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February 19, 2006

Sherrod, Harry, Chuck, and Paul: What Should We Make of it All?

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

You see these stories about Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer calling up donors and telling them not to give money to Paul Hackett.  I can understand Hackett supporters being upset, insofar as they think that Schumer and Reid made the wrong decision in backing Brown instead of Hackett.  But there's absolutely nothing wrong with calling up big contributors and telling them not to donate to some candidate. 

It's just a more high-profile version of what everybody does -- the netroots definitely included.  If you think the issues you care about aren't served by some candidate getting donations, you tell donors not to give them money.  We do it through blog posts, the big players do it through phone calls to rich donors.  If you think that part of the business of campaigning is outreach to donors in the netroots (and it is), you should agree that another part of the business is convincing the guys at the top to use their power on your behalf, or at least not against you.  Hackett didn't accomplish that.  Again, you can criticize Reid and Schumer for making the wrong move.  But making moves like this is their business. 

And that's a good thing too.  Primaries are the kind of money suck that should be avoided whenever possible.  You'd rather see big chunks of cash go to a candidate who's going to run against a Republican than a candidate who runs the risk of losing to another Democrat. I'm also happy that netroots cash won't be diverted away from the primary that matters -- Ciro's primary in TX-28 -- and towards internecine warfare in Ohio. 

We'll have a long time to debate whether Reid and Schumer made the right call. Sherrod Brown has been a tireless fighter in the House on just about every progressive issue, and the DSCC knows that.  His work on fighting tuberculosis around the world and his rejection of Congressional health insurance as long as his constituents don't have proper health care win big respect from me.  There's a lot that Paul Hackett could've done for our party too, especially as far as winning foreign policy media battles goes.  But after seeing how his campaign went, I'm wondering how successful he would've been as a Senator.

people familiar with Hackett's campaign say he was especially resistant to efforts by aides to get him to use one of the most efficient but unpleasant fund raising techniques: sitting at the phone for hours, calling friends, relatives, and strangers to ask for money. Tension over the problem led in January to the departure of his finance director.

Hackett, who prized his independent streak and proudly called it a family trait - he voted twice for Ross Perot for president and championed gun rights as well as gay rights - also chafed at having his schedule set by aides. On the weekend before he bowed out, aides say, he stunned his staff by refusing at the last minute to attend certain events - including appearances at several black churches - that had apparently been put on his schedule over his objections.

His wife, Suzi, alluded in an interview before his withdrawal to Hackett's difficulty adjusting to the life of a candidate.

"He's a very autonomous person," she said. "It's been very hard for him to do the political thing, where you let everyone schedule your life."

Fund raising in particular, she said, had been "a real struggle for him" because "Paul doesn't like to ask for help."

Another problem for his campaign, some aides say, was that Hackett - who billed himself as a political outsider eager to change Washington's ways - didn't seem to fully trust the political professionals he hired to help run his race. It was shocking but not out of character, they say, that Hackett announced his departure to The New York Times Monday without first telling his staff, who learned of it from the Times.

The failures of the Democratic Party over the last few years have convinced lots of activists that anything would be better than what we've got going now, and that maybe we need somebody who doesn't play the game like any of the current players do.  I sympathize with their frustration, but if this leads them to romanticize candidates who crash headlong into the unfortunate political realities that other politicians know how to work past, they're mistaken. Sure, I'd want our Senators to have a little more of Hackett's fire. But the idea that inexperience and swagger will add up to success is an error fit for Bush-loving Republicans, not Democrats.  And I can understand Hackett's hatred of fundraising -- even if atheists weren't automatically unelectable, it's one of the things that would drive me away from a political career.  But candidates have to be able to do it, and any number of other irksome things. 

