The Time Has Come, Joe Trippi Said…

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…to talk of many things. Of votes and polls and campaign funds, of presidents and kings. And why public finance is bad (and good) and whether Dean has wings.

Those who're following the Dean campaign can be forgiven if they've got that through-the-looking glass feeling all of a sudden. See, despite his unfortunate support for campaign finance "reform," Dean's realized that he's going to have to ditch public funding (and the spending caps that come with it) to compete with the cash-flush president, who's already announced his intention to do so. But he was afraid of taking flak (which he has) from fellow Democrats.

So last week, Dean asked his supporters to "decide" what he should do. A letter to supporters posed the question less than totally impartially: "If we accept federal matching funds—and the $45 million spending cap that goes with it—they will have a $155 million spending advantage against us. From March through August, they will be able to define and distort us, and we will have no way to defend ourselves. "

The recipients got the picture and provided a thin layer of political cover by voting as instructed. Fine, whatever, business as usual. The really ballsy move, though, was the email campaign manager Joe Trippi—subject of a good profile (subscribers) in the latest New Republic—sent around this weekend. It read:

In 1773, a band of patriots dumped a shipload of tea into Boston Harbor to protest a government that benefited only a select few.

Today, a bigger band of patriots made history. By a margin of 85-15, you voted to dump $19 million in public campaign funds, and you sent a message loud and clear to George W. Bush?our political process belongs to the American people, not the special interests that fund his administration.

This campaign is no longer public-funded?it?s people funded.

To quote Shakespeare… jigga-wha? I mean, I'm all in favor of this line of argument—seems eminently reasonable that support for a candidate should come from those who believe in his or her ideas strongly enough to contribute voluntarily. But it's a bit awkward for their campaign to now be making this argument, unless they expect their supporters to be sufficiently adept at doublethink to accept that the principle somehow ceases to apply when the "people" funding a campaign rise above a certain tax bracket. Still, that's not quite as bizarre as the contention that somehow eschewing public funding in favor of private contributions somehow constitutes thumbing one's nose at the "special interests". It's going to be the same bloody companies giving comparable amounts to the Dean campaign if he gets the D nod. The only way this strategy works is if they do just that, making up the $19 million the campaign just passed on. So… err… who, exactly, do they think they're kidding with this line?

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  1. They are kidding Democratic Party activists, and they will get away with it.

    Not many people understand the campaign finance reform issue anyway. To Democratic partisans, whatever feelings they might have about that pale before their desire to beat George Bush. Hypocrisy however blatant would in their view be a small price to pay for to achieve their main objective.

  2. It was a cowardly — though perhaps also a politically clever — move to put public financing up for a vote.

  3. Look for Dean to rip Bush at some point for refusing to agree to campaign spending limitations, and to claim that Bush’s campaign is a tool of special interests because it is entirely privately financed.

    Just like Dean’s.

    Oh wait, he just did that. Christ, what a tool.

  4. It was a cowardly — though perhaps also a politically clever — move to put public financing up for a vote.

    Perhaps but I’m more concerned about the failure on the part of the RNC and the Bush campaign to capitalize on this as a means of refuting the notion that there ought to be limits on how much a person can contribute to another?s political campaign. It irritated me to no end to read about the Bush campaign saying ?talk to the RNC? and no one from the RNC answering (assuming that they weren?t being called at 4:59pm when everyone was on their way out the door ? which has been known to happen in Minnesota politics when the media wants to give the illusion of having offered the GOP candidate a fair chance to respond to a story).

    IMNHO the Bush campaign should have seized on this to (a) point out the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of placing arbitrary limits on how much of a person?s own money they can spend on the political candidate or cause of their choice and (b) point out that while the media has never ceased to focus on how much the Bush campaign has amassed in its war chest, they conveniently ignore the millions more being amassed Soros, Ickes, and organized labor, as Hugh Hewitt reported:

    The Washington Post has two major stories on campaign fundraising this morning. Mike Allen writes on the effect on the Bush campaign of Howard Dean’s decision to skip federal funding –and concludes that this will inspire Bush to reach even higher than the $170 million his campaign has targeted for a budget.
    Oddly, the Allen piece does not cross-reference the Laura Blumenfeld article on the quest of George Soros to defeat Bush any way he can, and the huge amount of money that Soros is willing to spend to reach his goal. “It is the central focus of my life,” Soros said about ousting Bush. The defeat of Bush “is a matter of life and death.”
    The strange thing is that the Post would not mention the Soros effort or the parallel effort by Harold Ickes in its article on Bush fund-raising. Clearly the President cannot ignore high strung billionaires and brass knuckled Clinton operatives in his re-election campaign, so of course he’s got to go higher than $170 million. And where is a report on third party expenditures by organized labor –more “off-the-books” money?
    The campaign finance story of 2004 is not how much Bush is raising. It is how much he has to raise to match the various dollars being spent against him.

    There was a golden opportunity to bring both of these issues to light and I am disappointed that neither the Bush campaign nor the RNC seized the opportunity to get their side of the story out.

  5. who the hell leaves at 459?

    actually who the hell leaves the office?

    if you have a real job, you don’t

  6. George Soros.

  7. Is it possible, when talking about this and related issues to speak of “government financing” of campaigns rather than “public financing”? The use of “public” in this is itself a case of doublespeak, hiding government control of political speech.

    As to the issue itself: Does this episode not provide the most irrefutable proof that Dean is a weak and slippery politician? A true leader would have declared that he is bucking his party’s doctrine and foregoing the government’s money because it gives him the best opportunity for electoral victory, and that’s that. Instead, Dean hides behind a relatively unknown amorphous group of supporters to give political cover for a decision he already made. Even worse to consider is the slight chance he might have actually allowed those supporters to make that decision for him.

