Monday, February 11, 2008

Mandates, wonks and nasty campaigning

I have to agree with John Cole at Balloon Juice that today's Krugman column is wrong in the fundamental analysis that the Demcoratic primary is particulary nasty or underhanded.

Has this really been that bitter of a nomination fight, because I sure do not see it that way. Sure, the Obama groupies are irritating as all hell. And yes, the diehard Hillary or Bust crowd will call you a misogynist and a Clinton hater at the drop of a hat....

I just don’t see this as a particularly ugly race. I think there has been some appliation of the clinton rules- people keep claiming Bill is injecting race and what not, and the only thing I saw that was remotely suspicious was the Jackson remark following South Carolina. Other than that and the Mark Penn bilge, this has ben a pretty clean race, I think.

Right now the major area of differentiation is on health care policy and the question of mandates. I know among hardcore wonks, mandates can be fighting words, but there are not that many hardcore wonks and the two campaigns both agree that health insurance, financing and accessibility need to be dramatically improved. There have been a couple of dog whistles, but not many, and then a significant amount of bluster and noise about marginal differences. Since McCain has become the presumptive Republican nominee, there has been some electability salvos, but this is a legitimate area of dispute.

This has been a relatively clean campaign. We have not seen any anti-Obama or anti-Clinton 527 cash dumps like the ones aimed at Howard Dean in 2003 right before Iowa in the Gephardt murder-suicide action.

In its third ad in the past two weeks, the secretive 527 group Americans for Jobs, Healthcare & Progressive Values (AJHPV) brings out its harshest attacks to date against Howard Dean.

The ad's sole visual is a slowly moving shot of a Time Magazine cover featuring Osama bin Laden. As the picture zooms in on a close-up of bin Laden’s eyes, the announcer intones, "Howard Dean just cannot compete with George Bush on foreign policy." The ad concludes by asking Democrats – presumably those who currently support Dean - to "think about that … and think about it now."

The ad began airing in New Hampshire and South Carolina on Saturday, before the capture of Saddam Hussein. Two other AJHPV anti-Dean ads have aired in Iowa, both ending with a domestic variation of the Osama warning: "If you thought Howard Dean had a progressive record … check the facts … and think again." Overall, AJHPV has pledged to spend $400,000 on advertising in Iowa.....

it appears that the group has more than a passing connection with one of Dean's opponents, Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt. The group's new president, former Rep. Ed Feighan, has contributed $2,000 to the Gephardt presidential campaign, and former Gephardt fund-raiser David Jones is the group's treasurer. The Washington Post reported that the Gephardt-endorsing Machinists Union has made a "substantial contribution" to AJHPV. Leo Hindery, Gephardt's national finance co-chair, is also a "backer of AJHPV."

Maybe I'm strange in liking both candidates and having a real, but marginal preference for one over the other, but the other candidate is more than acceptable in my mind. The same calculas applies, I think, to most Democrats and Democratic elites. However in 2003/4 Democratic donors and opinion leaders were highly polarized on their opinion about the Dean campaign. You either loved him, his campaign and his supporters (of which I was one) or you hated him and muttered McGovern/Mondale under your breath. That polarization and an extraordinarily split field in which a five point swing was extraordinarily valuable gave a strong incentive to go negative and nasty early and often. Internal party polarization that produced this incentive set in 2004 is not present this time around and therefore the incentives have changed dramatically.

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