I love politics, you know.

It’s live theater, performed without a net. Being a true Independent, I am free to tap the wisdom and inanity of both the left and the right.

Oh, hell. And the middle, too.

It’s ALL wacky!

I got sucked into politics back in high school, during the height of the Vietnam War. I was still in school — snarling with senioritis — when I turned 18… and I was assigned a very low number for the draft. Which meant that the asshole teachers I was waging youthful rebellion with had the power to kick me out of school… and straight into a foxhole.

If I didn’t straighten up. Godammit.

Somehow, I made it to Grad Night without a GI crewcut, but this low-blow intimidation by people who felt entitled to lording their power over me opened my eyes, politically.

You know I love this nation. But I have no illusions that it’s “the people” who make it great. “The people”, in fact, often act like spoiled children or Huns with their blood-lust fired up.

No. It’s the Constitution that makes our country great. European revolutions in thought resulted in the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason, a mere couple of hundred of years ago… and for the first time in history, regular folks started to consider the implications of true democracy.

We are, without doubt, the result of the entire arc of civilization to this point — the wet dream of every poor slob who ever lived under the cruel yoke of a Machiavellian bully — and the reason we’ve been able to buck the natural human trend toward tyranny and enslavement… rests solely with the Consititution and Bill of Rights.

We are not exceptional just because we live in North America.

We are exceptional because we’ve kept a fragile ideal alive. Despite near constant attempts by even our own neighbors to junk the rights that annoy them. (Not our neighbors in other countries — I’m talking about the people living across the street from you.)

So, yeah, I pay attention to politics.

However… as a marketer, I know when to keep my big mouth shut.

I’ve recently seen a few marketers (who should know better) indulge in the very common “misperception of shared political values.”

Here’s how it works: You’re a nice guy. You feel strongly about your political beliefs, and over the years have surrounded yourself with like-minded people. You can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with you — because, you know, you’re such a regular American and all that.

And so you assume your customers — being nice, regular people — must agree with you, too.

Bad mistake.

I was just at the vet’s office with our terrier. Got into a nice, friendly conversation with another couple about our dogs. We laughed, traded stories, and cooed over each other’s pets.

Then the husband — figuring that I was a nice, regular kinda guy, just like him — made a vicious crack about the political party he opposed.

Just assumed I shared his views. Probably hadn’t breathed the same air as someone with different opinions in a long time.

I didn’t respond… and my lack of response almost made him freak out. He was no longer friendly.

How dare I not share his superior, enlightened view of the world.

I’m sure he thought I had horns under my Red Sox hat and cloven hooves hidden in my Rockports.

Oh, man.

Dude, I will talk politics with you. I love to hear debates on issues, and I love underhanded political humor, too.

But there’s a time and a place. Especially when you’re the type who seriously considers slashing the tires of people who disagree with your belief systems.

The lesson: You can’t tell what the other guy is thinking just by looking at him. And you can’t tell based on his personality, either. I have friends who are hippie Republicans, conservative Democrats, Hummer-driving Greens (go figure), business-owning Socialists and on down the line.

And I know my list of customers and prospects is just as much of a motley crew.

There’s a reason why good saloons won’t allow anyone to discuss politics or religion. There’s nothing more pathetic than two incoherent drunks wrestling in the parking lot over some obscure ideological point that neither has any influence over.

You can get passionate about politics. I hope you do — it keeps us healthy as a nation.

But keep it out of your business life.

Too many Americans are setting themselves up in echo chambers, where they never hear a dissenting voice. Broaden your horizons. Get a daily reality check, and stop thinking you’re the last word on anything of importance.

My suggestion: Check out www.drudgereport.com to see how the right wing is spinning things… then go immediately to www.huffingtonpost.com to see how the same stories are positioned by the lefties. It’s an eye-opener.

Good homework, too. To be a top marketer, you’ve got to wake up and see reality as it truly is… not as you wish it were, or think it ought to be. You don’t have that luxury.