Maybe Hackett would've made an amazing Senator.  But it's also possible that he would've had difficulty with the some of the most basic things, floundering in areas that never get much comment because they attract no media attention, and failing on organizational and practical issues that few bloggers know to be important.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with Harry Reid's Senate leadership.  While other Senate Dems (Judiciary Committee, I'm talking to you) have disappointed me in the last year, I have yet to see Harry make a bad move as Minority Leader.  I think it's fine if he gets experienced, competent role players rather than stars.  As much as I'd like to have Paul Hackett slamming Bush on cable TV, I know that Senators can stick around for decades, and I'd like to have the steady hand of Sherrod Brown steering us out of the current health care dystopia and every other problem that we face. 

In the end, Reid and Schumer picked the angel they knew over the mysterious (and potentially awesome) creature they didn't.  I'm tentatively supporting the pick, and I don't criticize them for picking. 

(The OH-2 blog notes that Rush Limbaugh tried to inject a racial angle into the story by claiming that Sherrod Brown was black, and had been given preference over the white Hackett.  I guess the whole Donovan McNabb episode didn't teach Rush to stay away from that kind of angle, and he still can't get it to work...)

February 19, 2006 in Elections | Permalink

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My reaction was "f***ing fundraising. As if I needed more reasons to support public financing of elections".

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Feb 19, 2006 8:12:40 AM

But there's absolutely nothing wrong with calling up big contributors and telling them not to donate to some candidate.

There damn well is if that candidate got into the race at your urging. Must every Brown supporter come at this like it happened in a vacuum?

Let's recap.

1. Schumer, Reid, etc. approach Hackett and ask him to run.
2. Hackett contacts Brown, asks him if he's going to run, Brown says no.
3. Hackett enters race for Senate.
4. Brown two days later enters the race.
5. Schumer and Reid actively undermine the Hackett campaign by calling Democratic donors and telling them not to donate to Hackett.

Now Hackett's pissed. What's the mystery here?

Brown's a solid progressive. Fantastic. Why do the Brown supporters feel the need to keep making the case for something that's not in dispute?

People like me were excited for Hackett not because we thought he was more progressive, but because he's a progressive, a natural politician, and also happens to be pro-gun and a Marine.

This is the kind of guy who stands an excellent chance at taking, and keeping a state where guns are popular. He's also the kind of guy who could help us recruit similar candidates to campaign in western states where the gun issue is also important. He also had real potential to help put a better public face on a party that's widely seen as not standing for anything. Hackett was a guy who had lifelong Republicans come to volunteer for his campaign.

Brown on the other hand, has a demonstrated a talent for getting elected in a historically Democratic district. That's just great.

Yes, Brown was leading in the primary. The Democratic primary. Yes, Brown is a good progressive.

Because THAT'S why Democrats aren't winning. We're just not pulling in the progressives.

Posted by: gswift | Feb 19, 2006 8:15:57 AM

Well, Neil, that's just about the best apology I have ever heard for doing an end-run around the democratic process of the primary, a process that was put into place to prevent exactly this. The losers are the people of Ohio since they have less choice and input. The winners are the big political bosses in the smokey rooms such as Schumer and Reid. Schumer certainly as Hackett's support of RKBA is enough to put him on Schumer's shit list.
Once again, the shadow government makes it's presence known and the public suffers for it.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Feb 19, 2006 9:50:55 AM

Fred,

Prissy is with you on the way they did Hackett. It was wrong and we lost. Sharrod Brown has a long history of average.

Sorry Sharrod, but new blood was needed for the Democratic process and your "No, I won't- Well, Yes I will- since they are giving ME the money", just isn't sitting well with most fairminded folks.

Supporting the old boys club was wrong and what was worse is you did it to a true team player...and Veteran!

Posted by: Prissy | Feb 19, 2006 11:42:20 AM

As I argue above, it's not clear that Hackett would be all that good at taking and keeping a Senate seat. Sure, he might have the right positions on gun control and a dynamic political persona. But he was having trouble with the fundamentals of running a Senate campaign -- making fundraising calls and delegating responsibility in particular. These things have to be done, and Hackett was having lots of trouble with them. There's a serious chance that he would've flaked out like political neophytes sometimes do (Ross Perot in 1992 is the foremost example).

