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Alternative Histories

I started reading The Rise of the Vulcans by James Mann, a new (possibly not avail in bookstores yet) joint biography of the Bush foreign policy team: Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Powell, Armitage, Rice. It looks like a terrific book, but I'm only about twenty pages into it. But here's a passage about Rumsfeld that has to get you thinking about what might have been:

For a generally conservative Republican congressman, Rumsfeld maintained some surprising friendships among the Democrats. One of his closest associates in the House of Representatives was Allard K. Lowenstein, a leader of the antiwar movement and perhaps the most liberal member of Congress at the time, who in 1967 led the fight within the Democratic Party to drop Lyndon Johnson as the party's presidential nominee. Rumsfeld and Lowenstein had served as congressional aides together in the late 1950s and once dreamed of buying a country newspaper together.

How different history would be if Rumsfeld had decided to wile away his days running a country newspaper with a rumpled, gay New York leftist!

(The Rumsfeld-Lowenstein friendship is confirmed in William H. Chafe's biography of Lowenstein, which is also one of the best books about the anti-communist left in the 50s and 60s, and the stress of Vietnam. According to Chafe, Lowenstein called on support from Rumsfeld, then a Nixon White House staffer, when faced with a tough fight for reelection in 1970. Rumsfeld obliged with very favorable comments to a local newspaper, but then was forced by Nixon to back off and formally endorse Lowenstein's opponent.)

[UPDATE: Yes (in response to a comment), I know that the issue of Lowenstein's sexuality is vastly more complicated than my characterization. He was an interesting, very complex person, which is another reason the Chafe biography -- sadly, out of print -- is worth reading.]

Posted by Mark Schmitt on February 29, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

A Heavy Accusation

Do Senators routinely profit on short-term stock trades, based on greater knowledge than the average investor? That's the implied charge in an article about an academic study linked to in a number of good blogs this week. (Kevin Drum, Tyler Cowen -- via Daniel Drezner, Jane Galt)

The study found that, in the period 1993-1998, based on extrapolations from financial disclosure reports, Senators buying and selling common stocks beat the market by 12%, while ordinary investors lag the market and corporate executives beat the market by only 5%. The study cited concludes that "These results suggest that Senators knew appropriate times to both buy and sell their common stocks."

That's a heavy accusation, and it piqued my curiosity, so I got a copy of the study by Alan Ziobrowski of the Real Estate Department at the J. Mack Robinson School of Business at Georgia State. (It's not yet published.) I was a little skeptical, not because I doubt that many Senators are corrupt and take advantage of their positions, but because it's a little hard to understand exactly how most Senators would come to have the knowledge needed to time stock transactions. 90% of Senate business is unlikely to have any predictable effect on any specific company's stock price. And of the things that do -- such as the Telecommunications Act of 1996 -- it's hard to see when the Senators have a real information advantage. If, for example, you knew that an amendment would pass on the telecommunications bill that would give an advantage to, say, AT&T, you could theoretically make some quick money buying the stock before the vote. But if you as a Senator know the amendment will pass, chances are, so do the hundreds of specialized reporters and lobbyists that are feeding information back into Wall Street. You might have a few hours advance notice that a company in your state is getting a federal contract. But if you're like most Senators, your #1 priority is to get credit for announcing it, so you don't really have time for a quick call to your broker before you hit the Senate press gallery or fax out a press release.

On the other hand, Senators might obtain profitable inside information or access to intitial public offerings of stocks from lobbyists, friends or contributors as a kind of bribe, which is a more serious charge. During this period of time, at least two Senators had been investigated for making quick profits on initial public offerings and penny stocks: Al D'Amato and Bob Toricelli. So I was curious if those two had distorted the study. In a footnote, the study says that IPOs were not included at all (why not?), so neither D'Amato nor Toricelli, nor the most identifiable type of actual corruption, figure. The study does note that of the 6,000 stock transactions he tallied in the six-year period, more than half were accounted for by only four Senators: the late Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, John Danforth of Missouri, John Warner of Virginia, and Barbara Boxer of California. The first two retired in the mid-1990s, well before the period covered in this outdated study ended. Danforth, Pell and Warner are also all heirs to great estates (Warner's first wife was a Mellon heiress), and Pell and Danforth were Senators of absolute, unquestioned integrity. (Not to denigrate the other two.) Boxer, as it happens, was a stockbroker by profession before entering politics, so perhaps knows what she's doing.