And I hope you voted. I think people who hold themselves “above” voting because politics is “too corrupt” are wallowing in useless cynicism. Of course politics is corrupt. It’s an imperfect system.

Good God, that’s why it’s such fun.

And, by the way, everything else in life is imperfect, too. Love, war, the tread-wear on your Firestones. Everything.

You don’t vote for the short-term stuff, like whatever particular topic du jour has your panties twisted.

No. You vote to keep the engines of the Constitution greased and running smooth.

Okay, I’m done.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

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  • Seth Chong says:

    Another heart hitting message, sir.

    Thanks a lot.

  • Well said John,

    Although I would never fall into this trap (gulp) certainly I have heard others doing it!

    And I agree that the most strident do not even vote – much less find out opposing viewpoints, debate versus argue, look for the long term solution etc…

    It is disheartening to watch this all played out in the media where so many go to get the truth.

    Truth is such a slippery slope.

    As always enjoy your posts – thanks for not writing every day!


  • Andy Moose says:

    Hey John, that’s just what I needed to hear.

    andy moose

  • Adam says:

    I may not be able to tell your political persuasion by looking at you, or by the type of business you’re in… but as a professional dog trainer, I can tell a lot more about your personality, your belief system and your self-image by your choice of pet and how you interact with it. 🙂

  • Becky says:


    You bring up great discussion points as to why America is great.
    Her people…the constitution…the age of reason…

    Would you consider saying that the Founding Fathers understand the nature of man and government in a unique way? Just a question for thought.

    To respond to the blog I must say I agree with you holeheartedly! I have learned the hard way that speaking out my idealogy without considering the listener is wasteful and many times destructive.

    Many relationships have been thwarted on occasion because I did not show the RESPECT for my listener. I shared my beliefs before discovering their point of view and reference point.

    Everyone has their own “worldview.”

    “Worldview” being what they believe, why they believe it and what they do because of it. I agree that you can not take for granted what you may “think” they believe.

    You have taught us to know those to whom we market.
    One of the best way to accomplish that is by asking questions, reading what they read, going to sites they blog on to uncover where THEY are coming from.

    Thanks for making a clear statement today to remind us!

  • John,
    You must have been reading my mind. When I was growing up in the sixties the mist amazing comment I heard my father make was telling me to look at all sides of an issue. This I felt was strange because my father was a career military man who during his life served in 3 wars and several police actions. I was recanting a popular view about the antiwar movement when he said this to me. Another point about understanding what is going on is as you say to look at both sides. In high school in the sixties we were taught about Karl Marx and communism in school. The thought then was that in order to stand against something you had to ubderstand it first. That’s all for now. Would be willing to discuss politics at any time with you without any animosity.

    ps There is one thing that makes us different as a country and that is our constitution.

  • Greg Payette says:

    Red Sox hat? Fantastic.

  • Tom says:


    John, are you psychic?

    I talked to my wife just last week re: the same issue(s).

    I thought I was the only guy in the country who thought this way.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across people who don’t mind telling me extremely tasteless and just plain cruel jokes that target people from different cultures, religions and philisopies just because I happen to be a middle aged white guy who lives in a “nice” middle class neighboruhood.

    I’m a college educated man who has travelled extensivley around the world and have come to admire and deeply respect the different peoples of our planet.

    Going forward, I hope all of us (regardless of what political stripes we wear) try to become more accepting and understanding of the people we share this planet with.

  • John Gilvary says:


    A Socialist business owner? Wow.

    I enjoy debating with family and friends in our own private email forum. It’s not both sides… it’s all eight sides.

    The others are often wrong (that is when they disagree with me). But it’s always fun.


  • John,


    Very intuitive post John.

    Joseph Ratliff

  • David Craft says:

    Hi John,

    Very good stuff. I know the trite old phrase, assume really means: make an a** out of u & me. I know this isn’t spam filtered, I just choose to respect you. The insight I find the most fleeting in dealing with people is the loss of that insight when assumption takes over.

