January 11, 2005


The National Journal's Daily Poll Track yesterday brought news of a new national survey that ought to make Democrats disgusted with the leadership of their party sit up and take notice:

"Television advertising alone cost more than a billion and a half dollars in 2004, but who exactly was supposed to get the message?," asked the Journal.  "A new Annenberg survey found that only 15 percent of voters considered voting for the other presidential candidate at any point in the election cycle. Supporters of President Bush and John Kerry were statistically even: Eighty-four percent of Bush voters and 85 percent of Kerry voters said there was never a time they thought they would cast ballots for the other candidate."

"Quoting Annenberg political director Adam Clymer, the survey's analysis suggests the results 'vindicated a campaign strategy of playing to the base and spending relatively less time and money on undecided voters or soft supporters of the other candidate,' adding that Clymer thinks 'the Bush campaign was especially skillful at implementing that strategy.'" That is, if anything, an understatement--and ignores how the Democratic campaign did just the opposite.

I wrote repeatedly and despairingly during the campaign that the national Democrats were ignoring their base and, indeed, alienating it by failing to provide a clear, understandable, and meaningful alternative to Bush on the key issues of the economy and Iraq. And who was responsible for the failed Democratic strategy? Why, the overpaid Democratic consultants whom Kerry hired, one layer after another, as he flailed about trying to get traction with the electorate. On September 8  I wrote a dissection of the terminal failings of those consultants--most of whom were, in off-years, corporate lobbyists--and whose advice was, I predicted, dooming the drive to dump Bush to disaster. A few weeks later, I wrote of the Kerry consultants: "These millionaire media goniffs and Clintonista off-year whores for Corporate America, to whom Kerry is now listening, are themselves deaf to the wails of distress coming from those Democrats in the battleground states who have been begging for a bold Kerry economic attack on Bush, which they see as the only way of having a prayer of defeating this war president by mobilizing the victims of the Bush economy and energizing the desultory Democratic base." The new Annenberg poll confirms that I wasn't wrong.

Now, in the latest issue of the Washington Monthly, Amy Sullivan--in a first-rate broadside entitled "Fire the Consultants," has provided a damning bill of indictment against these guns for hire, "a clique of Washington consultants who, through their insider ties, continue to get rewarded with business even after losing continually."

Among those who fall under Sullivan's scalpel are two of this overpaid tribe who were most responsible for Kerry's failed strategy: Bob Shrum, his media man and message guru (whom I portrayed as out of touch with the electorate at the beginning of the campaign)--Sullivan sniffs that Shrummy "has no genius for strategy and very little feel for what makes Middle America tick"; and Mark Mellman, who--as Kerry's pollster--urged him to stay away from attacking Bush.  "Mellman," Sullivan justly writes, "is popular among Democrats because he tells them what they so desperately want to hear: Their policies are sound, Americans really agree with them more than with Republicans, and if they just repeat their mantras loud enough, voters will eventually embrace the party...."

In a party bereft of new ideas, Sullivan points out, "The consultants are filling a vacuum. After all, someone has to formulate the message that a candidate can use to win the voters' support. Conservatives have spent 30 years and billions of dollars on think tanks and other organizations to develop a set of interlinked policies and language that individual Republican candidates and campaigns can adopt in plug-and-play fashion. Liberals are far behind in this message development game. Indeed, most Democratic elected officials have been running recently on warmed-up leftovers from the Clinton brain trust, ideas which were once innovative but are now far from fresh. With little else to go on, consultants—many of whom came to prominence during the Clinton years—have clung to old ideas and strategies like security blankets...."

There's a lot of gossipy detail in Sullivan's salvos: for example, she recounts how Joe Hansen used his position as field director for the Democratic Senatorial Committee to blackmail candidates into hiring his consulting firm. I wish Sullivan hadn't ignored many of these consultants' ties to Corporate America, but her article is nonetheless a must read that should be force-fed to every Democratic activist. Good work, Amy! Read it all by clicking here.

Posted by Direland at 05:34 AM | Permalink


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Hey, great article, you a good writer... very powerful :)

Posted by: psoriasis | May 16, 2007 1:20:29 AM

I thought something must be going on with the Dems and the corporate pig trough. Otherwise, why not use Populism to win the election? They acted like they were afraid to speak to the American people loudly and clearly and now I see why.

