Thursday, June 29, 2006

Conveying Thanks, Commenting On Blogs, & Creating A Movement

Initially, I must thank the Real Ugly American founder Rick Calvert. Both for his objective interview and his complimetnary followup phone call. It was extremely heartening to hear that Rick was “impressed” with not only Raj’s passion, but also the candidate himself.

Rick’s phone call, during which he mentioned another possible connection, combined with the interview’s cross posting on Wiz Bang, made the day great before eleven a.m.

The blogosphere’s energy is amazing. When we held our initial meeting and decided to pursue a comprehensive internet strategy, we knew that certain blogs would entertain a conversation with us. We could have never imagined that these blogs, including those who have not endorsed us, would be so interested in working with our campaign.

Everyday, I trade e-mails and speak with these bloggers, everyday people, who have through their own initiative carved out niches and earned the respect of their colleagues, the media, and hardened political operatives such as myself. I know there are those jaded, sad souls who still do not embrace this medium’s potential.

This is not that campaign. We understand the bloggers. We appreciate the bloggers. We know that “making a difference’ is not a platitude to them. It is what they awake seeking to accomplish. Again, I continue to think of the same sentence spoken by former bosses and other political operatives… “what can this internet thing really get us?”

The answer is this day. The blogosphere can hand us voters, media, money… everything the traditional, boring campaigns of the last two hundred years. Yet, as this morning shows us, it can do so much more. It can, on its best days, create a movement…

Raymond S.

Wizbang Blog Cross Posts Interview

The Wizbang Blog has cross posted Raj’s interview with the Real Ugly American. This highly read outlet covers news and politics from a conservative viewpoint. Their current posts discuss Katrina, Iraq, and the Supreme Court.

Raj's Interview with the Real Ugly American

Below is Raj’s interview with the Real Ugly American. The interview occurred on Tuesday.

About 3 weeks ago, I received an email from someone with the Raj for Congress campaign asking if I would be interested in participating in their blogger program.

I was intrigued. First of all this was someone running for congress contacting me. Secondly I thought I recognized the name. If it sounds familiar to you; then you probably have watched at least a few episodes of The Apprentice.

I returned the email and requested an interview. I wanted to know what this blogger program was and find out just how serious Mr. Bhakta’s bid for congress really was.

After speaking with him for about 30 minutes, I can tell you he is definitely serious. Mr. Bhakta spoke passionately about several issues including, the environment, education, and the war on terror. His campaign embraces populist themes of reform, and eliminating pork barrel spending. He describes himself as a “Teddy Roosevelt Republican” and comes across as very sincere.

Running against an incumbent with lots of cash he will have an uphill battle but Bhakta isn’t discouraged. He strongly believes his grass roots campaign and his message will triumph in the end.

While I did not agree with everything he had to say, his enthusiasm and optimism definitely impressed me.

Here is my interview with Raj Bhakta:

Tua: First I would like to start some background from you. You say you are a first generation American is that right?

Raj: That’s right.

Tua: Your father immigrated from India and your mother from Ireland?

Raj: My dad came from India. My mom came from Ireland.

Tua: So you must have had some interesting meals growing up then?

Raj: It was; it was a little ham and cabbage with curry on the side.

Both laughing

Tua: That’s exactly what I was thinking.

Now you are running for office in Pennsylvania’s 13th district. How long have you lived there in the 13th district?

Raj: All my life.

Tua: Very good, and what part of Pennsylvania is that?

Raj: It is essentially Philadelphia and part of the suburbs. The district is 50% in the city and 50% in the suburbs basically; and it’s a very interesting district in many ways. It’s a microcosm of America. You have a very even registration it’s basically split down the center fifty fifty. You’ve got a more urban working class section which is north east Philadelphia where the people are socially conservative; perhaps a little bit more economically liberal but definitely socially conservative. Heavily Irish Catholic. And you move out into the suburbs and you have a situation where people are more socially liberal and fiscally conservative. So it is really a district where it’s not red, it’s not blue; it’s sort of a confluence of them both.

