Sunday, November 9, 2003

Dean flip-flops again
The big news this weekend is Howard Dean's flip-flop on taking federal matching funds during the Democratic primary and general election campaign: ["Dean goes his own way: Abandons 'broken system' of funding"]. The worst part about all of this is how the campaign played up the decision - by signing a Declaration of Independence from the special interests [!] published on his site: ["Dean for America"]:
"WE, therefore, the architects and builders of Dean for America, appealing to the Wise Judgment of the American people on our Intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these United States, solemnly Publish and Declare, the People of these United States are, and of Right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT OF SPECIAL INTERESTS and that as FREE AND INDEPENDENT CITIZENS, they have full Power to participate, deliberate, pursue the common good, protect their own interest from corruption, and to do all other Acts and Things which INDEPENDENT CITIZENS may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, we mutually pledge to each other to write letters, knock on doors, organize our neighbors, self- fund this effort, and vote."
However, by opting out of the matching fund system, the campaign has essentially told everyone that they are going to raise as much money as they can, from whatever sources, with no limits or integrity, in order to win the primaries.
Now, candidates have every right to do this - although Dean is the first Democrat to do it. But the larger problem is that this stands against everything in the Declaration. The site tells its supporters that "the tea is in the harbor," but it would be more accurate to say, "the cash is in our pockets."
Let's be honest: The only people who can cough up $2,000 checks are the special interests or people who have some sort of influence or interest in the candidate winning, for whatever reason. I am generalizing and this is a cynical way of looking at things but it is for the most part true. Most normal folks can't afford to pony up that kind of money. The Dean campaign continues to point out that its average donation is around $77 [from 200,000 contributors]. But in order to raise $200 million to compete with Bush, the campaign will need 100,000 people to give $2,000 each or he will have to take large chunks of special interest money, just like Bush does.
How does that keep "the People of these United States are, and of Right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT OF SPECIAL INTERESTS"? The truth is that it doesn't. The publicly financed matching fund program is in place to keep candidates competitive even if most of their supporters can only afford to give small donations.
As an aside, the qualifications for public financing are pretty high, from the FEC's Web site ["Primary Matching Funds"]:
"Partial public funding is available to Presidential primary candidates in the form of federal matching payments. Candidates seeking their party's nomination to the Presidency can qualify to receive matching funds by raising over $5,000 in each of 20 states (i.e., over $100,000). Only contributions from individuals apply toward this threshold. Although an individual may contribute up to $1,000 to a candidate [actually, it is $2,000 now], only a maximum of $250 counts toward the threshold and is matchable."
Candidates must also agree to spend no more than $45 million in the primaries.
So at the bare minimum, a candidate needs 1,000 people to pony up a fiver in 20 states to get matching funds. How difficult is that? If, for example, a candidate did this, the candidate would only get an additional $100,000. It isn't really a "public financing" system as much as it is a "matching fund" option.
However, does Dean really think he needs more than $45 million to win the primaries? Dean is in the top tier and that is more than enough money to win if you know what you are doing and more money than any of his opponents will raise in the waning months of the primary season. In defense of the campaign, the front-loaded primary season - gerrymandered by DNC head Terry McAuliffe - makes it necessary to raise tens of millions more for ads since this will be the only way some of these candidates will be able to compete in multiple states, week after week, between January and March.
But let's be even more honest: Whether it is public financing or special interest financing, it seems as though presidential campaigns have only one function - to allow supporters and contributors to subsidize big corporate media. Sure, some of the money goes to staffing, mailers, and materials. But the majority of the money will get shoveled to television stations for manipulative ads. Political junkies like myself know this is part of the game - and there is a whole field of experts and artists who create the political ads.
But one has to wonder about the civil discourse and the lack of political involvement by Americans. Dean's decision to drop out of the matching fund system is only going to make things worse.

A tale of two POWs
Great piece this morning in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the differing treatment of Jessica Lynch and Shoshana Johnson: ["Two POWs, one an American icon, the other ignored"].

Hate vs. opinion?
Here is an interesting piece from Democratic Underground: ["Book Learnin' Equals Hate"]. However, it should be noted that it was the Clinton administration that started all the "hate" attacks. A person doesn't believe in affirmative action? He must "hate" blacks, Latinos and women. Want to cut social programs to make the government smaller? You must "hate" the poor - and we'll allow the government to shut down to show you how much of a hater you are. Support gun-owner's rights? You must "hate" your neighbor because no one would own a gun unless they were a hater. Black churches in the south burn down? Well, must be the "hate" of the white man even though it was a black man who was caught setting fire to the church.
Clinton was the one who used the difference of opinion as a weapon against the conservatives. And now, the conservatives are using it against the liberals. As that idiot Sean Hannity would scream, it is even more heinous because the nation is at war, blah, blah, blah, which isn't really true since our troops were in harm's way under Clinton and that didn't stop his attackers. So, give me a break already. We either all have an opinion or we don't. Can we all just please accept everyone else's opinion and get over the "hate" stuff?

Political notes
Pretty good piece in the Boston Herald this morning about the Democrats' problems in the south: ["Dems face uphill battle in South"].
Local N.H. reaction to Dean's flag flap: ["Dean explains his flags remark"] and ["Dean campaign gathers strength despite Confederate flag flap"].
Nine Democrats vs. Bush. One journalism professor imagines the debate: ["The future TV debate matchups"].