Posted by: la | Jan 13, 2005 8:49:56 PM

I also think you're wrong Dean. The Democrats could have rallied people around a number of issues, like instituting a federal living wage for example. There was a lot of talk about how Republicans had galvanized their base by putting anti-gay rights based referendums on the ballot - a tactic which was rather successful apparently. However, there was another initiative that brought out scores of voters in a number of states as well and won by even greater margins: minimum wage increases (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6415858/site/newsweek/). Now Kerry was calling for a raise in the minimum wage in Congress, but rarely ever mentioned it in his campaign, let alone focused his campaign around it. Minimum wage increases are an absolute necessity today since inflation has eaten away at the minimum wage dramatically since the late 60s, so much so that Kerry's proposal of a $7.00/hr still falls short of the minimum wage's purchasing power in the 60s (see: http://www.afl-cio.org/yourjobeconomy/minimumwage/ and http://www.epinet.org/content.cfm/issuebrief201). Now many have pointed out that a vast increase in the minimum wage would be the death knell for small businesses or at least many of their employees, which to a degree is true. That is why the federal government would have to target those small businesses for subsidies and tax cuts (see: http://gp.org/platform/2004/economics.html#249712), not major corporations which can easily afford to pay a $10 minimum wage (see http://www.socialistworker.org/2004-2/517/517_02_CorporateTaxes.shtml and http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/1997/0797collins.html). This would need to be supplemented though by a cracking down on corporate crime, fraud, abuse as well as mergers (see: http://www.citizen.org/documents/corporateabusetax.pdf). He might have called for a modest tax on currency speculation and stock and bond transactions, which are currently un or undertaxed. Many economists have estimated that such a tax could raise hundreds of billions of dollars for the federal government each year (see: http://www.ceedweb.org/iirp/factsheet.htm). He could have called for stricter regulations on banks and lenders, while promising more federal involvement in creating credit unions (see the GP proposal on this: http://gp.org/platform/2004/economics.html#249123). What about instituting a plan for National Health Insurance based on the Canadian single-payer model (see: www.pnhp.org). Repealing the Taft-Hartely act and supporting legislation that would guarantee workers' right to form unions (http://lpa.igc.org/lpv26/lp05.htm)? Major election and campaign finance reforms (see www.fairvote.org). Believe it or not Dean, but poll after poll have shown majority support for all of those reforms, regardless of political orientation.

Sadly, Ralph Nader outlined pretty clearly how John Kerry could have distinguished himself from Bush, but I guess it fell on deaf ears:

1. The Failed Presidency of George W. Bush Shows he is a Compassionless Conservative

On the home front and around the world, President Bush has failed the United States. His economic record is one of record deficits, loss of jobs, creation of low-wage jobs. He has failed to create a budget that puts people's needs before corporate greed. He has made us less safe at home, turned allies into adversaries, and trapped us in an impeachable, illegal quagmire. The four-year record of George W. Bush shows his rhetoric of 2000 is not consistent with the impact of his presidency—more poverty; lower paying jobs; more people without health care; less protection from pollution, disease, and job hazards; and more military and civilian casualties.

2. Bush is Not Telling the Whole Story on Casualties in Iraq and the Likely Return of the Draft or Facing Up to the Challenge of Peace in Israel-Palestine

Consistent with the fabrications and deceptions that sent us to war and trapped the US in a quagmire, the Bush administration is under-stating casualties in Iraq by not reporting the likely thousands of wounded and sick soldiers hurt in non-combat situations. The administration is also not telling Americans about the likely reinstatement of the draft—yet where are the troops for escalation in Iraq going to come from when already 40% of the troops in Iraq have come from the National Guard and Reserve? A decisive peace plan for Israel and Palestine is needed ,rather than the drift and subservience of the Bush administration. Seventy percent of Americans of Jewish faith want peace in Israel and Palestine through a real peace, two-state, solution plan. What is not needed is automatic acceptance of the policies of the military government of Ariel Sharon. Seek peace in the Middle East by highlighting the voices of the broad and deep Israeli peace movement, which includes former military officers, rabbis, local and national government officials, legislative incumbents, and academics, among others, with their Palestinian and American counterparts.

3. Protect the Environment and Face Up to Global Climate Change

It is time to face up to the environmental crisis we are facing. The epidemic of silent environmental violence continues. Among the environmental emergencies are the 65,000 Americans who die every year from air pollution, the 58,000 Americans whose demise comes from occupational toxic exposures, and the cruel environmental racism leaving the poor and their often asthmatic children to live in pollution sinks located near toxic hot-spots. The evidence of global warming is mounting in Alaska, the Andes, and Antarctica. It is time to break our addiction to fossil fuels. We threaten the global environment with our continued use of fossil fuels. Not only is this an ecological threat, it is a tremendous economic threat, facing all of humanity. Global warming alarms the re-insurance industry, spreads infectious tropical diseases, causes massive ecological disruption, and increased severe, unpredictable weather—all of which will significantly impact commerce, agriculture, and communities throughout the US and the world.

4. Confront Corporate Crime & Corporate Welfare and Challenge
Corporate Control of Government

It is time to end massive corporate welfare programs so costly to taxpayers; prosecute corporate crime, fraud; and abuse; and put the real owners of corporations in charge—the stock holders. In addition, we must pledge to not put corporate representatives in charge of agencies regulating their businesses.