The Ziobrowski study recalculates the results by another statistical method (which I am not qualified to evaluate), that he says weights the Senators equally and thus eliminates the distortion of the four heavy traders, finding by this method a smaller but still statistically significant advantage in the Senators' stock purchases, though not their sales. Ziobrowski concludes based on this method that "trading with an informational advantage is common among Senators." Yet in the first years of the study, which is when the advantage appears, only 25-27 of the hundred Senators traded stocks at all. So it is not "common," since it is actually not common for Senators to trade stocks at all. In the last two years of the study, the number of Senators actively trading stocks rose into the high 30s, but in those later years, the Senators' advantage over the market also disappeared.

The study performs various other statistical breakdowns of the data, by party, by committee assignment and by seniority, but with each breakdown, the sub-sample of the 25 actively trading Senators naturally gets even smaller. He concludes that first-term Senators do better than Senators with more seniority, but that's a counterintuitive result: If Senators were trading on either information about congressional action, or on information provided by lobbyists, in either case Senators with greater seniority, and hence greater power, should be at an advantage. Counter-intuitive results such as this should suggest that the results are mostly statistical anomalies resulting from the small samples. And it also seems to me that, before concluding that Senators trade on an information advantage, there should be some effort to determine what the information advantage is and whether the stocks in question were those on which a Senator might have some information.

It is a provocative study, and should not be written off altogether. And IPO profits should certainly be included. But for the most part, this seems like public choice theory run amuck.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on February 27, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Another debate

When the Democrats started holding regular debates early last fall, I have to admit, I was shocked. The only result of having debates so early and so frequently, I thought, would be to force unprepared candidates to make gaffes that would come back on them later.

But watching the debate tonight, I was struck by how helpful it has been to Kerry and Edwards both to go through this ritual so many times. Despite the worst moderating and questioning imaginable -- Larry King is too dim and Ron Brownstein way too smart to be good debate questioners -- both of them were completely assured and comfortable. Sure, the legalistic answer on gay marriage vs. civil unions and the Defense of Marriage Act doesn't quite parse, but the real answer, which is that this is a distraction from everything that really matters in the country, came through.

A Bush-Kerry debate will not be a pretty sight. Every politician has a natural format -- Clinton's was the State of the Union, Bush's the single-topic (war) speech -- and Kerry's is the debate. It makes me wonder whether Bush will try to find a way out of debating Kerry altogether. He can't win just by doing better than expected -- as he may have done vs. Gore -- and even at his best, he will seem hopelessly inarticulate and defensive against Kerry in good form. He can watch the debates of the Kerry-Weld debates from 1996 for hours, and the only thing he'll learn is that debates against Kerry will give him no advantage.

So how does he get out? There hasn't been a presidential election without debates since Nixon in 1972. (Hmm, what does that tell you?) It's now totally institutionalized. David Broder in yesterday's Post suggested that Bush might use Nader, and the demands of the Citizens Debate Commission that candidates with 5% support in polls be permitted into the debates as a negotiating tool to minimize the number of debates with Kerry (or Edwards). But Broder doesn't seem to think that Bush can avoid debating altogether, and I doubt that Nader will be enough of a factor to theoretically qualify for debates even under the looser Citizens Debate Commission rules. Still, this is Bush, and if Rove decides he shouldn't debate, he's not going to debate. How he will pull it off, I don't know, but no one should be surprised if he does.

