The Strange Story of Tara Sue

by William Grosso

Related link:

It's never quite clear to me how much overlap various blogs have with each other. So this is a summary of something I first learned about from Scripting News.

Tara Sue is running for Congress. She's running against Howard Coble, who is both a demagogue (why is the single most visible item on his site that he wants to award a medal to the passengers of United Flight 93? Surely that's not the most important piece of news he can offer his constituents) and
a fan of the RIAA
(you can also read a response to that column here.
North Carolina is a very different place from Silicon Valley and it's fascinating that they're having these arguments there too).

This is, by itself, of little note.

The interesting thing is that Tara Sue has a weblog, a paypal collection box, and is running, to some extent, as a candidate from outside her area. Dave Winer has been vocal in his support.

It's all kind of interesting.

I'm sending a $25 check. Not because I think she'll win (the incumbent is a Republican who's so entrenched into his ridiculously gerrymandered district that the Democrats don't even bother running an opponent), but because, ultimately, the money's for a good cause. If she can mount a good campaign, if she can cause Coble a few moment's worry, then I think everyone in Congress will worry (because, if Coble's vulnerable to this sort of challenge, then everyone in Congress is vulnerable to this sort of challenge).

How much did you send Tara Sue's campaign?


2002-09-01 10:39:28
How do you fight city hall? (Hint: It can be done.)
Speaking as a one-time political candidate and a long-time campaigner for a variety of causes, I say people have unrealistic expectations of what is accomplished this way.

Soon, I'll write a post on what can be done by joining politics and technology but, in the meantime, here's my most recent of many weblog entries:

Educational Campaigns: Teaching People You Can't Fight City Hall

Doc Searls is so smart, and on this, he is so wrong: "Howard Coble was running unopposed until Tara showed up. Sure she'll lose, but in the process a lot more geeks will get involved in politics."

Here's what Dick Simpson, who helped successfully beat (not fight, but win against) the old Daley machine in Chicago, has to say in his classic Winning Elections (we do want to win, right? Maybe not--I wonder):

"A final warning. Some people will encourage you, because you are an independent, to run an 'educational campaign'. By this slogan they mean that you should find a candidate who will take strong stands on issues--one who has never been involved in politics, at least with any winning campaigns--and back him even though you know he will lose heavily. In theory, this candidate will make beautiful speeches [editor's note: read here "write beautiful weblogs"] and slowly begin the political education process in your district. The sad thing is that education campaign enthusiasts are right about the campaign being educational, but fail to understand what it teaches. When a candidate gets only five or ten or twenty percent of the vote, the electorate concludes that it is stupid ever to back an independent candidate because it would just be throwing away votes.

"When politicians see such a result, far from being convinced to take a more courageous stand, it reconfirms their belief that they should not heed such radicals since they have no support in the community. Never run a campaign with the intent of losing. Run to win, thereby educating the electorate to the fact that good people can be elected and teaching officeholders to mend their ways. If you have a good candidate, organize well, and work hard, it should be possible to win. You won't win every election, but you must make a creditable try. A winning campaign, to a much greater extent than any 'educational campaign,' will convince more people to pay attention to issues, lead more people to join in the political process, and help bring about desired policy changes."

Simpson knows what he's talking about--his biography includes the following: "Alderman of the 44th Ward in Chicago, 1971-1979". That ain't chopped liver running against the Daley machine.

What Doc, Dave Winer, and the others are doing is encouraging people to go out and break their hearts losing, on the theory that'll encourage them to go fight another day. I think that's a very, very bad idea--I've seen what losing does to a political movement.

The Doc Searls Weblog : Wednesday, August 28, 2002

via Doc: stating the obvious :: The Weblog Candidate :: Aug 26 2002

via Doc: Richard Bennett's Omphalos: Whining and wasting money

Google Search at UI-Chicago on Dick Simpson

2002-09-01 12:28:19
Thanks for the hint

It's nice that you're willing to post the same article in multiple places (why not just paste the url?) but the article itself leaves a lot to be desired. Specifically:

  • Did it amount to anything more than a "I Know Better Than You?" argument from authority?

  • Who are you, anyway? I went over to your blog and there just ain't no information about you there. As far as I can tell, it's a bunch of opinions with no visible owner. Comments like "I've seen what losing does to a political movement" lose all force if we don't know who you are. or what your political experience is.
  • Please explain why a random quote about running against the daley machine in chicago applies here.

That said, I think my fundamental point remains, and remains unscathed: Tara Sue is running. If some of us chip in some bucks, she'll do a lot better. And that's a good thing.

2002-09-02 09:35:10
Thanks for engaging
You raise good points, and I believe I can answer them.

First, is this simply an argument from authority?

