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FDL Book Salon: Crashing The Gate, Week 2

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(This is week 2 of our discussion of Crashing the Gate. Today authors Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga will be joining in (part I is here). Over the next two weeks we’ll be discussing Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, and author Rick Perlstein will be joining us in the second week.)

In the second half of the book Crashing the Gate, Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas take on the problems that confront progressives trying to establish a voice in government, and unfortunately that has as much to do with Democrats as it does Republicans.  There are three points today that I’d like to discuss:

The Consultant Problem

Anyone who has ever stumbled across a liberal blog has probably seen someone bitching about Bob Shrum, the man who is 0-8 as a Democratic consultant in Presidential elections.  Losing has paid off big-time for Shrum, who took in $11 million for his services to the Kerry campaign — including $5 million in advertising commissions.  It’s a system that offers lucrative rewards for consultants with every TV ad they place, in an era where television is less and less effective at targeting voters.  As they say:

[George Bush’s] campaign paid their media consultants a flat fee of $6 million and saved themselves a whopping $8 million compared to what Kerry and the Democrats spent.  And to make the fee disparity that much starker, the RNC and Bush campaigns collectively placed $222 million worth of ads compared to the DNC and Kerry campaign’s $150 million.

They go on to recount the story of how Shrum reached into the pockets of Al Checchi, the multimillionaire head of Northwest Airlines, and got him to spend $40 million in the 1998 California governor’s race.  Shrum made $2 million off the campaign.  They quote political strategist Mike Ford who said:

Checci got ripped off by Shrum.  I watched this in horror.  Look at how much of his own money Shrum had him spend to come in third out of three. 

While they quote Nancy Todd Tyner, president of the American Association of Political Consultants as saying "If you want to get the best media consultants, this is the way it’s done," not everyone agrees.  Hillary Clinton, no dope when it comes to running a campaign, negotiated a flat fee with media consultant Mandy Grunwald for her 2000 race.  It seems like wisdom would dictate that hiring Bob Shrum is the kiss of death in and of itself, but if it isn’t clear after reading the book that de-incentivising Democratic consultants from making poor media choices is somewhat imperative, I don’t know what it will take. 

It’s a conversation that most voters probably aren’t really going to care about.  How can pressure be brought within the party to cease making losing a profitable and personally rewarding enterprise? 

Infrastructure

One of the most overwhelming parts of the book, especially for someone unfamiliar with the history of the subject, is the elaborate conservative infrastructure that exists with almost no answer on the progressive side.  While there are myriad fast track career organizations for developing young GOP talent such as Matthew Continetti (whom Pach wrote about in a brilliant must-read post from last night), progressives are supposed to starve for their activism:

The Left does have a fair number of organizations…Most issue groups have training arms as well…but they are a different beast than what the right has built.  Iara Peng, one of the progressive movement’s top young stars and head of Young People for the American Way, looks at these progressive groups and finds them significantly different from the right’s leadership organizations.  "Are they collaborative?  No.  Are they long term?  No.  Do they work with an individual over the course of their careers?  No," said Peng.  "Can anybody find out about these institutes and just take a course?  Get trained? Not really.  At least not without lots of money — usually conferences/ trainings cost so much you only get older white people attending." 

I won’t even try to get into the right wing think tank racket here, except to point out Markos and Jerome’s interesting observation about how they use individual states as a testing ground for their ideas:

It’s a network that exists largely outside of D.C., allowing the conservative movement to use the states as a laboratory for its ideas. School vouchers, for example, originated in a Wisconsin think tank, spread to a few states…got kicked around their idea factories, received the treatment from language manipulators ("framers," in popular parlance) like Frank Luntz, hit a few focus groups and polls, then debuted on Capitol Hill as a Republican legislative priority.

We discussed a bit yesterday how the ten planks of Newt Gingrich’s "Contract with America" (or "Contract On America," if you like) were Heritage Foundation work product developed and road tested throughout the 80s and 90s — Newt came up with none of them.  It really amounts to sophisticated marketing techniques, but when the answer on the side of the Democrats is to all sit around in a bunch of meetings and emerge with a slogan like "Together We Can Do Better" (oh lordy that one hurts every time) it indicates how woefully behind the 8-ball the Dems are on this front.

Progressives are supposed to be the innovative ones, the creative crowd with the ideas.  How have the party of luddites been able to dominate this game, and what will it take to drag the Democrats into the 21st Century? 

Resistance to the netroots

I wrote about this a bit yesterday in a post about Markos’ Op-Ed in the Wapo, but one of the most interesting parts of the book had to do with the changes wrought in the Democratic party by the passage of McCain-Feingold in 2002.  Ironically, limiting big donations was much more of a threat to Democrats than Republicans; the GOP had by then developed sophisticated direct marketing campaigns to target small donors, but the Democrats were dependent on big dollar contributors — and many liked it that way.  

They recount a spat between Hillary Clinton and Russ Feingold where Hillary told Feingold to "go fuck himself."  But as they note:

Feingold told us that he knew he was stepping on toes inside his own party, but he saw no choice…Feingold faced down his party and force it to reconnect with its base.

It is telling that the consultants in the Hillary campaign are still hostile to  the netroots.  As Markos noted yesterday:

Meanwhile, pollster Mark Penn, a brilliant numbers guy, has counseled the Hillary team to ignore the party’s netroots activists as "irrelevant."

Which leads me to one of my favorite quotes of the book, from Eli Pariser of MoveOn PAC, and an email sent out in December of 2004:

In the last year, grass-roots contributors like us gave more than $300 million to tohe Kerry campaign and the DNC, and proved that the party doesn’t need corporate cash to be competitive.  Now it’s our party:  we bought it, we own it, and we’re going to take it back.

Candidates like Hillary Clinton have already amassed impressive war chests relying on big donors.  But unlike yesteryear, the ability to do so no longer makes you the only game in town. 

I’m curious to know what people think — how will this affect the 2008 election?

Book SalonCommunity

FDL Book Salon: Crashing The Gate, Week 2

 Barbarians-022.gif

(This is week 2 of our discussion of Crashing the Gate. Today authors Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga will be joining in (part I is here). Over the next two weeks we’ll be discussing Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, and author Rick Perlstein will be joining us in the second week.)

In the second half of the book Crashing the Gate, Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas take on the problems that confront progressives trying to establish a voice in government, and unfortunately that has as much to do with Democrats as it does Republicans.  There are three points today that I’d like to discuss:

The Consultant Problem

Anyone who has ever stumbled across a liberal blog has probably seen someone bitching about Bob Shrum, the man who is 0-8 as a Democratic consultant in Presidential elections.  Losing has paid off big-time for Shrum, who took in $11 million for his services to the Kerry campaign — including $5 million in advertising commissions.  It’s a system that offers lucrative rewards for consultants with every TV ad they place, in an era where television is less and less effective at targeting voters.  As they say:

[George Bush’s] campaign paid their media consultants a flat fee of $6 million and saved themselves a whopping $8 million compared to what Kerry and the Democrats spent.  And to make the fee disparity that much starker, the RNC and Bush campaigns collectively placed $222 million worth of ads compared to the DNC and Kerry campaign’s $150 million.

They go on to recount the story of how Shrum reached into the pockets of Al Checchi, the multimillionaire head of Northwest Airlines, and got him to spend $40 million in the 1998 California governor’s race.  Shrum made $2 million off the campaign.  They quote political strategist Mike Ford who said:

Checci got ripped off by Shrum.  I watched this in horror.  Look at how much of his own money Shrum had him spend to come in third out of three. 

(more…)

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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