I was also glad to see that Kerry dealt with questions about campaign contributions by embracing the fact that he and Paul Wellstone were the two principal sponsors of the "Clean Elections" legislation at the federal level. I haven't heard him talk much about that before -- although I can't say I hear everything or even every debate -- and yet he should. It was a bold stance that he took, not just for the typical reforms that cut off various sources of political money, but for the most expansive vision of public financing. It's not something that was going to pass in 1998 when he and Wellstone introduced the bill, or even now. But it's a significant marker of what needs to be done, and the fact that Kerry took the lead on it shows both his commitment to political reform and a boldness that we don't always see.

Sidney Blumenthal has a good piece in Salon about how Arizona became or is becoming or might become a swing state. He mentions the fact that the hard right has increasingly marginalized itself, alienating moderate women who voted for Governor Janet Napolitano. To my surprise, he didn't mention that Arizona is one of only two states (Maine being the other) that has a fully functioning statewide Clean Elections system, under which Napolitano was elected. One factor in the fall is likely to be a showdown on an initiative that would effectively repeal Clean Elections by declaring that no taxpayer money can go to politicians. Senator McCain and Governor Napolitano are on the right side of that debate, the hard right and the powerful industry groups, such as the homebuilders, are on the other. That initiative is likely to have some effect on the presidential race, and because people generally seem to like the Clean Elections system, Kerry's support for it might help.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on February 27, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Bush oppo research warmup

There's nothing particularly interesting in this column by John Podhoretz from Monday, except an indication of the magnitude of the Bush opposition research project on John Kerry:

February 23, 2004 -- JOHN Kerry arrives in New York today. Our city is an old stomping ground of his, of course. He used to hang out at 156 Fifth Avenue - the headquarters of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Kerry was present at those offices in September 1970, when the group decided to write then-Mayor John V. Lindsay and demand that the city refuse to welcome another organization, one dedicated to representing other American servicemen.

The group John Kerry and his associates were protesting was The National Guard Association, which had its 1970 convention in New York at the Americana Hotel...

A guy like Podhoretz obviously doesn't do any actual research or thinking of his own. (I say "obviously" because he is the author of an obsequious Valentine called Bush Country: How Dubya Became a Great President While Driving Liberals Insane, and otherwise undistinguished.) So this is a straight shot from the Bush-Cheney campaign, opposition research department.

Opposition research is really a matter of creativity, of using the imagination to come up with what strange corner of the world's libraries and document collections might contain some incriminating nugget. And the motherlode referred to here -- which actually has nothing to do with anything that John Kerry ever said or thought -- is the complete minutes of the meetings of Vietnam Veterans Against the War in the early 1970s, at least some of which Kerry was present for.

According to this remarkable site, The Sixties Project, VVAW more or less fell apart in the mid-1970s, and a "radical Marxist wing" split off into a new organization called VVAW-AI (Anti-Imperialist), leading to litigation about the right to use the VVAW name. When a group splits off into a radical Marxist wing, it's probably a good indication that many stupid, crazy and probably offensive things were said at the meetings that preceded the split. They have nothing to do with John Kerry, of course, but we should be prepared to hear a lot more about them between now and November.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on February 25, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Definition of marriage, for 2-year-olds

This is a sappy little story, but relevant.

Our 2-1/2-year-old daughter was trying to figure out the different relationships in our family today. It started, I think, when she wanted to know why I didn't want to address my wife as "Mommy." So I explained, and she said, "Okay, she's my Holly and she's my mommy. And she's your Holly and she's your wife."


"And you're my daddy and my Mark."


"And you're mommy's Mark and mommy's wife."

"Uh, no, I'm her husband."

And then I decided, on this of all days, let's not start her off with George W. Bush's definition of marriage. "Forget that. I'm her partner. She's my partner, and I'm her partner."