    We do not need this petty type of character in high national office. Dean must not become president.

  8. “I’ve never quite understood why libertarians consider gov’t power to be malign and corporate power to be somehow benevolent and interchangeable with individual power.”

    Corporations can’t throw me in jail. Corporations don’t harrass me with thousands of laws and regulations. Corporations don’t tell me what kind of drugs I can take. Corporations don’t steal my money; they trade value for value.

    As for corporations having “a single agenda and a disproportionate amount of wealth and power”, where is the industry lobby group that has been as single-minded, and successful, as the abortion lobby? Furthermore under your theory the availability of abortion should be because of the activity of hospitals and doctors, when it is actually due to groups like NARAL.

  9. “I’ve never quite understood why libertarians consider gov’t power to be malign and corporate power to be somehow benevolent and interchangeable with individual power.”

    Mark,

    It usually resides around the fact that the government has a monopoly on the initiation of force. If you don’t like Wal mart, don’t shop there. If you don’t like your level of taxation, go to jail, meet Bubba, and lose your house.

  10. “I’ve never quite understood why libertarians consider gov’t power to be malign and corporate power to be somehow benevolent and interchangeable with individual power.”

    The interestes of corporations are often not the interests of citizens. For example, environmental regs. What’s good for Monsanto, etc, can be very very bad for communities. Or see the McWane mess: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F00C1FF63B5F0C768DDDAD0894DB404482

    If everyone in the US gave $100 to a candidate individually, rather than corporations giving huge amounts, we would have government that better represents people rather than companies.

  11. Please, you people are missing the point. Dean is presenting himself as a populist, difficult enough to do when one is a Northeast silver-spooner. The “vote” for or against gov’t financing for his campaign was a stroke of political genius. It accomplished two things: Gave him political cover for what he wanted (and needed) to do anyway, and shored up his populist credentials after his apparent switcheroo on Medicare damaged his street cred as a “man of the people.”

    Slippery? Maybe, but also pretty damn savvy. Weak? Maybe, but also gutsy in a way. Consider what he would have had to go through if the “vote” had gone the other way. Unlikely, but possible.

    Also, his campaign is using new media better than any candidate in history. Seen his infomercials? Ron Popeil couldn’t do better. And if his campaign is giving Bush’s pause to reconsider their campaign finance strategy, that should tell you something right there. Somebody in his campaign has his or her poop clearly in a group.

    I’m not a huge fan, either, but give credit where it’s due.

  12. FYI – This weekend is the Iowa Democrats’ “Jefferson/Jackson Day” dinner here in Des Moines. Most if not all the candidates will be there along with some 7500 state and national Democratic bigwigs. Requests to set up a “draft Hillary” booth at the event were squashed by the state central committee. Several months, possibly even weeks ago, they’d probably have been allowed to do so, or even enthusiastically encouraged. Word is the decision was made based on the current strength of the Dean campaign and the fact that a ton of local influence-peddlers are throwing their weight behind Dean. Somebody is seeing a tide turning here, apparently, even though Gephardt is doing slightly better in the Iowa Poll at present.

  13. This has little to do with Bush. By doing this now, Dean can spend the bejeesus out of his opponents during the primaries and try to lock up the nomination quickly.

  14. “Slippery? Maybe, but also pretty damn savvy. Weak? Maybe, but also gutsy in a way.”

    Putting the responsilbility for a controversial decision on an anonymous group of supporters may be a “savvy” way to put a good spin on the situation, but I don’t particularly admire spinning politicians especially when the spinning is done this nakedly. While I agree that the decision itself is “gutsy”, the way it was done is decidedly not.

  15. “The one thing I’ve heard about Dean’s tenure in Vermont is that he was a pragmatist…”

    Another word for “pragmatist” is “unprincipled”. A completely pragmatic person will do anything to anyone to get what he wants, break any law, rule, or tradition that stands in his way, not a trait you want in someone holding the reins of power. A little pragmatism is OK, too much is dangerous.

    “And the difference between “people” funding campaigns and “corporations” funding campaigns is that corporations are not people, they’re groups of people with a single agenda and a disproportionate amount of wealth and power, which becomes even greater when they combine into industry-wide lobbying groups.”

    Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe corporations are barred from directly contributing to political campaigns and have been for a rather long time. The corporation’s owners and officers may set up a PAC for their own political contributions related to the interests of their business, but it is not the same thing as the corporation doing it in either legal or real terms.

    What exactly is it about corporations that bothers you so much? That groups of people would choose to pool their resources to accomplish a common goal should neither alarm nor particularly threaten you.

  16. I thought Dean’s move to “put it to a vote” was more than political veneer. I thought it was very original and clever of him. Most politicians do not ask their supporters before backing out on a pledge.

    The one thing I’ve heard about Dean’s tenure in Vermont is that he was a pragmatist, and this decision shows it. Personally, I prefer a politician who is flexible and even a bit slippery, rather than one who sticks to his guns at all costs.

    And campaign finance reform would only work if everyone stuck to the limits. And the difference between “people” funding campaigns and “corporations” funding campaigns is that corporations are not people, they’re groups of people with a single agenda and a disproportionate amount of wealth and power, which becomes even greater when they combine into industry-wide lobbying groups. I’ve never quite understood why libertarians consider gov’t power to be malign and corporate power to be somehow benevolent and interchangeable with individual power.

    Otherwise, you guys are pretty cool.

  17. EMAIL: pamela_woodlake@yahoo.com
    IP: 62.213.67.122
    URL: http://dedicated-web-server.1st-host.org
    DATE: 01/20/2004 12:24:41
    Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy.

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