There damn well is if that candidate got into the race at your urging. Must every Brown supporter come at this like it happened in a vacuum?

What I expect of Schumer and Reid is that they make whatever decisions will be most likely to advance Democratic positions on issues, given the information they have. It seems likely that encouraging Hackett to run in late 2005 was such a decision and telling people not to donate to him in early 2006 was another such decision.

Making these decisions inflicts some pretty nasty consequences on Paul Hackett, personally. But I don't think it's reasonable to ask Schumer and Reid to be particularly concerned about that. The issues they're trying to make progress on are way bigger than any one man, or any one man and his loyalists.

Utilitarians like myself are famously willing to hang an innocent man so that hundreds of lives can eventually be saved. This sort of cold utilitarian calculus is exactly what's driving my approval of the Reid/Schumer decisions. I expect party leaders to break promises (which I don't think they made in this case), hurt feelings, inflict personal betrayals on people, and do all sorts of other nasty stuff in order to help poor people get health insurance and protect abortion rights and prevent stupid wars. The ends count for a lot more than the means here.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Feb 19, 2006 12:07:27 PM

The issues they're trying to make progress on are way bigger than any one man, or any one man and his loyalists.

This sort of cold utilitarian calculus is exactly what's driving my approval of the Reid/Schumer decisions.

An inherently immoral position. With you it's "Fuck the democratic process .......and fuck the people of Ohio as long as my party and agenda can benefit from it." ...not to mention the overt elitism of attempting to pick the primary candidate *FOR* the people.

It stinks.......plain and simple. I know it, the press knows it and most of the Dems know it as well. Pass out the cigars, boys and let's see who gets to run.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Feb 19, 2006 12:31:24 PM

Why didn't Fred get banned after his last set of comments?

Posted by: Iron Lungfish | Feb 19, 2006 4:24:42 PM

But he was having trouble with the fundamentals of running a Senate campaign -- making fundraising calls and delegating responsibility in particular.

This is a large part of why we lose. We have professionals in the party that could be sent to help with fundraising and managing the campaign. Ability to raise money and the ability to manage a campaign are nice and all, but even more important is, you know, getting votes. Kerry was a good fundraiser. He was also a giant helping of lukewarm who lost by 3 million votes.

This sort of cold utilitarian calculus is exactly what's driving my approval of the Reid/Schumer decisions.

These decisions don't appear very utilitarian at all. The party has some very specific issues to deal with. We're widely seen by the public as lagging the Republicans when it comes to national security. We're easily taking coastal states, but in western and midwest states where we have the advantage on most domestic issues, we're still losing because of national security and gun control.

It doesn't matter in a lot of these states how much they favor us on domestic issues. The minute they get a whiff of "weak on national security" and/or "pro gun control" it's over. Everything else we say falls on deaf ears. We've lost those votes. But candidtates like Hackett, a pro-gun Marine who's also a progressive, are exactly the kind of candidate to push the progressive platform in these states. A lot of voters who wouldn't otherwise give us the time of day will stop and listen precisely because he's a pro-gun military man. Read this Mother Jones article to get an idea of what I'm talking about here. Notice how Eddie McGowan stops to hear him speak because he's a military man? Or Jim Smith who is immediately won over simply by Hackett talking enthusiastically about guns. Pay attention to Dan Johns, Butch Davis, and Jack Haigwood, vets and lifelong Republicans, who not only like Hackett, but show up to get out the vote for him.

We're so close damnit. Look at lukewarm Kerry's state by state results for 2004. Look at the margins for CO, IA, OH, NM, MO, etc. We need candidates like Hackett to run in these states. Hackett could help us recruit more like him.

