Posts Tagged ‘Washington DC’

The RNC, the Church of the Savvy, and Where to Make Political Donations

March 4, 2010

I’m surprised that Ben Smith’s scoop at Politico hasn’t garnered more attention. It reports on the contents of a confidential Republican National Committee fund-raising document — here is an excerpt from the piece:

The most unusual section of the presentation is a set of six slides headed “RNC Marketing 101.” The presentation divides fundraising into two traditional categories, direct marketing and major donors, and lays out the details of how to approach each group.

The small donors who are the targets of direct marketing are described under the heading “Visceral Giving.” Their motivations are listed as “fear;” “Extreme negative feelings toward existing Administration;” and “Reactionary.”

Major donors, by contrast, are treated in a column headed “Calculated Giving.”

Their motivations include: “Peer to Peer Pressure”; “access”; and “Ego-Driven.”

The slide also allows that donors may have more honorable motives, including “Patriotic Duty.”

As I note in a reaction now posted at The Daily Beast, this is the most telling revelation about how political elites think about voters since candidate Barack Obama’s comments about rural economic losers who cling to their guns and religion. Even so, the news is so unsurprising — of course this is how the RNC operates — that writing about it violates what Jay Rosen calls the church of savvy. For example, note this comment at The Daily Beast: “None of this surprises me in the least,” Rick Goldin says. “But the press will pounce on this ‘revelation’ (as if no one knew this was the strategy all along) and wear it out for the rest of this news cycle.”

This attitude is so frustrating. Yes, the story confirms something rather obvious to many of us — that the infrastructure of our political parties are run by a bunch of deliberately deceitful cynics whose actions are motivated by wrongheaded principles at best. Allegations like these, however, require evidence, and when it is presented by reporters it shouldn’t be ignored because it is supposedly obvious. Surely there are RNC donors out there who are quite surprised by this information! That’s one problem with the church of the savvy — its implicit assumption is that news should be written for other information junkies, as opposed to an ever-changing audience that ranges from occasionally informed citizen to Marc Ambinder.

All that said, here’s the beginning of my take:

The scoop is bad news for those of us who seek an alternative to President Obama’s domestic agenda: negative campaigns yield neither policy ideas nor a mandate to implement them, even when they are successful.

But certain pages from the controversial document may prove surprisingly helpful to conservative reformers and tea partiers alike, insofar as they confirm accurate critiques of the Republican establishment in Washington DC. These excerpts show that the RNC misleads its donors, ensconces itself in the trappings of the cultural elite, and treats the conservative base with striking condescension…

The lesson for folks on the right who make political contributions: give to a particular candidate, a trustworthy advocacy organization, or a specific cause in which you believe.

And starve the RNC.

As I note later, “Political parties can be useful guides for citizens who haven’t enough time or understanding to make independent judgments about every candidate or issue. Be that as it may, political donors unable to find a worthier organization than the RNC or the DNC are better off accepting that they’re insufficiently knowledgeable to contribute anywhere without getting hoodwinked. Why willingly fund the people most adept at deliberately exploiting your ignorance?”

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Exceptional rhetoric + mediocre performance = falling approval ratings

January 20, 2010
BOSTON - JANUARY 17:  U.S President Barack Oba...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

There seems to be some confusion among Barack Obama supporters about why he is less popular now than he was upon winning Election 2008. As someone who wanted him to win that election (I didn’t vote, but only because I never got my CA absentee ballot) but disapproves of his tenure so far, I can at least articulate my own reasoning.

I thought that the Iraq War, the torture of detainees in the War on Terror, the GOP’s unnecessarily bellicose foreign policy rhetoric, and the notion that Governor Sarah Palin is a qualified occupant of the White House all needed to be repudiated in the strongest possible terms. Thus it made sense to support candidate Obama despite disagreeing with much of his domestic agenda.

Since I’ve long thought that President Obama is a temperamentally cautious pragmatist who conforms to existing power structures rather than challenging them, I never bought the rhetoric about “change you can believe in,” but it is nevertheless disappointing to watch a candidate who campaigned against the pernicious influence of special interests submit so utterly to them. Perhaps the financial crisis demanded bailouts and a stimulus package, but it surely also called for prudent structural reforms. I’m utterly unconvinced that those are a priority for the current administration, though I am eager to be proved wrong.

On health care, I don’t object to helping more folks to get insurance — indeed I think that improving the health care system for the worst off among us is worth doing even if it’s all that we do, and I’d happily sign on to this more ambitious plan if we lived in a world sane enough to offer it up as an option. Instead I’m asked to support a plan rife with giveaways for insurance companies, exemptions for unions, lots of dough for a single Midwestern state, and a double-down on the deeply dysfunctional employer based system. I’d prefer piecemeal reform to a massive restructuring that combines the uncertainty of sweeping legislation with preserving most of the status quo’s worst features.

I’m a great fan of Kevin Drum’s blog. His position on health care is defensible enough: a) major legislation that covers lots of presently uninsured people is a good idea; b) getting it through Congress requires holding our noses at the kinds of bribes and giveaways to special interests that are prerequisites for moving big legislation. c) The benefits are here worth the cost. Indeed I cannot entirely fault Congress for approaching major legislation in that fashion. There are powerful structural incentives for them to do so.

On the campaign trail, however, Obama didn’t campaign as an establishment pragmatist. He didn’t say, “Health care reform is important, so I’ll hold my nose, cut deals with a lot of special interests, and get more Americans covered in a very imperfect way.” Nor did he try to communicate that message in more politically palatable language. Instead he made being a change agent the foundation of his appeal. He talked, as they all do, about a broken system in Washington DC, noting that issues like health care reform were too important to be addressed in the same old way. Again, I didn’t particularly believe any of this, but having my cynicism justified isn’t winning President Obama any points.

Perhaps a down economy is the biggest reason that President Obama’s numbers are down, but I cannot help but wonder if his slip isn’t also due to a lie at the heart of his campaign. This man is calculating politico, as comfortable as anyone we’ve got at navigating Washington DC as it exists today. It’s a style of leadership that is perfectly defensible. But he sold himself as an idealistic agent of change whose special contribution would be fixing a broken status quo.

When you’re talking approval ratings, overall impressions like this one are far more important than most specific issues, and Obama supporters who took the man’s rhetoric seriously have reason to feel misled on everything from Gitmo to gay rights to bank bailouts to health care deals cut with industry players to courting special interests generally. That they’d still prefer him to McCain/Palin, Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck eventually begins to register as damning with the faint praise that it is. Obama defenders are perfectly within their rights to point out that sane alternatives to the president’s agenda haven’t many GOP champions. But let’s raise the bar a bit. Is there anything President Obama has accomplished that we couldn’t have expected from a President George H.W. Bush or a Bill Clinton?

Exceptional rhetoric + mediocre performance = falling approval ratings.

So it goes.