"But she's my partner, too," my daughter replied. "You're my partner and she's my partner. And I'm your partner and her partner. We're all partners."

Who's going to argue with that? I'll have to find another angle.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on February 24, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

"Another Negative Consequence...Of Marijuana Trafficking"

My wife received this press release from the DEA. Next time you're tempted to toke up, please consider the possibility that you are allowing yourself to be a pawn in a comic sequence of criminal bungling that might ultimately have led to a child going without a heart valve transplant.

U. S. Department of Justice
Drug Enforcement Administration

Special Agent Elizabeth M. Jordan
Public Information Officer


Special Agent in Charge Anthony P. Placido announced today the arrest of two individuals trafficking marijuana in the Buffalo region of New York, the seizure of approximately 140 pounds of marijuana and the recovery of human organ tissue for transplant destined for Buffalo General Hospital and Hamilton Hospital, Hamilton Ontario. The alleged defendants inadvertently took possession of the organ transplant tissue boxes during their attempt to retrieve boxes containing marijuana.

SAC Placido stated: "This case demonstrates another negative consequence affecting the general public and innocent bystanders as a result of marijuana trafficking. Agents of the Buffalo District Office and members of the Niagara Frontier Transit Police Department are commended for their diligent efforts, aggressive investigating and expeditious return of the human organ tissues to proper medical authorities."

On February 23, 2004, at approximately 5:30 p.m., the DEA Buffalo Resident Office received a telephone call from a Niagara Frontier Transit Police Department Detective regarding the seizure of approximately 140 pounds of marijuana at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

Special Agents responded to The Buffalo Niagara International Airport and through coordination with the Niagara Frontier Transit Police Department learned that a female had mistakenly taken two packages at the Airport, which had been shipped from Atlanta by Cryolife Inc. via Delta Airlines. These packages contained two human organs. One contained a pulmonary valve packaged at a temperature of minus 275 degrees Fahrenheit in order to keep the tissue alive for immediate transplant in Ontario, Canada. The other package contained a saphenous vein, packaged in the same manner, en route to the Buffalo General Hospital. Both of these organs are valued at $10,000.00 each, according to Hospital authorities. Agents established a liaison with hospital officials and learned that the heart valve was needed for an emergency transplant surgery for a teenager or young adult. The vein was intended for a coronary bypass graft surgery.

The unknown female took possession of these packages at approximately 11:30 a.m. and the only information that she provided to the Delta Ticket counter was her false identification as Tabatha CAMPBELL. This unknown female had a phony tag on her shirt identifying her as an employee at Dual Printing in Buffalo, NY.

The two packages that CAMPBELL was supposed to pick up from the Delta Ticket Counter contained approximately 140 pounds of marijuana. The packages were to be picked up by Dual Printing at the Delta Airlines ticket counter. Agents contacted the owner of Dual Printing and learned that there were no females working for the company that fit the description of CAMPBELL

DEA Agents and NFTPD Detectives immediately established surveillance, ran exhaustive computer checks and interviewed confidential sources in the area to identify this female.

At approximately 8:30 p.m., the Agents learned that a call had been received at the airport inquiring about the current location of the unclaimed packages of marijuana. This unknown male asked the attendant if the packages could still be picked up. The Agents and NFTA Officers continued their surveillance in the Airport in an effort to observe anyone to come accept the packages. Another call was received at approximately 11:30 p.m. The caller stated that someone was attempting to pick up the packages and needed assistance at Delta Counter to help them.

At approximately 12:00 a.m., a female approached the Delta Ticket Counter with the two packages containing the aforementioned human organs. The female was arrested by the Agents nearby the counter after swapping the organs for the marijuana. The female was a Canadian citizen identified as Tabatha BRACKEN (DOB-04-26-76). Other Agents observed Dalvan ROBINSON (DOB 06-22-61) a Jamaican national of Lockport, NY, attempting to flee the area and placed him in custody.
Upon recovery, the agents were scrubbed for surgery and surrendered custody of the organs to surgeons in order to preserve the packaging for evidentiary use in the pending criminal case.

