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Duh Is For Democrats
One reason the Democrats are the losingest political team around is their fondness for hiring political consultants like Joe Hansen, writes Amy Sullivan for Washington Monthly:

Hansen is part of a clique of Washington consultants who, through their insider ties, continue to get rewarded with business even after losing continually. Pollster Mark Mellman 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. As Noam Scheiber pointed out in a New Republic article following the great Democratic debacle of '02, Mellman was, perhaps more than anyone else, the architect of that defeat. As the DSCC's recommended pollster, he advised congressional Democrats to ignore national security and Iraq in favor of an endless campaign about prescription drugs and education. After the party got its clock cleaned based on his advice, Mellman should have been exiled but was instead ... promoted. He became the lead pollster for John Kerry's presidential campaign, where he proffered eerily similar advice – stress domestic policy, stay away from attacking Bush – to much the same effect.

Hansen and Mellman are joined by the poster boy of Democratic social promotion, Bob Shrum. Over his 30-year career, Shrum has worked on the campaigns of seven losing presidential candidates – from George McGovern to Bob Kerrey – capping his record with a leading role in the disaster that was the Gore campaign. Yet, instead of abiding by the "seven strikes and you're out" rule, Democrats have continued to pay top dollar for his services (sums that are supplemented by the percentage Shrum's firm, Shrum, Devine & Donilon, gets for purchasing air time for commercials). Although Shrum has never put anyone in the White House, in the bizarro world of Democratic politics, he's seen as a kingmaker – merely hiring the media strategist gives a candidate such instant credibility with big-ticket liberal funders that John Kerry and John Edwards fought a fierce battle heading into the 2004 primaries to lure Shrum to their camps. Ultimately, Shrum chose Kerry, and on Nov. 3, he extended his perfect losing record.

Since their devastating loss last fall, Democrats have cast about for reasons why their party has come up short three election cycles in a row and have debated what to do. Should they lure better candidates? Talk more about morality? Adopt a harder line on national security? But one of the most obvious and least discussed reasons Democrats continue to lose is their consultants. Every sports fan knows that if a team boasts a losing record several seasons in a row, the coach has to be replaced with someone who can win. Yet when it comes to political consultants, Democrats seem incapable of taking this basic managerial step.

A major reason for that reluctance is that Democrats simply won't talk openly about the problem. Shrum did eventually take some heat publicly during the 2004 campaign when the contrast between his losing record and his high position in the troubled Kerry campaign became too stark to ignore. But in general, a Mafia-like code of omerta operates. Few insiders dare complain about the hammerlock loser consultants have on the process – certainly neither the professional campaign operatives whom the consultants hire nor the journalists to whom the consultants feed juicy inside-the-room detail. "Everybody in town talks [privately] about Hansen and how he's held candidates hostage through the DSCC," says Chuck Todd, editor of National Journal's Political Hotline. Todd, however, is one of the few brave insiders. I interviewed two dozen Democratic Party leaders, operatives, and others for this story. Virtually no one had a good thing to say about Hansen or the rest of the oligarchy. Yet few would talk on the record. The exceptions were those who have gotten out of the business of working for political candidates such as Dan Gerstein, a former advisor to Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.). "If a company like General Motors had the same image problem that the Democratic Party does, they would fire the guys responsible," Gerstein told me. But not Democrats. "We don't just hire those guys," Gerstein said, "we give them bonuses."

Posted by aalkon at January 12, 2005 9:00 AM

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Comments

Bull. Sullivan points it out herself: these consultants are only saying what the candidates want hear. What they want to hear is the real problem.

And this article is itself an illustation of that: rather than focusing on the real problem, it's more "if we just try this or that tactic we'll win". Sorry, people aren't buying, no matter how you package it.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher at January 12, 2005 4:58 PM

And now we hear that Howard Dean will be the new head of the DNC. There appear to be no limits to the inanity of the Democratic Party. Let's see, every Dem to win a national election in recent years (maybe forever) has had to do so by campaigning as a centrist. Now Dean, the lefty's lefty, takes the helm. Republicans, the religious right, in particular, must be overjoyed. Now, no one stands in the way of their agenda. The big question in my mind now is this: what about Hillary? It's no secret that the Clintons and Dean don't care much for each other. Should be interesting, if not nauseating.

Posted by: Chris Wilson at January 12, 2005 6:27 PM