No. I would characterize it as an argument from experience, my limited experience and Simpson's vast experience. I'll detail my experience below, but what Simpson and the rest of the Independent Precinct Organization did was spectacular--they elected aldermen and state representatives in a machine-controlled city. In Daley's Chicago, this was an amazing accomplishment.

Simpson later came this close to beating incumbent Dan Rostenkowski, then chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and one of the most powerful men in congress, in a Democratic primary.

To my mind, an argument from authority would be "Dick Simpson, who is a professor, says". Simpson has the track record of someone who worked in an organization which won several difficult races in a very hostile environment. If this is an argument from authority, it's the authority of knowledge and experience (which I respect), not the authority of power and position (which I do not).

Second, who the heck am I, anyway, and what do I know? That's a fair question.

I don't put much about myself in
Since then, I've been mostly a contributor and low-level campaigner for candidates that I support.

I've had some measurable results. One candidate for whom I worked won by fewer than a hundred votes (in the face of a nasty smear campaign), and I was responsible for several of them. Another candidate made it into a primary run-off and lost narrowly. I couldn't get any traction with people influenced by competing politicos who held an old grudge against him. That is, I failed.

My best personal moment was a near-miss, one I probably shouldn't mention because it goes against the general principles of political organizing I'm pushing now, but I'm a pragmatist who saw a chance and took it: There was a highly controversial and somewhat unpopular city development project which people were too disorganized and demoralized to fight.

Typically, votes like this, with all the big money, the daily newspaper, and the powers-that-be behind them and no opposition, won with two-to-one margins in this city, but I sensed that the support was soft and organized what I'd call a surgical strike, with some extremely cheap, well-placed last minute media buys, and held them to 53% of the vote, earning some new enemies in the process.

If I'd spent a little more, I think I'd've won, but was close to the line on what I could and couldn't legally do, and decided to err on the side of playing by the rule of law and all that. That's hard, when you're up against people big enough that they can violate the spirit of the law while you have to follow it to the letter, and perhaps I should've taken the risk.

So: I'm not by any means an authority on politics, but I do know enough about it to have a useful opinion. I've learned from a variety of wins and losses.

I do know this--losing stinks, and the bigger the loss, the worse the smell.

A close election doesn't necessarily put you out of business, but the closeness has to be measured next to the expectations--a near-miss is a success only if you were expecting to lose big.

Third, you ask "why a random quote about running against the Daley machine in Chicago applies here?"

I think I've mostly explained that above, but I'll add that the quote wasn't random. It was picked to illuminate one reason why this particular campaign isn't necessarily such a good thing. Whether people are calling it an "educational campaign" or not, that's what it amounts to, and educational campaigns are usually a bad idea, for the stated reason, that they teach people about losing.

Now here's your fundamental point: "Tara Sue is running. If some of us chip in some bucks, she'll do a lot better. And that's a good thing." I can't argue with it, so far as it goes.

But what is the opportunity cost of supporting Tara Sue Grubb? What better use of our time, our money, and particularly our hearts, could we find? Should I divert my attention from my home state's incumbent governor, who has made a disaster of our state IS department? My state senatorial candidate? My city council race, where our long-time alderman is retiring (and that is a bitter, bitter story)?

If people really wanted a "head on a pike", they had their chance this year, when redistricting pitted two incumbent members of the House of Representatives against each other in Michigan. One was John Dingell (Dingell-Tauzin, right?). This race was maybe winnable, given an all-out effort. (And maybe not--it ended up 64-36.) But at least it offered a fighting chance, in the early stages.

As near as I can tell, people like three things about Tara Sue Grubb, in this order: She's got a weblog, she's running against Howard Coble, and she's a personable candidate.

I like those things, too, but there are a lot of other things I like much better.

2002-09-04 17:09:16
I sent her $50
And she acknowledged receipt in her posting of 9/3/02, right here: --
W. Frederick Sampson, that's me. This is the first time I've donated money to any political campaign, and I've been registered to vote since 1970.
See my notes on Tara at
2002-09-04 18:29:09
I sent $55
I sent Tara $55. I still haven't a clue where adam, et. al. are coming from. The political landscape is littered with losers who made a difference (Nader, Perot, 37% Ventura, Ammiano). I feel like my $55 and few minutes emailing the Libertarian party have had more of an impact than if I worked even full time on a local campaign. I would say most of Tara's support comes because she is opposing the co-sponsor of a ludicrous Act. That she is personable and has a web site/log is nice. It's amazing how much negativity there has been given something that has essentially no down-side.
2002-09-04 20:25:16
I sent $10 bux
I just sent 10 bux. Every little bit helps I guess. Too bad there's not a Seti@home style app for sending micro payments to good causes :)