5. Expand Worker's Rights by Developing an Employee Bill of Rights and Providing a Living Wage and Health Insurance to All NOW

The rights of workers' have been on the decline—take-home pay is at the lowest percentage of GDP since 1929, when figures started being collected. It is time to reverse that trend and begin to give our workers—the backbone of the US economy—the rights they deserve. Workers need a living wage for themselves and their families—not a minimum wage—as there has been an ongoing decline in median family income, access to health care, and reductions in medical benefits and pensions for current employees and retirees. Roadblocks to union organizing, including the Taft-Hartley Act, need to be removed. The US should withdraw from trade agreements that undermine worker's rights, environmental protections, and consumer rights by putting corporate profits before national sovereignty. The US should renegotiate them so they are "pull-up" and not "pull-down" trade agreements. See: For more information see: Workplace Fairness, www.nerinet.org

6. End the Drug War and Restore, Expand Civil Liberties and Constitutional Rights

Civil liberties and due process of law are eroding due to the "war on terror" and new technology that allows easy invasion of privacy. Americans of Arab descent and Muslim-Americans are bearing the brunt of these dragnet, arbitrary practices. Advocacy is necessary for the restoration of civil liberties; repeal of the Patriot Act; an end to secret detentions, arrests without charges, no access to attorneys, and the use of secret "evidence;" military tribunals for civilians; non-combatant status; and the shredding of "probable cause" determinations. Civil liberties must be expanded to include basic human rights in employment and truly equal rights regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion. An end must be brought to the failed and expensive war on drugs—with public health, social services, and tender, supportive time with addicts, especially youngsters, in our depersonalized society. Law enforcement should be at the edges, not the center, of drug policy.

7. Institute a Fair Tax Where Workers' First $50,000 in Income is Not Taxed, Where the Wealthiest and Corporations Pay their Share; Tax Wealth More than Work; Tax Activities We Dislike More than Necessities

Taxes are skewed in favor of the wealthy and the corporations, further garnished by tax shelters, insufficient enforcement, and other avoidances. Corporate tax contributions as a percent of the overall federal revenue stream have been declining for fifty years and now stand at 7.4% despite massive record profits. Tiny taxes (a fraction of the conventional retail sales percentage) on stock, bond, and derivative transactions can produce tens of billions of dollars a year and displace some of the taxes on work and consumer essentials. A fundamental reappraisal of our tax laws should start with the principle that taxes should apply first to those behaviors and conditions we favor least, such as the clearly addictive industries (alcohol and tobacco), pollution, stock speculation, the gambling companies, and extreme luxuries.

8. Create More Jobs by Investing in America's Infrastructure, Investing in Americans, and Withdrawing From Trade Agreements that Cost us Jobs

Since January 2001, 2 million jobs have been lost, and more than 75% of those jobs have been high-wage, high-productivity manufacturing jobs. Overall, 5.6% of Americans are unemployed, while 10.5% of African-Americans are unemployed. Unemployment among Latinos is nearly 30 % higher than January 20, 2001. By requiring two-way equitable trade, investing in urgently needed local labor-intensive public works (infrastructure improvements), creating a new renewable energy efficiency policy, fully funding education, and redirecting large bureaucratic and fraudulent health expenditures toward preventive health care, we can reverse this trend and create millions of new jobs.

9. Announce an Exit Strategy for Iraq With a Definite Date of Withdrawal

The only way to reduce the escalating violence is Iraq is to announce a dual military and corporate withdrawal from Iraq, so mainstream Iraqis know they will be getting their country back. US withdrawal should be preceded by internationally-supervised elections to replace the puppet government that we have installed. Continued planning of an ongoing military and corporate presence in Iraq fuels the resistance and prevents the onset of democracy and self-rule in Iraq.

10. Face Up to Increasing Poverty Especially Among Children and Demand an End to Commercial Exploitation of Our Children
The commercialization of childhood seems to have no limits. Children are urged to consume bad products and watch entertainment that is harmful to their physical and mental health. We must remove corporations from child-rearing and restore that role to parents. We must face up to the rise in poverty: the Department of Agriculture estimates that 34.9 million Americans, including 13 million children—experience food insecurity, or the lack of consistent access to enough food to ensure active, healthy living. Overall, households with children reported food insecurity at more than double the rate of households without children, 16.5% versus 8.1%. Forty-seven percent of single-mother households faced food insecurity. Make ending poverty for all Americans a priority, weave it into a network of known, proven policies, many advanced by conservatives and economists years ago. See Growing Up Empty: The Hunger Epidemic in America, By Loretta Schwartz-Nobel (Harper Collins 2004)

Posted by: Tim D | Jan 13, 2005 10:10:53 AM

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