The Therapy Sessions
Saturday, January 31, 2004
Campaign Finance Illusions
Sometimes it is important to put things in perspective.
The entire electoral process in 2000 - the total cost of the House and Senate races added to the cost of the presidential election - was $300 million.
A gasp in horror might be appropriate here, until you consider that America spent $15 BILLION on pet food in 2000.
But it was impossible for the media to put that $300 million in perspective. They screamed about the buying of the electorate. It was assumed that money could buy elections, and that voters were easily swayed by sly TV commercials crafted by masters of spin.
In a nutshell: money buys support! It was so obvious that people have never bothered to wonder if it was true.
Blinded by this assumption, Congress passed (and our jackass president signed) Campaign Finance Reform. The bill was created by career politicians, and it was made to protect their careers. By unfairly complicating the fianances of anyone who would dare to run against sitting politicans, it protected the power of incumbency.
I was surprised the Democrats enthusiastically backed this bill, because the bill practically guaranteed that both the Senate and the House would remain in Republican hands for the next decade. Watching this Democrats applaud its signing was like watching somebody make a breathtakingly stupid move in a chess match.
But money does not (necessarily) buy support. A test case: how much money would be required to make Dennis Kucinich president? The answer is that no amount of money could get such a man elected.
Money is important, no doubt. But the candidate and the issues that matter more. Donors are drawn to candidates who they think can win, and they send money (which is not much different than volunteering time) to support candidates they like.
This is what Howard Dean did. Leftist activists liked his message, and by raising money on the internet, he had more money than all of the other candidates combined going into the Iowa caucuses.
Forty million dollars - one fourth of what Bush spent on the ENTIRE presidential election in 2000 (!) - bought Dean third place in Iowa, and second place in New Hampshire.
Kerry - who couldn't make payroll for his staff in early January - won both states.
And now his finances are improvingly rapidly.
Support - from the voters - brings money.
Kerry will win the nomination without much trouble now, because the voters have spoken. I predicted this last summer:
Assuming no else jumps in, it’s going to come down to Kerry against Dean, and Kerry will win because the Democrats are smarter than they get credit for. Dean is a foreign policy lightweight and in the post-911 world, that's never going to fly. If the Democrats really want win (and I think they do), they’ll pick Kerry. I predict that after this summer of Dean rapture, they will come to their senses and begin to get serious about Kerry.
I've come really close to changing my mind, and throughout much of December I was ready to concede my error. But Kerry's win vindicates my central reasoning: a simple faith in the intelligence of the voters (even Democratic voters). I'll be the first to admit my predictive powers aren't that good, but hey, it's fun to try (and sometimes you get lucky).
My next prediction: I don't think we'll hear much about Kerry after November. His opportunistic past will come back to haunt him, and I don't think he will be successful in diverting the voters' attention away from foreign policy - which is Bush's (only) strong suit. Kerry's past support of truly dumb ideas like the nuclear freeze will make for very interesting reading.
The US hasn't elected a sitting Senator to the presidency since Kennedy and the reason is clear: senators leave paper trails smelling of bad legislation.
Kerry will probably be gone after 2004. But Campaign Finance Reform will be with us for many years.
That is until Congress gets the itch to reform it further.