    Politics is a tricky game and a very fun one if you play it like one and man were those founding gathers great at playing! Read the Federalist Papers recently? It’s not just what they say, it’s the need to say it and battle it out in words to convince so many different people who just wanted to be left alone to stand up and do something.

    Spin doctors, persuasion doctors, copywriting beasts and the best of them win this round. What will the product be they convinced them to buy?

    Great post, thanks as always,


  • Nick says:

    LOL. It’s common for people to contradict themselves, but to do it in the same breath is major accomplishment. You tell people to stay neutral about politics then say this about people who don’t vote.

    “I think people who hold themselves ?above? voting because politics is ?too corrupt? are wallowing in useless cynicism. Of course politics is corrupt. It?s an imperfect system.”

    Way to go John you just slammed of the majority of the Country.

    It’s called passive resistance, and it might be the most effective form of protest there is. But then again what did Gandhi know it’s not like he ever accomplished anything.

    Like business, politics is driven be the bottom line, and the bottom line for a politician is votes. If it wasn’t for all these people drinking the patriotic duty kool-aid, and voting despite their utter despise for the parties involved maybe, just maybe these asshole politicians would change their tune.

    What choice would they have?

    I don’t “hold my self above voting”. I’m just waiting for a politician to come around with the right pitch. Until they do I’ll be right here “wallowing in useless cynicism”.

  • Bernie says:

    Cool insights John. Love the fact that as marketers, copywriters and advertisers we sell to everybody. Although individuals come in all stripes it is opportunity to remember that although we are targetting niches, we want to keep our appeal as broad as possible.

    Bernie Malonson

  • It’s amazing how many entrepreneurs straddle this tightwire. I was at the dentist just last week, and, like most of the time, my dentist starting talking about politics while I was…not in a position to respond much…just listen.

    Luckily he’s not abrasive with his opinions, and he and I share most of the same views. But it occurred to me that perhaps other of his patients might not.

    So your post is certainly sound advice, especially in these polarized times.

    John Ritskowitz

  • I sent out a email a couple of weeks ago that said…

    “This is so easy, even George Bush couldn’t screw it up”.

    Indeed, I did get a few pissed off people for it. However,
    if I was really concerned about it I would of never wrote that.

    I don’t mind polarizing the crowd sometimes.

    Heck, after watching CNN, MSNBC, and even FOX I assumed
    I was going with the good numbers. With approval ratings
    that low I wasn’t too worried. The email made money.

    In fact, making money in politics was the very first internet
    venture I dived into.

    Talk about a passionate niche!

    You couldn’t find a riper/angrier mob to sell to back in 04.

    If only I knew how to market back then I would of gotten
    rich instead of working on the street corners slanging t-shirts
    and bumper stickers and making a few occasional sales on ebay.

    It sure would be a treat for these politicians to get something
    constructive done in Iraq during the next 2 years. Sadly, I don’t
    think they got it in them

    The only people that I think could win the hearts and minds
    of the Iraqi’s are…


    Screw fighting this war with military dudes.

    Give me a mastermind group of the 20 hottest copywriters
    and we could start changing some minds really quick.

  • I think Jason’s point there about polarizing the group makes a lot of sense.

    But is probably limited to personality-driven niche marketing.

    What I mean is, I don’t know if polarizing would work for John R.’s dentist (see post XIV above). Dentists have a limited marketplace (50 block radius?) and it could make their marketing days a lot more difficult if they were turning off too many people.

    But, who knows, maybe it would work.

    I’m up in Canada, and I rarely hear a good opinion about Bush — so Dr. Moffatt could always set up his clinic up here.


  • […] Said that to say this…in this day and age, it’s hard not to have some really strong opinions, and can be equally hard to keep them in check.? So John’s commentary about how it behooves us all to do so, or we risk pulling the proverbial rug out from profitable business relationships.? Great post–I highly recommend it.? No matter what side of the spectrum you fall on, it’s a really good reality check. […]

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