Over the years, the town of Middle Falls has faced debates about bike sharing, a trolly, converting a church into a hotel, and more. Through it all the town has remained the same. After several years of relative calm, political turmoil returns to Middle Falls.
Modern Political Communication and Rhetoric
After four years at GW you launch into a successful career as a political strategist. The work is fun and financially rewarding. You help elect some good people, help advance some good policies, and generally carve out a good niche over a couple decades in D.C.
One day you wake up and you realize that you’re done. You’re neither bitter nor disillusioned, you’re just done. You know more former elected officials than current ones, the food in the Longworth food court has finally lost its appeal, and you can’t bring yourself to go to another breakfast at the Metropolitan Club or another dinner at the Washington Hilton. You’ve made a fair amount of money, never married, and never had kids (no GW tuition to worry about), as a result have a pretty hefty amount in savings. Any work you do is because you can’t think of other ways to fill your time.
In an effort to figure out what to do about the boredom, you take a week off and drive around. You turn off your electronic devices and tell your assistant you’ll check in from payphones (assuming you can find any), but are otherwise unavailable. In your wanderings you come across Middle Falls.
Middle Falls is a good place to be, but could use some help. The high school is in need of some repairs and the athletic fields are a bit of a mess. The infrastructure is pretty old and the age is beginning to show. Nothing drastic, no bridges collapsing or anything, but things are getting frayed around the edges. You notice but don’t much care – it fits your mood.
You find the bed and breakfast in town, call your assistant, and say it will be a couple more days.
Turns out the town is full of interesting people and places to hang out. There’s a local bar that appears mostly to be a place for the owner’s roots-rock band to play, a local newsweekly owned by a guy who once played an accordion in one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces, and a gallery owned a former professional soccer player turned abstract artist. There is the obligatory antique store called Olde Middle Falls that sells what amounts to scrap salvaged from abandoned farm houses in the region, a small book store, and the inevitable Tea Shoppe selling too cute trinkets to tourists next to the diner that sells actual coffee and breakfast to actual people. The rest of Main Street looks precisely as one would imagine it.
A couple blocks off Main Street you find a rambling house with a rambling barn for sale. The house is being sold cheap by the grandchildren who inherited it; they live far from Middle Falls and would rather never return.
A day or two later you’re no longer jittery that you aren’t checking email constantly. The bar band isn’t bad and the soccer player-turned painter is pretty good. This is a nice place to be and figure out what’s next.
You call the number on the “for sale” sign in front of the house, and offer cash on the condition you get all the contents of the home, including the library and the TR-6 under a tarp in the barn. The owners agree. You call your assistant and do your best John Cusack as Martin Blank impersonation.
Within weeks you sell your place in D.C., close your business, and put Washington in the rearview mirror. You get a dog.
You quietly slip into the Middle Falls landscape. You spend most of your time reading, fixing up the house and car, and take leisurely breaks for coffee and pie at the diner. You walk your dog.
By spring you notice more and more bicyclists on your walks through town and along the trails by the falls. You see more Subarus, Prisuses, and Tesla crossovers with “Let me be the person my dog thinks I am” bumper stickers. The Tea Shoppe suddenly has a whole case devoted to vegan, gluten and cruelty-free treats. You figure Washingtonian must have done a piece on “great day trips from D.C.” or something, and that the crowds will fade with the next article on wineries or beaches to see before they vanish or something.
Some in Middle Falls see an opportunity in the fad. They want these people to stay, and suggest paying them to move there. Ascend, WV is giving it a shot, why not follow suit? Sure, the visitors are smug and fill the convenience store with absurd products, but they think $5 for a cup of coffee is a steal, and anyone that daft is good for the local economy.
They want to offer $10,000 to the first 100 people to permanently relocate to Middle Falls. The town will borrow the million dollars and pay it back with the anticipated increased tax revenue payed by the new residents and economic development they will help bring.
You largely don’t care one way or the other. One of the great things about no longer working in politics is that you are no longer expected to have a dog (or client) in every policy fight. Since you’ve abandoned social media you no feel compelled to have as many opinions, let alone share them.
One morning while sitting at the diner drinking cheap coffee from a chipped cup you overhear two locals debating the issue. When one starts hectoring people at neighboring tables, you quickly finish your coffee, tuck your Middle Falls Communicator under your arm (more on that in a moment), and duck out the door.
You turn right out of the diner and collide with someone coming out of the Bryce’s Hardware Store. You’re rescued from a scolding when he recognizes you – the guy you nearly leveled is a long-time political operative who you know from your D.C. days. He mentions he’d love to work from Middle Falls, if they considered something like Ascend he’d seriously consider moving. He argues that since you’re an old DC guy and know the locals, can’t you help?
You mumble something and slip into the hardware store for another case of oil (“if your British sports car stops leaking oil, it’s out of oil”). The ditching your old colleague part of the plan worked, but at the expense of getting cornered by a guy from the diner. He saw you talking to your old friend and wants to know how you know him, and whether or not you support the “bribery scheme” and what you’re going to do to help stop it. He did some research and knows who you are. He tells you the people of Middle Falls need you to stand up for them and help defeat the outsiders and their $10 artisanal kambucha and constant demands for organic, non-dairy, sustainably harvested, nut-free “milk” for their $5 coffee.
You see no choice but to get involved – better to have half the town hate you for taking a position than all of the town hate you for not supporting them.
You do some homework. Turns out a few places have tried bribing people to move there. The sort of interesting puzzle that you used to love to solve.
