Friday, May 19, 2006

Begala

A few days back I took Paul Begala to task for his thoughtless insult of party organizers in the backwoods of Utah and Mississippi. I wasn't the only one. He became just another in the long line of Washington establishment insiders who have looked down their noses at those outside that establishment.

Well, Begala is big enough to admit that he blew it:

... I should never, ever have denigrated young men and women who are working in the political trenches in places like Mississippi and Utah.

I was being arrogant and flippant when I said they're just picking their noses. Mea culpa. You live by the smart-ass quip, you die by the smart-ass quip.

Begala goes on to say that his was a comment made out of frustration with (the perception) that the DNC, under Howard Dean, is bleeding money. The DNC has raised over $74 million under Dean, but currently has only $10 million cash-on-hand (compared to the RNC's $43 million). Begala is a long time campaigner who appreciates the importance of the last minute push, especially in close races. It is from that background that he assesses this disparity as a serious threat going into the Fall.

Unfortunately, instead of digging deeper into the numbers, Begala automatically assumed that the greatest reason for the expense was the DNC plan to put paid organizers on the ground in every state.

... It turns out I was wrong when I fingered the DNC's State Party subsidy program, wherein Washington pays for state party organizers, for this disparity. After a little checking, I've learned from reliable sources that the State Party program costs about $8 million. Not cheap, but not exactly the primary cause of a $64 million spending spree. I'm also told that the DNC spent about $11 million on the New Jersey and Virginia governors' races. Good. We won them both (although why we needed to subsidize the candidacy of multimillionaire John Corzine is beyond me.)

Thanks for the info Paul. I don't know why you didn't check into this earlier. Perhaps it was some underlying bias against Dean that made you automatically assume the worst. You have sneered at him repeatedly since 2003 when he first rose to national prominence. I couldn't say. But I'm willing to cut you some slack for the simple reason that we all make mistakes and you are at least willing to admit yours.

However...

You are one of our leading political strategists and it is a poor sign of our strategic skills when one of our leading political strategists makes a blunder like that. At the level you are at there is simply no room for mistakes.

Begala does bring up one disturbing question which I think needs to be investigated further and reported on by someone who doesn't have a history of anti-Dean bias:

Bear with me, I was a liberal arts major. But it seems that leaves $45 million in expenditures. Perhaps fundraising costs have gone through the roof. That would be especially tragic given that part of the appeal of the Dean for DNC Chair campaign was his potential to raise money cleanly and cheaply through this newfangled Interwebnet thing.

So, where's the money gone? I have no idea. I do know that the Washington Post reports that salaries and consultants (Gasp! The dreaded C-Word) have gone through the roof at the DNC. Consultants' costs alone have increased from $1.7 million to $2.8 million. Could it be that the netroots' hero is actually bloating the DNC's Beltway bureaucracy?

Dean made his name by criticizing consultants and the consultant culture (among other things). So it would be shocking if, under his leadership, the DNC has become even more indebted to high priced consultants. I'd hate to see a repeat of the pattern we saw in his Presidential campaign where he allowed his advisors to run amuck and burn through over $40 million dollars in a matter of a few short months. That mistake could be excused by Dean's lack of experience at leading a national campaign and by the distractions of his rapid level to star status.

But making that mistake a second time would be an indicator of a deeper organizational deficiency on Dean's part.

I, like Begala, had assumed that the DNC's burnthrough rate was because of the outlays for the state organizational campaigns. Since I support that effort I was willing to cut Dean some slack on this matter. But if Begala's figures are right, that effort is actually costing a relatively modest sum of money. So where is the rest of the money going?

(Begala, unfortunately, still hasn't shed his inside-the-beltway arrogance. Even as he acknowledges his mistake in insulting the ground troops he still sneers at "desktop campaign manager wannabes". Paul, instead of insulting people who have energy to burn, why not find a way to use them?)

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