If you've been here long enough, you are aware that political consultants aren't thought of too highly around these parts. I've never had the opportunity or desire to engage anyone of this stripe in a political discussion until this past weekend at the California Democratic Party executive board meeting. There, a top constulant, arguably the most influential in the state, decided to lecture hekebolos and myself and bestow his knowledge upon us. After this experience, I am more convinced than ever on several things:
• Consultants and Democratic operatives still act like it's 2002, and believe that the Republicans and Bush are all-powerful
• Their cautiousness and pessimism and inability to think in any creative way is a cancer upon the Democratic Party
• Anything a consultant of this type advises - literally anything - should be met with a vow to perform the exact opposite action.
Details on the flip.
I was at the e-board meeting strictly as an observer, covering the event for Calitics. Hekebolos is a member of the platform committee and as such is an insider and must never be listened to again. :) Actually, the reason this whole thing came about is that hekebolos put forward a resolution calling for the impeachment of Alberto Gonzales for his myriad high crimes and misdemeanors. The Resolutions Committee watered it down a touch and changed it to calling for "resignation," and anyway it's a nonbinding resolution from a state party, so I don't believe he had much of a problem with that (correct me if I'm wrong). So we were discussing the goings-on when, out of nowhere, the aforementioned uber-consultant (I'm going to go ahead and leave it anonymous) approaches us and says, "So, is this the pro-impeachment crowd?" Apparently based on... how we look, or something, I typically wear my hair in the "impeachment pompadour," I guess. Or the fact that we aren't in suits and ties and make our living saying ridiculous things like "So, is this the pro-impeachment crowd."
Anyway, his very first question (this guy's a big believer in the Socratic method) is "How many seats did the Republicans gain in 1998?" (the retort to this, by the way, is "How many seats did the Republicans lose in 1974?" but I'm never that quick on the draw) He proceeded to explain to "us kids" that impeachment will be seen as ruthlessly partisan and destroy any chance of gaining the Presidency in 2008.
Now, here's my feeling on impeachment. I do think the Republicans poisoned the well, perhaps deliberately, by using the constitutionally sanctioned option in a political fashion. And I think that everyone who believes in the right and duty of the people's representatives to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law by moving to impeach must also take into account: 1) the dozens of ads that will be run by the GOP featuring Democrats saying "impeachment is off the table," arguing that Democrats are lying hypocrites; 2) the fact that this Democratic leadership and this media would have to be responsible for pushback on those points; 3) the fact that Republicans will be on the TeeVee every day pushing this talking point and using it as a political issue to rile their base. Those aren't reasons not to do it, but they must be put into a calculation. So someone claiming that impeachment will be seen as a partisan act would not be dismissed out of hand by the likes of me.
Until he kept going. In increasingly out-of-touch fashion, he claimed that there will be another terrorist attack between now and next November, that the public will run into the arms of the Republicans as a cause of that, and that Democrats are essentially helpless to do anything about that. This, of course, completely neglects what has happened in this country since the war in Iraq, and how America has given up on the idea of "strong on defense" Republicans, particularly given the facts of today's NIE, which suggests that, nearly 6 years after 9/11, precious little has been done to protect the homeland. Consultant X (I'm going with Consultant X from this point forward) argued that none of that matters, that people will trust Republicans more on security. This is a DEMOCRATIC consultant, mind you. Apparently he's made a conclusion that it's impossible for Democrats to argue that the imperial adventure in Iraq, that ignoring our allies, that engaging in horrific acts like suspension of habeas corpus and torture, that inflaming the Muslim world, has made us less safe. In fact, he said that any Presidential candidate basing their campaign out of "getting us out of Iraq" will lose. First of all, that's not really even what any of the leading candidates are doing. Second, he's essentially saying that Iraq will NOT be a major issue in 2008, echoing the sentiments of Karl Rove and others. So he would squander the historic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capitalize on a trashed Republican brand by utilizing the one significant issue on which Democrats and Americans are in perfect agreement. This guy is PAID to advise Democrats.
It struck me that this guy was simultaneously claiming that we cannot impeach because we would lose the election, but that we're going to lose the election anyway. In fact, he believes that institutional forces make it nearly impossible to elect a Democrat President. He said "Look at history. You guys haven't been around long enough. Carter barely won in 1976 because of Watergate (an IMPEACHMENT! The logic is air-tight!). Clinton is a once-in-a-lifetime politician, only comes around every 30 years." He neglected to mention Gore, a bland politician (at least in 2000) who won. Or the fact that we've taken 3 out of 4 Presidential elections, and lost the other one by a football field's worth of folks in Ohio. Or that America in 2002 and America in 2007 are completely different. But never mind that. He's saying that it's nearly impossible to win the Presidency, but we shouldn't impeach because that'll cost us that Presidency that's nearly impossible to win.
The rest of the discussion was one long slide into evasion. Every point I brought up was met with a different change of the subject. My favorite exchange was this.
Me: The landscape is totally different now. Our candidates are vastly outraising theirs. Look at the Congressional campaign committees, they're outraising their Republicans counterparts by 3-to-1.
Consultant X: Yeah, well they'll just use the 527s.
Me: We OUTSPENT the Republicans in 527s in 2004!
Consultant X: And we lost.
What a perfectly circular argument! He's claiming that Democrats relying on 527s will lose, but he's afraid Republicans using 527s will be fearsome. This is someone who has bought every Republican talking point ever faxes from the RNC offices, and now he's using them to advise Democratic candidates. Another perfect example was when I brought up the consistent obstructionism in DC from the Republicans, and he waved it off by saying "People don't know about that." That's the point! You have to educate them! But Consultant X comes from a place so dripping with contempt for the average voter, that were he advising Harry Reid, you wouldn't be seeing today's spectacle designed to expose the obstructionists.
This is not some Johnny-come-lately. This is a 30-year strategist who consistently spouted the "play not to lose" line of attack over the "play to win." And he appeared to be going around the room making this argument to people. I can only conclude that he's scared. Progressives within the party have had a late start in California, but they are far more organized and growing in strength. Before long this is going to translate into results at the candidate level (maybe from our mystery man in CA-42), and THAT, more than a continued Republican takeover of government, is the most anathema thing to Consultant X. Living in the bubble, he's convinced himself that he's never wrong, and that any move to create a politics of contrast based on defined principles would amount to a death rattle, not just for the party but for HIS gravy train. So instead we get this cautiousness, this mushiness, this willingness to fold in the face of pressure, this concerted effort to be Republican-lite instead of Democratic.
And so, my new calculation is that any action abhorrent to Consultant X would be one that I wholeheartedly endorse. And so I want to thank him for turning someone skeptical of the political value of impeachment into someone who can't wait to call the House Judiciary Committee and demand it.
UPDATE: I have seen the end of days. The website for the Young Consultants of DC.
UPDATE II: Hekebolos reminds me of something else:
other point you may wish to bring up is the arguments about demographics in the west, the 2006 election performance numbers, and changes is party affiliation in voter registration.
He loved to bring up 1998 and 1952 (!), but viewed 2006 as passe. When dday and I brought up figures and results from 2006, he passed them off as irrelevant. No contradiction there, of course.
Yeah, there was a lot about Eisenhower. In fact, the Eisenhower argument, where the Presidency changed hands because the initial President was historically unpopular (doesn't Bush constantly compare himself to Truman) due to a difficult war, seems not to be the best one to make.
UPDATE III: People are getting perturbed with me for not "outing" the name of Consultant X. It's not all that tough to figure out, but I'd prefer to be once-removed from it, and anyway this isn't a national name so it doesn't change the story if you know it. Hey, who put that link here? And that one?