Tua: Very interesting. Now I watched the season of the apprentice that you were on. Didn’t you tell Donald Trump that you wanted to enter politics? Do I remember that right?

Raj: I did, I did. In fact when I was playing with Anna Kournakova you know tennis; the ball had a tremendous spin on it, and I was making some jokes that she was giving me a few slick willy serves that sort of thing, so that’s how the whole thing happened.

Tua: Is it true that your campaign is being filmed as a reality TV show?

Raj: No it’s not a reality TV show. It’s a documentary that’s being created. And actually we are going to be using the internet to an extent that its never really been used before and part of that is going to be giving people on a weekly basis or a little less frequently. A sort of candid view of what’s going on inside the campaign. So it will connect people in the district and across the country about what’s really going on in the Raj for Congress campaign. And then as that builds momentum there will probably be a documentary at the end of it, about this very interesting grass roots intensive campaign.

Tua: How did that come about?

Raj: I was approached by several people, and in the beginning I was uncomfortable. I didn’t want it to become some political real world. It is a serious pursuit. But as the same time I think the American people should have a view of what goes on in a political campaign. And I think if they knew they would be even more disenchanted with what happens with the political system than they already are disenchanted. In that it’s so much about money. So much about being able to you know buy elections. And that’s what we’re fighting. I am running against one of the best funded representatives in the entire congress. She makes Tom Delay look like a school boy. That’s not that much of an overstatement. So here we are. We’ve got the right message which is one of reform, of clean government, small government, keeping the American dream alive, versus a very old school career politician who will make just about any statement as long as it’s popular.

Tua: I actually want to come back to that and ask you a little bit more about this later; but let me step back just a second. I became aware of your campaign through somebody on your staff who emailed me and I’m sure several other bloggers. Whose idea was it to reach out to bloggers to help your campaign?

Raj: It was actually Ray’s idea, who contacted you. He said look if we’re gonna use the internet we need to reach out into the blogosphere for lack of a better term and so I said yeah; proceed forward sir.

Tua: I think it was a wise decision. And do you read any blogs yourself?

Raj: If I were to tell you that I were a big blog reader; I would not be telling you the truth. Really you’re running an office, your up at five in the morning, running around shaking hands, and you get little briefs of the news of what’s going on, you’re basically on constant outward push mode.

Tua: Let’s talk about some issues. You are a Republican but as you mentioned already, as we first talked about, a lot of your themes could be traditionally be identified as Democratic ones. Government corruption, anti-establishment, environmental issues; do you represent a new generation of Republicans?

Raj: I think I represent the face of many disgruntled Republicans in the country who believe in clean government, who believe in small government. You know who believe that when people say they are conservatives, I mean conservation really should be a Republican issue. As you look back and I have said this many times I consider myself a Teddy Roosevelt Republican. And Teddy Roosevelt as you know took on the establishment. He took on the monopolies of the day; as a Republican. As a Republican he took on the Standard Oils and the like who controlled basically about everything in the US except for refining. And I see myself very much in that mold. As someone who wants to bring government back to the people and out of the hands of the special interest groups; which is what Teddy Roosevelt fought for.

Tua: So you would kind of describe it I guess as an idealistic Republican?

Raj: Well you know this country is about ideals. This country; when you say idealistic, yes there are ideals and they are big ideals. The ideals of whether the people should determine their representation or whether the big moneyed interests should determine the people’s representation. It’s an ideal. It’s democracy. I believe very strongly in the ideals that I’m fighting for. And if you don’t have ideals then what really are you except for another apparatchik in a machine that’s based on perpetuating the power of the establishment?

Tua: You say you want to stop pork barrel spending. What would you do to stop it?

Raj: Well first of all we need to stop line item appropriations. That system is clearly terribly abused. We are building two bridges to nowhere; to be building half a billion dollars worth of bridges in Alaska to towns that don’t exist sounds like an absurdity to me.

Tua: You issued a press release earlier this month; speaking about pollution levels in a couple of local rivers and I can’t pronounce the names forgive me.

Raj: The Wissahickon and the Schuylkill.

Tua: Exactly.

**editors note** If you are not from the Philadelphia area and you can pronounce those names correctly the first time you have my utmost respect.