The defendants are scheduled for arraignment this afternoon in the Western District of New York

The investigation continues

Posted by Mark Schmitt on February 24, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Me to Nader: Bring. It. On.

Ralph Nader's announcement that he will run for president again -- for the third time -- took up a news cycle, and perhaps a few more, that might have more productively been used to showcase the Democratic candidates Kerry and Edwards, or further unpack the economic dishonesty of, for example, the Bush administration's job-creation predictions.

But that's the worst damage his campaign will do. There's no need to worry that this will be a repeat of 2000. Nader's campaign will be irrelevant by November.

Now, I take a back seat to no one in my contempt for Nader's descent into destructive presidential candidacies. I don't even feel the need to genuflect to Nader's pre-1996 consumer-activist career. I thought Eric Alterman distilled Nader's politics -- both presidential and non-presidential -- to their vacuous essence in 2000, writing in The Nation that

To listen to the Naderites--many of whom I admire--you might believe they were constructing a diverse, representative progressive movement with the possibility of one day replacing the Democrats. How odd it is to note, therefore, that this nascent leftist movement has virtually no support among African-Americans, Latinos or Asian-Americans. It has no support among organized feminist groups, organized gay rights groups or mainstream environmental groups. To top it all off, it has no support in the national union movement. So Nader and company are building a nonblack, non-Latino, non-Asian, nonfeminist, nonenvironmentalist, nongay, non-working people's left: Now that really would be quite an achievement.

I would also recommend my friend Micah Sifry's comments on his blog. Micah is the author of Spoiling for a Fight: Third-Party Politics in America, and by nature much more sympathetic than I am to the idea of alternative parties, to the Greens and to Nader himself.

But with Nader running without the established structure of the Green Party, one has to ask, how many states' ballots does he expect to be on? Who is going to get him on? In 1996, remember, Nader ran before the Green Party was as well established as today, and only appeared on the ballot in 26 states, winning 0.7% of the vote. His backers in Ohio couldn't even come up with the 5,000 signatures necessary to get him on the ballot in that state. Here's a link to a chart from the remarkable newsletter, Ballot Access News, published for years by Richard Winger, showing the specific signature requirements in each state. In some of the swing states, it's quite formidable for an independent candidate. And in most states, the requirements are complicated, and if Nader's signatures are challenged, enough are always going to be invalid for one petty reason or another that one generally needs almost twice as many as required in order to have just enough good signatures.

So, if anything, Nader's campaign this year is likely to be a repeat of 1996, rather than 2000. Naderites will claim that 1996 wasn't a real test, because Nader didn't campaign, he merely offered himself to the people, and spent less than $5,000 on his campaign. Bullshit. He didn't spend less than $5,000. He claimed to have spent less than $5,000 because if he admitted spending more, he would have been required to file a report with the Federal Election Commission and a financial disclosure. He didn't run television ads, but he traveled the country, speaking as a candidate, and someone paid for those trips. Those someones are contributors, and their spending is the cost of his campaign. To me, the lie about 1996, almost as much as 2000, is disqualifying: You can't be the candidate of reform, and of ending big money politics, if you simply refuse to comply with the most basic of campaign finance laws, as if they don't apply to you.

In 1996, Nader finished a fraction ahead of the Libertarian Party candidate, Harry Browne. 2004 seems like a perfect year for a Libertarian to make a leap forward -- at least into the 1-2% zone. Imagine the potential appeal to conservatives who really don't want to see federal spending increased, or entitlement programs expanded, who don't want a federal role in education, who are deeply concerned about surveillance and other threats to individual liberties, and who also don't like to see the catering to the religious right, who think that people should be able to live and let live and marry whoever they love. I'm pretty sure there are a lot more people with that constellation of views than there are potential Nader voters, and everything about the Bush administration has been an affront to them. This should be the best opportunity in decades for a Libertarian, who might pull significant support in swing states like Florida, Arizona, and Wisconsin (where a libertarian got 10% in the governor's race in 2002) away from Bush. And yet, the media is obsessed with Nader's threat to the Democrats, and pays not a moment's attention to the Libertarian threat to Bush. (Although I admit, the threat is purely conjectural at this point.)

