golden Rule.
And lucky for you, you already have an example of how they “do unto you.”
See, we may not always make the effort to get to know our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. But for them, it ain’t really a choice. We’re everywhere. They can’t avoid our asses.
And let’s be honest here. Let’s be totally honest.
Take a moment and just think about how you feel. If, for whatever reason, something about LGBTQ folks just doesn’t sit right with you, I want you to examine why that is.
For some of us, it has to do with a personal fear. An insecurity about ourselves. For some of us, it has to do with our devotion to a strict definition of masculinity or femininity. For some of us, it has to do with the fear for our children. For the hard time they might face if they found themselves in the same world we can’t bring ourselves to understand.
Well, here’s the thing. LGBTQ people can see that. They can see all that. Because it’s plainly written all over our faces.
And if they can see that and feel it coming off us, and they can still give us the benefit of the doubt, they can still see the humanity in us and give us a chance to prove that we’re more than our attitudes on this subject? Well, that takes love.
Do you hear what I’m saying? They love us. We’re they’re neighbors, we’re their co-workers, we’re their family, we’re often even their church family. And they love us.
And the amount of love, the amount of civility, the amount of benefit of the doubt they have shown us is because they know we’re worth it, and that there’s nothing inherently different in us, outside of the difference that we can’t seem to fully get over.
In the spirit of the Golden Rule, all my policy asks is that you offer them what they’ve offered you for all these years. And that is love, despite our disagreements.
I don’t want to go too deep into preacher mode, but I know for many of us, at some time in our lives, maybe even now, our unease with or opposition to LGBTQ folks has been of a religious nature.
And if that is the case for you, I would simply ask you to pay attention to how you treat the stranger. Not strangers in the sense that you don’t have people in your social sphere that are LGBTQ. But that sometimes we have people in our lives that might as well be strangers, because we refuse to acknowledge who they are.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You have it in you to treat the stranger the way Jesus of Nazareth suggested you treat the stranger. And if you do that, before long, they won’t be strangers anymore. They’ll be loved ones.
When I was a young man, I thought I knew all I needed to know about “those people.” And yet I’d never had a real conversation with someone who I knew was LGBTQ. I’d never listened to their story. I’d never listened to what they wanted out of life.
If you want to understand my policies, you don’t need to listen to me as much as you need to listen to them. I’m asking you to do that. The same as I’ve asked you to listen to me, the same as I have listened to you.
Listen to the stranger. Whether they’re LGBTQ or from any other group that just doesn’t, for whatever reason, sit right with you. Some of these reasons you may not want to admit. Some of the reasons you may have not come to terms with yet. But whatever the reason, it doesn’t change the reality that it is often us, ourselves, who are keeping so many of our brothers and sisters strangers, when they don’t have to be.
I’m not saying it’s easy. But it surely hasn’t been easy for them.
As much as we tell ourselves we embrace the Golden Rule, many of us have a hard time putting ourselves in certain shoes. I, myself, am still working on it, to make sure that the questions I have are out of good faith curiosity and not self-fulfilling prophecy. To make sure I’m doing what I can to make the world a more welcoming place for those who have far too long been made to feel like the stranger.
I do this out of love. And yes, sometimes, that love takes time, and work.
But you can love. And you can accept love. And once you start to listen, once you start to get to know your brothers and sisters, once you start to see the love that has been given you, it makes it easier to accept that love. And it makes it easier to start giving it back.
If you believe in a God of love, then show love.
If you believe that all humans are created equal, then show your humanity.
We don’t have to hate. We don’t have to hurt. We don’t have to be strangers.
As much as I enjoy putting on the occasional preacher party, in this speech I probably used more religious language than I would have liked. But what can I say? I grew up in the church. I know how much biblical instruction contributed to my homophobia, and I know how many other lessons there are in the Bible that could have been used to do the opposite.
Did it come off to some as hypocritical, maybe even blasphemous? I’m sure. But the truth is we all cherry pick. And I wagered that voters would comprehend what to take with them and what to leave behind.
And, if I’m totally honest, this speech was as much for me as it was for them. A chance to deliver the sermon I wish I’d been delivered when I was a child and needed it the most.
I hope those who follow in my primary footsteps are able to come up with a better tactic.