Raj: Old Indian names.

Tua: And you had said, let me quote you for a moment. “Both parties should be united in the goal of eliminating pollution. We must work diligently to increase monitoring of our water quality especially when some seek to cut corners at the expense of the people.” Is this an important issue in your district?

Raj: It’s a very important issue in my district. Suburban Philadelphia as you know there is no bigger example than Los Angeles; Open green rolling farmland has been plowed under to accommodate Wall marts and Targets and every manner of mall and strip mall development. And I’m not against growth. We need growth. America is about growth. If we were to say no more growth this country would cease to develop and we can’t have that; but at the same time it is important that we have smart growth. We can resolve the conflict between wanting to grow economically in terms of real estate development and preserving the environment. And it isn’t necessarily a costly proposition. I come from a business background. I know that we need to keep a pro business tendency in government because ultimately our economic growth is what provides the American dream. At the same time we can’t have sort of un-checked capitalism. Because it has its abuses. And that’s why we need a sensible effective regulation on real estate development as well as environmental concerns. Clean air, clean water and the like, that will in the long term; lay a foundation for sustained economic growth in this country.

Tua: You mentioned before you are running against a long term incumbent. Allyson Schwartz, and she has raised four to five times more money than you have. Do you think you have a serious chance of winning this race?

Raj: There is absolutely no doubt it that we are going to surprise people in the conduct of this race. She has, without her money, she has all the appeal of a wet paper napkin. But you know you can really dress up the toad with a couple million bucks. We’ve got the right message. We’ve got the message of a fresh face and a fresh perspective at a time when people really want a change in Washington. And you know it’s just a question of getting that message out. We’re knocking on doors, were talking to people, were listening to voter concerns; where as my opponent sits in her office in Washington D.C. and guzzles down huge amounts of cash by special interest groups. That’s what’s wrong with our political system today. I think everybody recognizes it, and our job is to get the message out. So we’re contacting hundreds of voters every single day. And let me remind everybody that this is an election in a fifty fifty district. It’s going to boil down to a few thousand votes and our job is to get the message out to concerned voters, that if you’re sick of the way things are going and if you believe that the same people who got us into the present mess aren’t going to get us out then vote for me.

Tua: So; and you mentioned this earlier, that you are running a grass roots campaign. So you’re out there knocking on doors; speaking to people yourself?

Raj: Everyday.

Tua: And what kind of response are you getting from folks when you come and show up and say hey?

Raj: Overwhelmingly positive. It’s the most encouraging part of the campaign to me. Because you realize the people that you’re fighting for really deserve much better. And it sounds like political rhetoric, but it’s true. You know these are hard working people who want to provide for their families, who want to live in safe neighborhoods, who want to see that the people they elect to government are really fighting for them; and not fighting for trial lawyers and Halliburton. And that’s what I see is a big problem in politics. We’ve got to remember who we are representing here. There is a balance obviously in American politics. Sure you want people to be able to get their message out to politicians through campaign contributions but fundamentally we have got to ask ourselves, we’ve got all these tens of billions of dollars being given in political contributions. What is being purchased for all this money?

It’s influence. And it’s generally not the little guy who’s out there, who we are supposed to be fighting for, who’s purchasing that influence?

I mean my opponent raised four million dollars in the last congressional campaign, you think that she doesn’t owe a bunch of things to a bunch of people?

Of course she does. And so we have got to get out there and bring our message directly to the voters and we’re doing a great job of that. We are using the internet. We are using the telephone. We are using old fashioned shoe leather and handshaking, and it’s working famously.

Tua: What would you say are the biggest difference between you and your opponent?

Raj: The basic fundamental difference is a philosophical outlook. I believe that government can provide the tools for people to help themselves. She believes that government needs to help people on an ongoing continuous basis, and that there is nothing wrong with becoming dependent on government assistance. I have a philosophy in politics that I want to give people the tools to set themselves free. And I believe that we can do that through a really top rate education system. I believe that we’ve got to have a merit based compensation for teachers. Teachers who do a great job should be very well compensated. They should make several times more in my opinion than what they presently make. Likewise teachers who show up to collect a check and there are a few of them shouldn’t be rewarded for that.

Tua: You’re not going to get any teacher’s union endorsements with that kind of talk.

Raj: Well radical as it sounds I think it’s true. I didn’t realize that that was such a crazy statement you know what I mean?

Tua: well I agree with you.

Raj: You’re very familiar with that out there in California.

Tua: That’s right so is Governor Schwarzenegger. Have you received any major endorsements for your campaign?

Raj: Well I have received the endorsement of the Republican Party obviously. What sort of endorsements are you talking about?

Tua: Well Lynn Swann is running for governor out there have you made any appearances with him?

Raj: Oh yeah, Lynn Swann of course has spent a lot of time with me. Of course he endorses my candidacy. Arlen Specter as you probably saw on the website has endorsed my campaign. We are working on the ground we’re working hard and of course other members of the party are working hard as well.

Tua: I have a couple of last questions for you and forgive me I think they are tough ones.

Raj: Tough ones; I can skip those right?

Tua: How do you feel about President Bush’s leadership since taking office on issues like Illegal immigration, the war on terror in general and the war in Iraq specifically?

Raj: One; the issue of immigration, the President is right on in trying to bring presently illegal immigrants into the mainstream. I don’t think however that people who have come into this country by breaking the law should be given citizenship. I think however they should be given; if they stay clean if they learn English and they begin to join mainstream society; should have the opportunity to be given a permanent worker visa. So I support the Presidents effort to bring presently illegal immigrants; those who want to come into the American mainstream, to be allowed to come into the American mainstream.

I think at the same time that one of the major issues that this country faces is that we are not producing enough math and science majors. A lot of American students you know are studying liberal arts but we need hard sciences. So in that area where we are deficient domestically, we need to make sure that those people who are coming abroad; Chinese the Indians and the like who are studying at the highest levels at the top American universities be given an opportunity to stay in this country. It’s absurd to me that maintain an open border with Mexico and have millions crossing our border every single year, and basically allow them to come in unchecked. While at the same time we are telling someone with nuclear science majors that we can’t accommodate them and to go back to China or India. That doesn’t seem like intelligent immigration policy to me.

Number two you asked about the war on terrorism. The war on terrorism needs to be prosecuted with ruthless determination, and I know exactly the words that I’m using. We’re fighting the very face of the enemies of humanity. These are the people who want to turn the clock back on the modern world. They want to turn the lights off of modernity. They want to enslave women. They want to rule by ignorance and fear. They want to reduce humanity to the state that existed in the dark ages. And those people must be crushed one by one with great determination and vigor. That being said, I have serious concerns about the manner in which the President is prosecuting that war.

I think it is done not by wholesale invasions but by a more targeted approach. The objective of a free and democratic Iraq is a noble one. The question is what’s the right way to go about it. And having experience, I mean my father came from India which is until recently, its pulling itself out of the third world; but it was a third world country. So I have some perspective into the fact that you can’t go in to an ancient civilization and go shazam and turn Iraq in to Norway and Baghdad in to Los Angeles. I know I’m overstating my case a little bit but you know the fundamental point is that we’ve got to take incremental steps against regimes that are unfriendly to America. But we have got to find the root propagators the spreaders of this crazy Islamic fundamentalism, and that’s not coming out of Iraq until recently. That was coming out of Saudi Arabia. That was coming out of Iran. That was coming out of Pakistan. Those are the places where we have got to focus. And we have got to work with local governments to eradicate; and I know what I’m saying once again; eradicate these radical elements. Anybody who gets up in my opinion and says “come here young men, God wants you to blow yourself up and these innocent civilians that you see around you and you will be rewarded 72 virgins” or whatever the number is while his children are probably in boarding school in Switzerland. The Imams I mean.

Tua: Now I agree with you completely in everything you just said. All of that being said, now that we are there in Iraq...

Raj: What do we do?

Tua: Do we get out now? Or do we see it through to the end?