Posted by Mark Schmitt on February 21, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Kerry and Bush "Career Patrons"

This is shooting fish in a barrel, but in case anyone was wondering, here's a little context on the claim soon to appear in a Bush reelection ad that Senator Kerrey is "brought to you by the special interests."

The Center for Public Integrity
, which has produced The Buying of the President in each of the last three elections has developed a useful way of looking at politicians in terms of their "career patrons," individuals or organizations or corporations that have bankrolled them consistently. For corporations, law firms, etc, it includes personal contributions from employees/partners. Here are Bush and Kerrey's career patrons, including contributors to the current presidential campaigns through December 31. Note that Bush's cover four elections over ten years; Kerry's five elections over twenty years.

Bush career:

Enron Corp. $602,625
MBNA Corp. $597,041
Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. $564,404
Pricewaterhouse Coopers $485,448
Vinson & Elkins $476,400
UBS AG Inc $474,300
Credit Suisse First Boston $472,650
Goldman Sachs Group $409,449
Bass Brothers Enterprises $397,427
Ernst & Young LLP $384,154

Kerry career:

Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo $232,736
FleetBoston Financial Corp. $183,037
Time Warner $145,435
Hale and Dorr LLP $129,858
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom $125,550
Harvard University $124,250
Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos Inc. $122,300
Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand/Piper Rudnick $121,550
Citigroup $116,656
Goldman Sachs Group $110,600

These lists speak for themselves. It's worth noting that Bush's tenth biggest patron gave a good deal more than Kerry's number one.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on February 21, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Does McCain-Feingold Help (Or Not Hurt) Democrats?

Here's a working link to Wednesday's provocative story in the Wall Street Journal, "McCain-Feingold Helps Democrats Stay Competitive"

Campaign finance regulation is always the realm of unintended consequences, some of which are good and some bad. The Journal's John Harwood points out two ways the law has, contrary to assumptions, helped Democrats this year. The first is the "stand by your ad" provision, requiring candidates to appear in their ads if only long enough to state briefly that they have approved the contents of the ad. That prevents the kind of hit-and-run attack ads that might backfire on a candidate if he or she were personally associated with them, and it is credited with the fact that the primary campaign has been almost entirely free of negative ads, with the exception of the anti-Dean ads aired by an independent group.

The "stand by your ad" provision (which, by the way, might well be found unconstitutional if challenged, since it regulates the content of a broadcast communication with the intent reducing negative advertising, rather than the "time, place and manner" of speech) wasn't particularly controversial, or considered an important part of the legislation. But it's often the little overlooked things in campaign finance regulation seem to matter most. In Arizona, for example, which has a system of full public financing for state elections, it's not the public money, but the system of qualifying for public financing -- by collecting a certain number of $5 contributions, to show broad support -- that captured the imagination of the public and politicians. The state commission that runs the program created a bolo-tie, cowboy-hat-wearing cartoon character called "Five-Dollar Bill" to promote the program, and the current governor, Janet Napolitano, boasts of throwing "five dollar parties" throughout the state.

More importantly, Harwood argues that the ban on soft money forced the Democrats to adapt by developing a small donor base, which had fallen far behind the Republicans. Indeed, it appears that the Democratic party committees have raised more in hard money (that is, contributions under the $2,000 limit, from individuals, which can be used for anything) than they had raised at this point in the previous election cycle in hard money and soft money combined.

