As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Rich People Primary

It took me until February 21st of the year before the election to get completely sick of 2008. Especially because I see the machinery of democracy being set back 100 years, as unelected rich people who think they control everything are running the campaign on a higher plane, like a new Gilded Age, and completely shutting out the voting public. This Hillary/Obama/Maureen Dowd/David Geffen feud is obscenely idiotic. We already know that MoDo's MO is to stir things up deliberately like the catty old Beltway Heather she most certainly is. So she relishes any opportunity to pick another fight among celebrity Democrats. It sells papers. It makes rich people cluck their tongues. It's supposed to put us all to sleep.

Matt Stoller:

This is pathetic. Obama supporter David Geffen launches a bevy of insults at Hillary Clinton on Maureen Dowd's column. Some of them are reasonable, some of them are not. But Maureen Dowd? The woman who calls your candidate 'Obambi'?

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton puts out a formal statement from her campaign.

"While Senator Obama was denouncing slash and burn politics yesterday, his campaign's finance chair was viciously and personally attacking Senator Clinton and her husband...


Meanwhile, Wes Clark is launching a site with Votevets called Stop the Iran War.

Priorities, people.

I live in Hollywood. A lot of people out here think they run the world because they got a producer credit on "Night At The Museum." Many are sincere, but many have had smoke blown up their ass by assistants and people who want jobs for them for so long that they're convinced of their own brilliance. It's the same with any other rich clique. This Arianna Huffington post made me want to puke. This is about rich people vying with one another to be the smartest and most forward-thinking rich person. The public is not part of the conversation, and because the money is being raised at such insane levels, they won't be.

Stoller thinks "That's not where the country is anymore." But I'm not so sure that even matters. While things like the MySpace primary are cute and all, it also largely reflects the opinion of a bunch of upper-class elites. In fact, this entire primary battle is being waged at the $2,3000-per-person level, instead of capitalizing on the small-donor revolution empowered by the Internet in 2004.

Why is it, after grassroots donors gave hundreds of millions of dollars to Dem presidential candidates in the 2004 cycle, that you are now completely ignoring them in this cycle? I'm not saying you shouldn't be courting large donors. But instead of spending ALL your time between high-dollar fundraisers and donor "call time," why not just spend at least 15 or 20 minutes per day doing things to win the hearts of the mass base of Democratic donors and activists?

And sorry, but your online videos and cool websites do not win hearts. Only genuine attention and creativity from you, the candidates and campaign managers, will do that.

It was genuine personal attention and creativity by both Howard Dean and Joe Trippi that created the conditions in which their campaign raised something like $40 million online [CORRECTION: $27 million!]. You had Dean speaking from the heart, every day, in a non-phony way, about the base and its centrality to the campaign. It wasn't just that he said the things he did--it was that he really meant them. He had somehow (and I still don't understand how it happened) made a break with "normal politician mode" and switched over to normal human being mode. (Yes, of course, the night of the Iowa primary, when the presidential campaign switched from its base-phase to its national-phase, that would have been a great time to start acting a little more like a "normal politician," but that's another story.)

For his part, Trippi was making almost all his big campaign strategy decisions with the goal of winning over and mobilizing the base as his top priority. (And yes, it would have been better if he had made a few traditional decisions better, such as fixing the Iowa field operation. But that's also another story.)

But in this cycle, all of you seem to be acting as though Dean and Trippi proved nothing. And so today I'm making a prediction--one that I hope you'll prove wrong: no Democratic candidate will be beat Dean's record of raising around $25 million or so online before Iowa.

People who have $2,300 to give for a rubber-chicken dinner and a photo-op have different priorities. They have the kind of priorities that enable individual families to get $32 billion in tax breaks. They're selfish and self-absorbed and they don't understand - or care about - the plight of the majority of the public.

On the same day that Britney was shaving her head, a guy I know who works in the office of Senator Bernie Sanders sent me an email. He was trying very hard to get news organizations interested in some research his office had done about George Bush's proposed 2008 budget, which was unveiled two weeks ago and received relatively little press, mainly because of the controversy over the Iraq war resolution. All the same, the Bush budget is an amazing document. It would be hard to imagine a document that more clearly articulates the priorities of our current political elite [...]

