Thursday, August 16, 2012

Money still talks, losers still walk

Dana Milbank's latest piece at WaPo ends with this cynically tantalizing conclusion:
Eight years ago, Cutter was a staffer on the Kerry campaign when the candidate was undone by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacks on his war record. Cutter, like other Democrats, learned a hard truth back then: Umbrage doesn’t win elections. Ruthlessness does.
The body of the piece is largely about how the current campaign is beset with a great deal of faux outrage, how candidates--actually, just Romney--are complaining about how negative the other guy--in this case Obama--is being. But Milbank--unlike the Obama-shill Peter Boehlert--supposes that this is indeed new ground for the Democrats, that in previous elections Democrat candidates were victims of negative campaigning, nothing more. What Boehlert said:
One media hook for its endless commentary about negativity is the claim that Obama has renounced his 2008 theme of "Hope and Change," and that he's a hypocrite for attacking his opponent because he once pledged to change the tone of politics in America. But an examination of four years ago reveals that Obama's run was anchored by ads that routinely attacked his opponent, which is how White House campaigns have unfolded for decades now.
See that? According to Boehlert, there's nothing new here. Milbank disagrees profoundly:
What’s different this time is that the Democrats are employing the same harsh tactics that have been used against them for so long, with so much success. They have ceased their traditional response of assuming the fetal position when attacked, and Obama’s campaign is giving as good as it gets — and then some.
Is there any truth to be found in these contradictory claims? Of course there is. The problem with both is a false dichotomy, a refusal to see degrees. It's either "totally negative" or "not negative at all," when is comes to Democratic campaigns. Both writers go too far: the Obama Campaign in 2008 ran negative ads and played the character assassination game, but it also did a lot more bragging about Obama, about his vision and the change he would bring. Now--in 2012--the Campaign is all about attacking Romney (and now Ryan) at every turn, from both personal and professional angles. And that's out of necessity, since Obama can hardly run on his record.

Now Milbank--in yet another rewriting of history by a clueless pundit--would have us believe that in presidential campaigns prior to this one, the Democrat meekly took it on the chin, suffering in silence as personal attack after personal attack was launched by the other side. Moreover, he would also have us believe that the Democrats--as a whole--only recently learned that attacking one's opponent can be an effective strategy. It's such a stupid proposition, I feel silly rebutting it. George W. Bush, after all, was eviscerated for being stupid, a cowboy, a coke-head, a coward (que Dan Rather), and so on in 2000 and again in 2004.

Milbank hangs his entire argument on the "swiftboating" of Kerry, supposing that this alone cost Kerry the election. And in that regard, he draws the conclusion that elections are won by "ruthlessness," thereby justifying every accusation made by the Obama Campaign.

But we--thinking people--all know the truth, don't we? Attacking your opponent isn't what wins elections. Milbank, in fact, proves his own conclusion wrong in the body of the piece, since he point to the "ruthlessness" of the attacks on Obama in 2008. Pardon Mr. Milbank, but didn't Obama win that election. Oops. And that election is itself evidence for what we all know: if there is one single thing that wins elections, it is...money.

This is not something new or earth-shattering. OpenSecrets.org takes it as a given:
The historic election of 2008 re-confirmed one truism about American democracy: Money wins elections. From the top of the ticket, where Barack Obama declined public financing for the first time since the system's creation and went on to amass a nearly two-to-one monetary advantage over John McCain, to congressional races throughout the nation, the candidate with the most money going into Election Day emerged victorious in nearly every contest. 
In 93 percent of House of Representatives races and 94 percent of Senate races that had been decided by mid-day Nov. 5, the candidate who spent the most money ended up winning, according to a post-election analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
We need to be careful here, however. These numbers don't mean just about every election is just bought and paid for. Because there are reasons why some candidates out-raise--and therefore out-spend--their opponents. Oftentimes, it is simply because more people support them and/or their platform and are willing to contribute to their campaigns. And such was the case for Obama in 2008. In fact, as I just noted in a previous piece, it was this reality that led Obama to drop public financing.

But the end result is the same: the more money one can raise, the more likely one is to win. It's fun to imagine the race hinges on something like "ruthlessness," but it's ultimately just a bunch of nonsense.

Cheers, all.

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