The invaluable Professor Rick Hasen, who writes the Election Law blog dissented, noting that Republicans, with the now-$200 million raised by Bush still have a huge advantage that the Democrats can no longer use soft money to offset. Hasen also cites Nate Persily, another brilliant young academic in this field as arguing that "if raising small donations was really advantageous to the Democrats, they would have done more of it while raising soft money was still legal."

In a separate listserv, Tom Mann of the Brookings Institution argued in response that "Democrats got lazy going after soft dollars in large denominations. The new law forced their hand. The chairman of the DNC has said as much. And Howard Dean has led the way. The Democratic presidential candidates have raised collectively as much money as Bush has. The Democratic party committees are doing very well in their hard-money raising and especially with cash on hand. The national Democratic party committees are likely to invest more in GOTV in this cycle than they did in the 2000 cycle. And on and on."

Mann and Harwood are right here. Political fundraising operations have a culture. Either they go after big dollars (easy), or small dollars (usually more difficult). People who know how to schmooze big donors and walk out with $50,000 checks are very different from the people who know how to set up an operation that finds small donors and cultivates ever-expanding numbers of them. (Not that $2,000 is so small, by my standards, but it still takes a lot of them to finance a presidential campaign.) The Democratic fundraising operation was always based on cultivating large donors, sometimes ideologically motivated donors but often business donors who were persuaded that the Democrats were always going to control the House of Representatives or the Presidency, and so they had to hedge their bets. This wasn't always the best money to have, because it came with strings, and it was unreliable -- lose power and the money goes with it. The Republicans, in years out of power, had built a more reliable base of small and ideological donors, on top of which Bush added an unprecedented system for bundling contributions through business leaders.

The Democrats' escape from dependence on large contributions and soft money will certainly have its benefits. McCain-Feingold obviously forced the issue, but so did the fact of being out of power; the unifying and energizing presence of Bush, which has given Democrats a feeling that they have a stake in being DEMOCRATS that was missing in much of the Clinton era; and the fact that the internet can dramatically reduce the transaction costs of asking for a small contribution and all but eliminate the costs of asking for a repeat contribution. Dean didn't invent this, but he did show the way, and other candidates, and the party itself, will follow.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on February 20, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

"The issue is hypocrisy" -- A Priceless Quote

Here's the best paragraph from the Washington Post's preview tomorrow of Bush's advertising strategy against Kerry, which will include citing a 1970 speech in which Kerry called for the use of force to go through the UN. The main theme will be that Kerry is a flip-flopper, or hypocritical, especially in his attacks on special interests:

Acknowledging that Bush has received major financial support from corporations, [Bush ad man Mark] McKinnon said: "The issue is hypocrisy in saying you're going to take on the special interests, not who took the most special interest money. You don't hear the president in the Oval Office railing against the special interests. You do hear John Kerry railing against the special interests." The campaign has previewed this theme in an online video calling Kerry "unprincipled" and "brought to you by the special interests." (emphasis added)

OK, let's get this straight: The reason to vote for Bush is that he happily admits that he's a pawn of the K Street lobbyists and the energy interests, and makes no pretense otherwise? Whereas Kerry attacks the special interests but has actually raised a few million dollars in his lifetime? (Although a fraction of what Bush has raised

Yeah, that could work. The "lovable scamp," who at least doesn't pretend to be any more respectable than he is, who's honest in his graft, does have a history in American politics. That role worked for Mayor Curley of Boston. But that was a long time ago. "At least he's not a hypocrite" doesn't sound like a very, um, dignified slogan for a president, though.

This is why I'm less and less intimidated by the Bush campaign's 200 gazillion dollars or whatever. The more money they have, the more they turn into a giant self-referential Arlington, Virginia cocoon spun of steak lunches, cigars, moral certainties, and stick-with-the-program talking points. And the more they talk only to themselves, the more they can twist themselves into logic like this. Or convince themselves that people are really going to care about something Kerry said when he was 26!

Posted by Mark Schmitt on February 19, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack