June 18th, 2012
10:46 AM ET

Letters to the President #1246: 'Rule one: Remember the customers'

Reporter's Note: President Obama is running for re-election. This week I’m writing my favorite guidelines for any politician who wants to win.

Dear Mr. President,

I’m going to take a break from writing about the day’s news this week to take a little side trip into the business of campaigning; not just for you, but for anyone who ever seeks office. Now, I’m no expert in this…at least not in a “James-Carville-Karl-Rove-behind- the-scenes-string-pulling-way)…but more than 30 years of covering such matters has given me a few general ideas about what works and what doesn’t for office seekers.

I’ll keep them simple and direct, and you may notice that a lot of them have application beyond politics into life itself.

Number one: Remember who the customers are.

You would think this one would be obvious, but when you get surrounded by an ocean of advisors, donors, strategists, pundits, and media folks, it can be really hard to recall what an actually voter looks like no matter how many photo ops you hold in diners. You can start forgetting that they are real people who are tending to their real lives and likely are not buried in the minute details of your campaign the way you are.

They don’t ask much. Most of them are willing to trust foreign policy to others. They don’t much care about the intricacies of debt management. They may not even be that intrigued by whether Democrats or Republicans are in charge. They just want government to work. Like a toaster. They want the lights to come on, the roads to be smooth, the schools to open on time, the police to come when they are called, and they want a good deal on it all; meaning, they will pay taxes that they see as reasonable for the services rendered.

That’s about it. Big time politicians can get so caught up in big issues, it is easy to forget that for most voters, the essence of their political choice is practicality. They are not concerned with your grand visions. They care if the garbage gets picked up, the snow gets plowed, and the airport is open. Don’t forget that.

More tomorrow.


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