Wisconsin Debate Reactions

Dean is done.

It seemed obvious to me that Kerry has grown substantially over the course of the debates — he really does do a much more persuasive job of explaining himself. Edwards was absolutely amazing, in my opinion — he hit several of them right out of the ballpark. He’s the candidate that I can get excited about.

But Dean, well, he just didn’t rise to the occasion. He seemed limp, unexcited about what he was saying. He gave the same answers he’s been giving in debates since December. The only answer of interest was his very first one where he very artfully turned an invitation to beat up on Kerry over special interests into a very strong attack on Bush.

I don’t know if Edwards picks up any support with these kinds of performances. For me, it really does make me optimistic that there is someone running who is inspiring and can grow as a candidate. It does appear to me that he’s stolen a lot from Dean, especially the “I’ll tell you the hard truth” trope, which he used in regard to the question of whether jobs never returning once they’ve gone overseas, and on the question of his portion of personal responsibility for the war due to his vote for it.

Kerry dodged this last rather poorly, in my opinion, in a fashion that made Edwards’ upfront admission refreshing and winning.

Kerry’s got the nomination, I’m sure, and that’s really too bad, given that he’s just not a very good campaigner. But I’m not sure he’s any weaker than Al Gore was (and I was an enthusiastic supporter of Gore). If Edwards becomes his running mate, I truly think it’s a very strong ticket.

But, oh how I regret that Dean flamed out. In retrospect, I think it’s clear he wasn’t all that strong a candidate, though he was saying all the right things. I was never too happy with where he comes down on certain positions (gun control, death penalty), but those differences with my positions seemed to me to enhance his electability, as most voters are well to the right of me on these issues. I hope Dean has a role in the party from here on out.

I hope the Democratic Party has learned its lesson from Dean and his campaign, that timidity and calculation lose you more votes than they win.

The Power of the Media

Salon’s War Room has a listing today that refers to a Philadelphia Inquirer article on the subject of Bush’s “falling stature as commander-in-chief,” and the degree to which voters have shifted to the point where they even trust the lackluster John Kerry more than Bush (marginally, at least) on handling national security.

I can’t help but think “what took you so long?” for one, but then I ask “what has caused the change?” And I can only conclude that the public has shifted away from Bush only when the media has begun concentrating attention on opponents of Bush, as exemplified by the candidates in the Democratic nomination race.

But it’s not like there has been much of anything new raised by the candidates covered in the campaign coverage, to be honest. It’s just that the message of Bush’s failure as president is getting out to the public because the media is now reporting on positions other than just those the Bush administration approves, that is, the positions of people who believe the Bush administration to be an ongoing catastrophe for our country.

In the recent past, an opposition point of view was nowhere to be found in the major media outlets, but now, just because the national media are covering the Democratic candidates, the opposition message is getting play on nearly every newscast. And, shock of shocks, public opinion on Bush has shifted drastically away from the heights it climbed to after the capture of Saddam in December.

It takes so little, it seems to me, to make a huge difference, even in the face of hugely positive events for the administration. And it all comes down to the judgment of the news media about what is worthy of coverage and what is not.

For me, this is a terribly sobering thought, as such easy gains are far too easy to lose.

But more sobering still is the thought that this irresponsible pack of incompetent journalists who populate our national media have so much power to shape the course of public opinion.

Special Interests, Kerry, Dean and Bush

WNYC radio’s morning talk show, hosted by the superb Brian Lehrer, had as a guest today the author of the book, “The Buying of the President 2004″, Charles Lewis. The book examines the money behind all the Presidential campaigns through the first half of 2003. There’s an update to those figures on PublicIntegrity.org’s website that gives the figures through the end of the 3rd quarter. I did a bit of analysis of the numbers for the top 10 contributors as a percentage of total donations, and using data from OpenSecrets.org for examining PAC contributions as a percentage of total contributions. The results of both comparisons are found here in this little chart:

  PublicIntegrity.org OpenSecrets.org
  Total Raised Top 10 Total % Jan. 31st Total PAC $ PAC %
Bush/Cheney 85,211,717 4,556,870 5.35% 131,774,275 2,071,704 1.57%
Kerry 20,043,633 1,385,707 6.91% 28,209,341 73,784 0.26%
Edwards 14,512,399 2,852,175 19.65% 14,453,092 0 0.00%
Gephardt 13,666,916 2,359,080 17.26% 16,607,735 414,451 2.50%
Dean 25,385,268 235,575 0.93% 41,264,772 22,965 0.06%
Lieberman 11,779,354 762,396 6.47% 13,823,407 211,070 1.53%
Kucinich 3,401,710 408,384 12.01% 6,227,898 16,000 0.26%
Braun 341,669 351,364 102.84% 492,284 30,273 6.15%
Sharpton 283,714 141,900 50.02% 433,142 3,200 0.74%
Clark 3,491,108 45,700 1.31% 13,699,256 37,700 0.28%
TOTALS: 178,117,488 13,099,151 7.35% 266,985,202 2,881,147 1.08%
MEAN: 6,407,278 609,718 9.52% 9,923,329 10,602 0.11%

In regard to special interest money, there is simply no comparison between Kerry and Dean. Dean really does have an argument here, in that his top 10 donors are an order of magnitude smaller in comparison to Kerry. Of course, it’s not really fair to compare the small candidates who haven’t raised much, and Clark’s numbers don’t really mean anything as he hadn’t actually started his campaign during the period covered there.

But between Kerry and Dean, there’s a pretty clear difference.

And between Kerry and Bush, there’s no difference.

That is the point Dean has been making, and it’s a good one.

The right-hand part of the table, from OpenSecrets.org, shows PAC money related to the whole. Overall, in all cases, these are relatively small percentages, but this is because the numbers for individual contributions are not directly comparable. PACs can’t donate more than $5K. Corporations can’t, either. How, then were the previous numbers arrived at? Well, what the PublicIntegrity.org survey does is look at the employers of individual donors, because most companies coordinate donations by their employees to particular candidates. This is how the numbers for the top 10 donors could be so much higher than the numbers for the PACs, because those top 10 numbers represent aggregation of multiple donations from individuals who work for those organizations.

So, it’s important to realize that the numbers for individual contributions, while in the high 90th percentile of the total, actually can hide large contributions from organizations.

Notice that the PAC numbers for Bush/Cheney are only a bit less than 1/3 of the percentage of contributions from the top 10 contributors. That means that PAC money is still a significant amount.

And the story for Dean is still that he is an order of magnitude below Kerry (though Kerry is also an order of magnitude lower than Bush/Cheney). Interestingly, Edwards has reported receiving no PAC money at all (according to his website, he does not accept money from either lobbyists of PACs), but he’s also the viable candidate with the highest percentage of his total contributions coming from his top 10 donors.

The point is that there really are significant differences here, seen within the political system these candidates are working within. One can complain about the political system itself, but I don’t know that it’s fair to condemn all of them for the rules imposed upon them. Given that it’s quite clear that there’s a wide range of approaches to raising money within that political system, the fact that everyone accepts money from so-called special interests does not mean that the special interests control the actions of the candidates to the same degree.

Indeed, there are clearly very large differences between the candidates in exactly how beholden they are to organizations that donate large amounts of money.

And that was Howard Dean’s point about Kerry — he’s vulnerable to charges of the same kind of corruption by money that we see in the Bush administration.