The town has one paper, The Middle Falls Communicator, a weekly run by M.E. Sprengelmeyer. M.E. is a former reporter in D.C. who you know from your time in politics. Like most reporters, he got laid off. Like some he found a small town with a little paper that needed running. He covers high school sports and city council meetings, but mostly uses the paper as an excuse to write a weekly column about whatever strikes him as interesting. Lately he is into collecting old plastic bottles, melting them down, and turning them into clocks. Years ago, M.E. made a minor splash in D.C. when he bought one of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s suits and wore it to a White House Christmas party, and he’s a hilarious card player, often ending poker nights by going all-in during a game (of his invention) called Fallujah or Mission Accomplished, the poker equivalent of Calvinball.
There are no TV or radio stations. There are no billboards. You have no budget to speak of.
There are four members of the town council. The mayor votes to break ties. That means votes can be 4-0, 3-1, or 3-2 because a 2-2 vote would force the mayor to decide the winner.
Jeff Miller owns a bar in town. It’s a local place, not fancy but mostly clean. The kind of place you can sit at the bar, have a burger and beer, and watch whatever is on ESPN without anyone bothering you. There is a small stage for the occasional band or show, typically Jeff and his friends, or whomever M.E. can get to join an accordion-led jam session. Jeff sponsors a local little league team, does his part in the community, and is a low-key guy. He’s on the council because civic participation is a good thing to do, and to keep the rules from either getting too restrictive (he does sell booze for a living) or too weird. It’s the perfect local bar. No one is sure where Jeff’s from, he’s not an obvious urban refugee like you are, but he’s also not a local who traces his roots back however many generations this town goes.
James Bryce owns the hardware store. Bryce immigrated to the U.S. after serving in the British military (a cook in the Royal Navy). He wound up in Middle Falls and became a house painter, had a couple guys working for him, and eventually decided that opening a hardware store would meet a local need, allow him to expand into handyman work, and make it easier and less expensive for him to get supplies. Bryce is taciturn and doesn’t much care for outsiders or change. He grew up in a hardscrabble area, went to war, and moved to a hardscrabble town.
Elizabeth Noel is one of those people you can’t stand. She owns a “craft emporium” on Main Street that sells artsy teapots, wind chimes, dream catchers, and her own awful watercolor paintings of Middle Falls. She was a successful real estate agent in Washington, specializing in high-end condos and luxury buildings; she tells people that she got tired of the money chase, endlessly pointless small talk, pretense and vacuousness that passes for insight Washington (“people in Washington wear masks to hide their masks, it’s worse than a lack of depth or soul, Washington lacks even any meaningful surface…”). That her departure from D.C. coincided with the collapse of the condo market is, in her telling, coincidental (“it was a sign, a blessing really…”) She calls herself “neo-spiritual,” but has a hard time explaining what exactly she believes in or what neo-spiritual even means. She maintains her real estate license and does pretty good business selling and renting homes in Middle Falls.
Megan Olsen is a teacher at Middle Falls High School. Her son grew up in Middle Falls and graduated from Middle Falls High. Olsen got involved in politics as an outgrowth of being an involved parent and because she thinks it is the sort of thing that history teachers ought to do. She ran for the local school board to ensure that books weren’t banned from the school library and that “intelligent design” wasn’t taught in science classes. Serving on the city council was the next logical step. To the extent she has a political ideology, it is best described as “pragmatic progressive.” She’s married to the painter/former soccer star.
Harry Mitchell is the mayor. He’s a good guy, runs the diner, and likes being called The Mayor. He likes the town and the folks who live there, likes throwing out the ceremonial first pitch of the little league season, and running the grill at the Memorial Day celebration. He likes to govern by consensus and is good at getting people around a table and affably working things out – “what this debate needs is a little pie, why don’t we move this meeting to a booth at the diner and we can figure something out” is his preferred (and often successful) approach. Harry likes being the mayor of a town big enough to have problems, but small enough that they can usually be talked through to an amicable solution. As you might expect, he dislikes voting to break ties, he prefers to either support something early in the hopes the decision will be a near-consensus, or when the outcome is a foregone conclusion. He likes to be the reconciler, not the decider.
What are you going to do, and why are you going to do it?
In your answer be sure to indicate: which side of the debate you’re taking; who your audience is and why; how you intend to approach the campaign and why; and how you are going to frame the debate and why.
Focus on strategy and approach rather than tactics and tools – for example, if you are going to hand out fliers explain why and the point they would make, but you don’t have to write them (you can, but don’t have to).
Your ideas must be feasible and reasonable.
I will be looking for evidence that you have read and understood the semester’s readings, and absorbed our class discussions – I’m not looking for footnotes or citations, but rather application of the course. Your presentation must be clear and clearly articulated. You can write your answer in the form of an essay, campaign memo, or whatever format you think best conveys your ideas and demonstrates you have done the readings and considered the class discussions.
As you think about your approach, consider all of the readings and discussions from class. Go back to my approach to campaigns from early in the semester, and what Aristotle, Burke and Weaver suggested as well as the more recent readings and conversations. There are lots of ideas and insights from which to pull.
You can discuss the situation with your colleagues, but your essay must be yours and yours alone. The final is due electronically by 9:40pm on Wednesday May 5th to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. NO LATE EXAMS WILL BE ACCEPTED.
Most answers will probably run about five pages to eight pages – shorter and longer are fine, the object is to be complete without going nuts. I’ll answer clarifying questions to a point, but may also decline to answer and leave you to your own devices.
I look forward to your solutions.