Sanders's office came up with some interesting numbers here. If the Estate Tax were to be repealed completely, the estimated savings to just one family -- the Walton family, the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune -- would be about $32.7 billion dollars over the next ten years.

The proposed reductions to Medicaid over the same time frame? $28 billion.

Or how about this: if the Estate Tax goes, the heirs to the Mars candy corporation -- some of the world's evilest scumbags, incidentally, routinely ripped by human rights organizations for trafficking in child labor to work cocoa farms in places like Cote D'Ivoire -- if the estate tax goes, those assholes will receive about $11.7 billion in tax breaks. That's more than three times the amount Bush wants to cut from the VA budget ($3.4 billion) over the same time period.

We have legalized bribery for rich people and a gutting of the structures that allow government to function as an institution that can promote the general welfare and allow all its citizens to pursue happiness. And yet we have a Presidential primary system that enables it, where only the rich and famous can be recognized, instead of those who may be the most qualified for the position. This is not an endorsement of Bill Richardson, but he's a two-term governor from a swing state, is a former Congressman and UN Ambassador and Energy Secretary, and just BROKERED A GODDAMN CEASE-FIRE in Darfur in his spare time last month. Problem is, he's not a celebrity.

In retrospect, however, Bush was less the last of the governor presidents than a transition to the new era in which, to be president, you need to be a famous celebrity. Mayors of New York City are always famous, because the people who run the media live in New York. Hence, Rudy Giuliani is a serious candidate (and even Michael Bloomberg is considered a more serious possibility than he should be). John McCain spent all of 1999, 2000, and 2001 chasing positive press and became famous in the process -- so he's a serious candidate. Barack Obama has an extremely interesting personal story and was one of the only Democratic successes in 2004, so he became famous and now he's a serious candidate. John Edwards got famous running on a national ticket, so he's a serious candidate. Hillary Clinton's husband used to be president (you may have heard), so she's famous and she's a serious candidate. Most absurdly, Mitt Romney happened to preside over the Massachusetts gay marriage controversy, thus becoming famous and, therefore, a serious candidate.

Basically, though, you need to be famous. Democrats won a whole bunch of state houses in 2002, which made many think the party would have a bumper crop of presidential contenders in 2008. Richardson, Katherine Sebelius, Rod Blagojevich, Ed Rendell, Janet Napolitano, etc. Instead, none of them are running except Richardson, and his campaign is a joke. If you look at any one of these people, perfectly plausible explanations for their lack of viability can be constructed. The overall pattern, however, is a striking change from the past. What's more, the change seems driven almost entirely by the national media, which simply decided unilaterally some years ago to only cover people who were already famous.

It's the Access Hollywood style of campaign coverage. And then the goal is to create a Lindsay Lohan-Paris Hilton catfight among the rich and famous, because we love to see rich people tear each other apart. It fills our vacuous lives for five minutes while we flip through Entertainment Weekly and eat trans fats straight out the jar.

This is incredibly dangerous and it threatens to undo the growth of the grassroots progressive movement that has exploded over the past several years. These candidates are going to chase the big money because they have to, and the media is only going to cover the celebrities who get the big money, and the big money donors are only going to give to the celebrities because they're the only ones the media covers. As if we didn't have pressing matters or issues that need to be addressed right now, like a President who wants to do a "third time's a charm' war, or a planet that's melting like an ant under a magnifying glass. But issues are icky in the celebrity primary. In the rich people primary. What we have is the return of the smoke-filled room.

The candidate who says "Shut up, shut up, shut the fuck up" to the elites and actually meets people where they live, addresses concerns that they have, could actually win. The problem is that approximately none of them are going to do that. And even if they did, it'd be on page B-34.

UPDATE: Wow, Digby says pretty much the same thing (only better, of course), and unearths this quote from David Geffen:

I think that America was better served when the candidates were chosen in smoke-filled rooms.

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