This kind of turnabout might fly with the Brown supporters, but it's going to piss off other military guys, especially marines. In that above article pay attention to who comes to Hackett's defense. The communications director for Arlen Specter, who also happens to be a Marine. Just saying "grow up" isn't going to cut it. Giving the shiv to one of their guys makes an impression. Hackett and other progressive vets are a great opportunity, and the Democrats are blowing it.

Posted by: gswift | Feb 19, 2006 10:25:17 PM

Nitpicky point: Ciro Rodriguez is running in TX28, not TX22. The 22nd is Tom DeLay's district.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner | Feb 19, 2006 11:23:38 PM

Thanks, Charles, I'll change that.

gswift, I totally agree with you about the need for more Democrats with pro-gun sentiments and military backgrounds. A few weeks ago, I wrote something on this site that you might enjoy skimming over briefly:

http://ezraklein.typepad.com/blog/2005/12/in_praise_of_fi.html">In Praise of Fighting Dems

I'm perfectly aware of Hackett's positive attributes -- I use him as an example of how useful an Iraq War background can be. (Someone might respond to you that lukewarm Kerry is a bad example since he likes guns and was in the military too -- I've got that covered.) I gave money to his House campaign, with exactly these things in mind.

But the problems with Hackett as a Senate candidate -- which takes a lot more money and organization -- can't be solved by just dumping professional staffers on him. (Hackett had a pretty large number of people on staff. He just didn't trust them or understand how to use them effectively.) And no call from a staffer is going to be as effective in fundraising as a call from the potential Senator himself. Big donors want face time, or at least time on the phone, with the person they're giving money to.

The problems are with Hackett himself as a campaigner. If you can't delegate responsibility and you won't spend hours each day on the phone dialing for dollars, you're just not going to be able to run a good Senate campaign, no matter what your issue positions are, or how good a speaker you are. No doubt, we need people more exciting than John Kerry, whom I argued against in early 2004. But you have to do the simple things right too, and Hackett looks like he was much worse than average at those.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Feb 19, 2006 11:44:57 PM

The problems are with Hackett himself as a campaigner. If you can't delegate responsibility and you won't spend hours each day on the phone dialing for dollars, you're just not going to be able to run a good Senate campaign, no matter what your issue positions are, or how good a speaker you are.

You're absolutely right.

If he's really flubbing the campaigning and fundraising that badly he's going to lose, and badly. If it's the case that he's kind of a natural who doesn't understand the nuts and bolts of running a campaign, and too stubborn to listen to his staff, it's important that he fail on his own. If runs things his way and gets crushed, he'll likely be amenable to taking some advice, and listening to his staff next time. A primary is the perfect time to learn these things, there's just not a whole lot at stake. All Reid and Schumer had to do was sit back and let him lose the primary.

Instead, they actively undermined the campaign. Now he's dropped out not with the perception that he needs to correct things, but with the perception that he failed because he was undercut by party higher ups.

It didn't have to play out this way. All Reid and Schumer had to do was to let him lose. Then they could have stepped in, thanked him for running, and then suggested ways to fix the mistakes he'd made. Instead they pulled this ham fisted stunt, and uneccesarily alienated Hackett, and by extension a lot of other similar potential candidates.

Posted by: gswift | Feb 20, 2006 1:47:55 AM

it's important that he fail on his own.

Well, how about the money? If Hackett collapses under his own weight, and manages to attract an extra $100K from a handful of donors in the netroots and elsewhere, that's a $100K wasted. Plus whatever Sherrod Brown has to spend on fighting him.

For a party that isn't willing to sell out to big business, donors are relatively scarce. And Reid and Schumer are justified in protecting the few big donors we've got from blowing their money on a candidate who isn't getting out of the primary. If the money makes it to Ciro or even to Ned Lamont (who I discourage people from donating to, since he should be self-financing, but anyway) it's better spent.

