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The Democratic Consultants Whose
Bad Advice Handed Bush the Victory

by Doug Ireland
January 11, 2005
First Published in Direland

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The National Journal's Daily Poll Track yesterday brought news of a new national survey that ought to make Democrats disgusted with the leadership of their party sit up and take notice:

“Television advertising alone cost more than a billion and a half dollars in 2004, but who exactly was supposed to get the message?,” asked the Journal. “A new Annenberg survey found that only 15 percent of voters considered voting for the other presidential candidate at any point in the election cycle. Supporters of President Bush and John Kerry were statistically even: Eighty-four percent of Bush voters and 85 percent of Kerry voters said there was never a time they thought they would cast ballots for the other candidate.”

“Quoting Annenberg political director Adam Clymer, the survey's analysis suggests the results 'vindicated a campaign strategy of playing to the base and spending relatively less time and money on undecided voters or soft supporters of the other candidate,' adding that Clymer thinks ‘the Bush campaign was especially skillful at implementing that strategy.’” That is, if anything, an understatement -- and ignores how the Democratic campaign did just the opposite.

I wrote repeatedly and despairingly during the campaign that the national Democrats were ignoring their base and, indeed, alienating it by failing to provide a clear, understandable, and meaningful alternative to Bush on the key issues of the economy and Iraq. And who was responsible for the failed Democratic strategy? Why, the overpaid Democratic consultants whom Kerry hired, one layer after another, as he flailed about trying to get traction with the electorate. On September 8, I wrote a dissection of the terminal failings of those consultants -- most of whom were, in off-years, corporate lobbyists--and whose advice was, I predicted, dooming the drive to dump Bush to disaster. A few weeks later, I wrote of the Kerry consultants: “These millionaire media goniffs and Clintonista off-year whores for Corporate America, to whom Kerry is now listening, are themselves deaf to the wails of distress coming from those Democrats in the battleground states who have been begging for a bold Kerry economic attack on Bush, which they see as the only way of having a prayer of defeating this war president by mobilizing the victims of the Bush economy and energizing the desultory Democratic base.” The new Annenberg poll confirms that I wasn't wrong.

Now, in the latest issue of the Washington Monthly, Amy Sullivan -- in a first-rate broadside entitled “Fire the Consultants,” has provided a damning bill of indictment against these guns for hire, “a clique of Washington consultants who, through their insider ties, continue to get rewarded with business even after losing continually.”

Among those who fall under Sullivan's scalpel are two of this overpaid tribe who were most responsible for Kerry's failed strategy: Bob Shrum, his media man and message guru (whom I portrayed as out of touch with the electorate at the beginning of the campaign) --Sullivan sniffs that Shrummy “has no genius for strategy and very little feel for what makes Middle America tick”; and Mark Mellman, who -- as Kerry's pollster--urged him to stay away from attacking Bush. “Mellman”, Sullivan justly writes, “is popular among Democrats because he tells them what they so desperately want to hear: Their policies are sound, Americans really agree with them more than with Republicans, and if they just repeat their mantras loud enough, voters will eventually embrace the party....”

In a party bereft of new ideas, Sullivan points out, “The consultants are filling a vacuum. After all, someone has to formulate the message that a candidate can use to win the voters' support. Conservatives have spent 30 years and billions of dollars on think tanks and other organizations to develop a set of interlinked policies and language that individual Republican candidates and campaigns can adopt in plug-and-play fashion. Liberals are far behind in this message development game. Indeed, most Democratic elected officials have been running recently on warmed-up leftovers from the Clinton brain trust, ideas which were once innovative but are now far from fresh. With little else to go on, consultants—many of whom came to prominence during the Clinton years—have clung to old ideas and strategies like security blankets....”

There's a lot of gossipy detail in Sullivan's salvos: for example, she recounts how Joe Hansen used his position as field director for the Democratic Senatorial Committee to blackmail candidates into hiring his consulting firm. I wish Sullivan hadn't ignored many of these consultants' ties to Corporate America, but her article is nonetheless a must read that should be force-fed to every Democratic activist. Good work, Amy! Read it all by clicking here.

Doug Ireland, a longtime radical journalist and media critic, runs the blog DIRELAND, where this article first appeared. 

Other Articles by Doug Ireland

* AIDS Action Jumps Into Bed With Bush and the AIDS-Phobic Republicans
* The Democrats Debate a Sellout on Abortion
* The Danger of Cell Phones
* He's Out! Bernie Kerik's Plea Bargain
* Halliburton's Nigerian Bribery -- The Admission
* Homo Hate: Kerry Loses to Rove’s Anti-Gay Hysteria
* The Last Debate (Thankfully!)
* The Bush-Kerry Face-Off in Miami
* The Democrats Capitulate to the Supply-Siders
* Teaching Torture: Congress Quietly Keeps School of the Americas Alive
* Condom Wars
* The Cheney Connection: Tracing the Halliburton Money Trail to Nigeria
* How the US and France Let the Smuggling Prince Get Away to Help the War on Terror
* Spain Flips Off W.
* Raw Prejudice: The Politics of Gay Marriage
* Ralph's Dark Side: Mr. Nader and the Newmanites
* A Prayer for Reverend Al: Let Him Buy His Soul Back from the Republicans
* Wisconsin's Warning Signs
* The Campaign Doctor: Can Bob Shrum Beat Karl Rove?
* The Two John Kerrys: Will We Get the Populist or the Lord of Special Interests?
* Howard's End
* A Populist Make-Over: Meet John Edwards, the Corporate Man
* Iowa's Lessons
* Nader and the Newmanites
* The Next War
* Will the French Indict Cheney