Raj: We can’t cut and run. We can not cut and run. As I said before irrespective of whether you think we should have gone into Iraq or not; I don’t think we should have. We’re there. And the fact is the situation is now more critical than ever in Iraq; Sadly. But nevertheless we’re there and we have to win. There is no Alternative to victory. America is a great and powerful nation, and if we maintain the will to see through this stuff period we will prevail. We just need to have confidence that our objective is right; and it is. And we need to have the mettle to stick through it. And we need to have the creativity which is the most important of my points here to figure out a way to get out of Iraq; because the present trajectory doesn’t yield to success.

We need a serious change and much more creativity in terms of how we are dealing with the Iraqi situation. Now first of all we have got to come up with a much better plan on how to bring up Iraqi troop strength. I think we need new ideas. I think we need ideas like perhaps bring some of the Iraqi non-commissioned officers and officers into the United States to train. Sometimes the best way to show people what a great place America is, is to let them see it. Two; in terms of the inefficiency of our spending there; we have spent hundreds of billions of dollars and you’d never know it by going and looking around Iraq. Most of the money has been consumed up by contracts to big companies and those profits have come right back to the United States instead being spent in Iraq. So I think on the one hand America must hold its resolve and its determination to win. Because as I have said before we have got to remember who we are fighting. We’ve got to remember who we are fighting. We are fighting the very enemies of humanity. These are dark evil people. Dark evil people. The radical Islamic elements who want to have young men and women go blow themselves up for their own power. I don’t think it gets any worse.

Tua: Last question; two days ago now the New York Times Washington Post, LA Times, Wall Street Journal all published details of a classified government program designed to track the financial transactions of terrorists. Do you think they were wrong to do so?

Raj: I don’t think they were wrong. I think that we live in a free and open society and that the job of the press is a tricky one at times and it requires judgment calls; but on the balance I think it’s better for the American people to know what their government is doing than not to know. And clearly I believe in keeping government as transparent as possible; because at the same time, I don’t think anybody inside of government or outside of government is immune to that ancient human desire to increase their own influence and power. And that’s why I ‘m an old fashioned Republican. I believe very strongly in small government. I think that human history teaches us that any human organization wants to grow. Especially when it relates to government which basically has an open account to raise taxes and take more money from its citizens and increase its power; that we need to be very very wary and guard our freedoms jealously. Because if we don’t, we can find ourselves; especially in the modern society where we have so little privacy that we don’t wake up one day and find ourselves in some sort of Orwellian nightmare.

Tua: With that answer just to clarify is there any line that they can cross? In our governments efforts to conduct a war, aren’t there some things that they need to keep secret in order to have an advantage over our enemies?

Raj: Of course there are. Of course there are things in which the CIA or the FBI, or the NSA is gonna conduct that is not carried out on the front pages of our nation’s magazines, or newspapers. No doubt. But that I think in no small part becomes their job to make sure it stays secret. To answer your question; yes there is a line. And if you ask me on which side of the line I am going to error, I am going to error on the side of transparency. That having been said clearly the government needs to conduct covert operations. And the point that I was making earlier in respect to our war against radical Islamic groups, I think that’s a perfect example of where we need to have really good CIA operations, really good people in the field that will help us target and remove radical preachers of hatred and death; and those people who are encouraging young people to go blow themselves up and who want to turn the lights out on humanity. So you know you can understand that there is a very fine line even what I’m saying between the objective of having an open free society and conducting this war on terror. But there are two areas you have to conduct one abroad, and that fight abroad is going to be in no small part a covert fight. To find target and eliminate these preachers of death in the Islamic world wherever they are. And there is another set of rules over which how we will conduct surveillances over American citizens and I don’t think you can be careful or too conservative in our pursuit of foreign terrorists. And I don’t think you can be too careful likewise in protecting the liberties of the American people here at home.

Tua: One last question, what do folks do if they want to contribute or volunteer or help the campaign?

Raj: I appreciate that very much you just go to; you can find it all there.

End of interview.

In all fairness to the candidate I am not sure he is familiar with the story I referenced in my last two questions. After listening back to the interview I think he may have confused this story with the NSA story. I have emailed him this morning to clarify.