It's not clear to me that losing Hackett alienated anyone else. Filing deadlines have passed in a lot of places. Rahm Emmanuel has gone nuts trying to get military people into House races -- witness his madness on behalf of Tammy Duckworth. We've got 40-odd Fighting Dems in House races this year. If you wanted to get lots of military House candidates going, summer 2005 to Hackett was your sweet spot (and that's when I gave him more money than I've given anybody else).

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Feb 20, 2006 4:37:02 AM

One, I'm largely with Atrios and the "Lump of Campaign Money fallacy." I just don't see much evidence for it.

Two, where exactly are we going to draw the line here? Are we going to pick and chose when to have a democratic process? This really does, as pointed out above by others, smack of the party elders choosing the candidate for the people of Ohio.

With regard to alienating candidates, the email from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Political Action Committee that Ezra posted about indicates more than a few of them noticed. Did this affect people's decision to run? Beats me. But camaraderie is especially high in the Marines. Publicly giving the shiv to a high profile Marine candidate was a less than strategic move.

Posted by: gswift | Feb 20, 2006 6:18:58 AM

Are we going to pick and chose when to have a democratic process? This really does, as pointed out above by others, smack of the party elders choosing the candidate for the people of Ohio.

That is the part that is absolutely indefensible. What was really funny was listening to Neil try as he talks about his "cold utilitarian calculus" as reason for installing a hand picked candidate by the party bosses............ and then signs his name as "Neil the ethical werewolf"!!

What's ethical about *THAT*??

Posted by: Fred Jones | Feb 20, 2006 9:20:21 AM

It's absolutely the ethical thing, Fred. This is the process by which the sick will get health care, unjust wars will be prevented, and gay people will finally get legal equality. Political agents should do whatever they can to bring about the best consequences.

Utilitarianism is, after all, an ethical theory.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Feb 20, 2006 2:22:37 PM

Its not a party until someone refers to themselves in the 3rd person(Prissy) and Fred Jones lectures people on morality. Party hats on folks, this is FUN!

Posted by: Adrock | Feb 20, 2006 2:25:31 PM

It's absolutely the ethical thing, Fred.
This is the process by which the sick will get health care, unjust wars will be prevented, and gay people will finally get legal equality.

Anyone could list their agenda and say that "it's for the greater good" and justify one's actions as "ethical".

I kill abortion doctors because, in the long run, it saves lives! I'm ethical!

Drowning kittens will control the animal population and make it a more comfortable place for children. I'm ethical!

Hey, this is fun! Maybe you can come up with some more!

Posted by: Fred Jones | Feb 20, 2006 5:02:23 PM

That's right, Fred! The only limits are the actual facts about the world.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Feb 20, 2006 5:06:14 PM

To love America, you must love the democratic process above your own agenda. Neil the unethical college kid apparently does not. He is openly advocating abridging the democratic process to serve his own agenda. How can anyone justify this?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Feb 20, 2006 5:11:56 PM

You got it, Prissy is the pen name dear...
On a serious note:

The "bigger than one man" thing-yes, no kidding. And we have dems telling the people what the process should be-because they "know better". Well folks, I'm just not seeing that you do. Collective wisdom IS usually correct, as history has repeatedly shown.
The dems lack of spine got us into a war that kills people everyday-Americans and Iraqis. Too many signed up without knowing the details-readily available WMD assessments, ect.
The dems did not stand up and say this is wrong-where was the backing for Al Gore's speech? I see Dean is working on the Dems, a step in the right direction-but Dean knew the war was bogus from the beginning.
Not a peep from the dems, no backing-worthless. What is the difference between the two parties. They both have platforms they fail to follow-neither stands up for the middle class.
For God's sake, on my site there are 208 things Bushco should be called out on listed on my site-someone else emailed me 70 more! "How Much More Will Dubya Ignore? Let Us Count the Ways" The dems are negligent of their duty toward democracy! And now the inside job on Hackett? What is there left to trust?

Posted by: Prissy | Feb 20, 2006 6:32:52 PM

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Posted by: judy | Oct 1, 2007 4:45:32 AM

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