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Friday, June 01, 2007

Matthew Yglesias is especially brilliant and ruthless in this skewering of Bob Shrum
"Shrum and Dumber
Memoirs of the man who thrice saved us from a Democratic presidency"

Shrum advised Gore, Kerry in losing bids. I think the "thrice" refers to his speech writing for Kennedy in 1980. Yglesias is not the first to argue that Democratic campaign consultants are entrenched and very powerful. Nor his he the first to argue that poll driven campaigns are seen as such by voters who elect politicians who convince the voters that they care about something other than winning elections.

He does show just how little Shrum seems to care about policy.

To a remarkable extent, Shrum still appears to stand by absolutely every criticism the Kennedy campaign ever made of Carter—that his Afghanistan policy risked plunging the world into nuclear war, and that wage and price controls were the solution to America’s late-1970s economic woes

Tumble forward into 2004, where three of the four leading Democratic presidential contenders—Gephardt, Kerry, and Edwards—were all Shrum clients. What’s more, on the most important moral and political issue of the day, they all broke the wrong way, supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Shrum concedes that he urged his clients to do this, going so far as to say that he prevailed upon Kerry and Edwards to opportunistically endorse a war they knew was wrong. Most astoundingly, he clearly regards this claim as something that will be helpful to the politicians in question, a misjudgment that would seem to speak volumes about the difficulty his clients have had in winning presidential elections.

A telling example is Shrum’s recounting of how during the 2000 campaign “Gore was determined to give a blunt speech on global warming, and to do it in Michigan.” Shrum and the rest of the staff talked Gore out of it,

So give no aid to anti Soviet mujahedin in Afghanistan, but do invade Iraq, and impose wage and price controls to fight moderate inflation, but do nothing about global warming. It seems that the man hasn't thought about the issues much.

On Iraq Yglesias writes with 20/20 hindsight, but with a sentence that is less complete than.

Indeed, in retrospect what’s shocking about the miscalculation on the war vote is less its simplistic nature—the war authorizing resolution was high-profile and popular, so Shrum advised his clients to vote for it.

less than what Mr Yglesias ? I love to find grammer boo boos in the Atlantic.

But neither Kerry nor Edwards was in a tough 2002 reelection battle. It didn’t matter whether or not the resolution was popular. A politician who took a stand against it would have two years to wait for events to vindicate his view. As, indeed, the skepticism about the war that Shrum attributes to Kerry and Edwards was vindicated by election day 2004. Which might have done them some good had they actually made the right call. The view that good policy is good politics sounds sappy and naive, but on this kind of issue it’s true—the first thing you need to ask yourself when trying to decide whether or not backing some invasion will be politically savvy is what you think will happen if the invasion actually takes place.

I can almost claim that I understood this, since I said to someone who asked me in fall 2002 if Bush would be re-elected "well I think we are going to war with Iraq and so it depends on how the war goes". If the war is considered a success in 2004, having voted to allow Bush to do it will not count for much in a race against Bush. If it is considered a failure, it would be better to have voted against it. Only in the second case is the probability of victory large enough to matter much.

However, Shrum could have been more cynical. He could have told Kerry to vote no and Edwards to vote yes and then managed the campaign of the one whose choice was more popular in 2004. I guess he is not all powerful and or not absolutely cynical.

Some comfort.

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