Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Problem With Populism, Rick Weiland Style

     Rick Weiland's campaign for the U.S. Senate is really missing the boat.  I admire the feisty, "prairie populist" thematics that are delivered in a slick, if textbook-like fashion.  That "take it back" slogan, the constant refrain during his statewide tour ("when you're running against big money you have to do a lot of walking"), the repetitious images of Rick and us ordinary folk--they're okay, I suppose, but basically just work on a superficial level.  Rick's "us everyday folk" versus "them rich and powerful folk"  scenario would hit home if American political life really did devolve into those simple terms.
     But it doesn't.  Though I believe it's true that wealthy interests probably hold more sway when it comes to national policy decisions in this country, there's a missing aspect of that phenomenon that needs to be considered before condemning big money as the root of all political evils in the United States.  Today I stumbled on to a recent study by a pair of profs, one from Princeton, the other from Northwestern, that looked at polling and policy data from 1981 to 2002.  Its conclusions do indeed square with the notion that policy supported by people in middle and lower income brackets has much less of a chance of implentation than policy supported by wealthy Americans.  Nothing contra-intuitive there, and to that extent Weiland is getting it right.
     Where Weiland's message is out-of-synch with reality is the way it lumps wealthy interests into some sort of monolithic, unified political juggernaut bent on making life miserable for ordinary Americans.  This actually is way off the mark. The politics of big money simply don't congeal that way.   CNBC's Robert Frank writes a nice critique and analysis of the study I reference and calls attention to the fact that for every right wing rich guy promoting schemes that Democrats abhor, there's probably a wealthy leftie advocating the opposite. As Frank notes, for every Koch there's a Buffett.  I'd add that for every George Soros there's a Sheldon Adelson--and I'd probably be able to match Big Rich Lib with Big Rich Rightie for as long as necessary to make the point.  Weiland's mentor Tom Daschle generally raised millions for his senate campaigns here in South Dakota and I don't recall Weiland or any other Democrats bemoaning the influence of Big Money when it suited their party's purposes back then.  So what changed?  Just the fact that Weiland hasn't been able to scare up 7-figure totals for his campaign now is about all I can see. 
     Fact is, there's a lot of dovetailing when it comes to the interests of the wealthy with those of more ordinary incomes.  Just running against wealth is not really running for a policy or against an ideology.  Weiland so far hasn't clarified--at least in his mass media themes--what the differences are between him and Mike Rounds, his likely opponent.  He has yet to challenge Rounds' tenure as governor and really hasn't made much of a case as to how he'd represent South Dakota more effectively than Rounds.  This is the missing component of his campaign, and the sooner he makes voters realize how he differs in style and policy matters, the better will South Dakotans be able to judge who's the best guy to send to D.C. 

13 comments:

  1. Lynn G. here. John I agree just being the nice guy going against big money and going from town to town is good but it definitely won't be enough just as you pointed out. I really hope he starts to attack Round's record as governor where he is most vulnerable with the EB-5, slaughterhouse and other fiasco's that happened under his watch which he seems to run from and not accept responsibility.

    Stace Nelson and other candidates whether it be for Governor or Senate have been mentioning these same fiasco's and if the electorate and press see a widening attack on Rounds and DD on these issues it will further be a common theme building momentum to alert those voters that simply have not had the time or interest to become informed that would just otherwise automatically vote for the incumbents.

    It does not have to come across as the type negative attacks that put Rounds in office in the first place but rather sound as an alert to what really happened for far too long under Round's watch.

    Wouldn't the voters find it a little ironic that a number of candidates from different parties running for these two offices keep talking about these scandals and corruption with the common theme repeatedly brought up by the press and giving credibility to Nelson, Meyers, Lowe, hopefully very soon Weiland and others?

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    1. Lynn, I think you have it exactly right. I've been critical of Weiland for not taking it directly to Rounds as I believe Rounds and his record are the only "soft" spots in a campaign that will otherwise turn on him being a reflexive Republican, which in this state everybody already knows and won't be enough to beat him. As to "negativity", running against a record isn't negative in my view. It's a legitimate issue.

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  2. John,
    You have to remember that Weiland isn't running against anybody at this point. He is doing what is necessary at this time, getting South Dakotans to know him.

    After the primary it is decided who his opponent will be, you can be certain that his campaign will sharpen the necessary points of his populist message. He has time and politicos are more entrenched with the GOP race to pay him much attention.

    The study you cite has been making it around the internet the past couple of days and generally comes down to how big money Republicans and Democrats want to influence policy. In simple terms, do Republicans and Democrats want to influence policy in a good way for the middle class or poor or in a bad way?

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    1. The progression you outline makes a lot of sense, Roger, if that's the strategy. I'd be concerned that with Rounds starting to spend some of that huge money (I've already been getting drops in the mail), he'll gain enough momentum that Rick won't have much of a chance once we start getting into the summer leg of the cycle. Putting Rounds on the defensive now would move Rounds' campaign from its "I did a great job and South Dakota is swell because of it" mode to a "let me explain what happened" operation, which I believe would work favorably for Rick. Rounds' smugness needs to be challenged. Not necessarily saying your view is wrong, just presenting it as I see it.

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  3. Lynn G again. Roger I understand what your saying and know there is risk either way but the political machine that supports Rounds is huge and look at the financial resources he has. He can buy TV, print, pay for help or whatever plus having his cronies do his bidding. I'm thinking strength in numbers and maybe even going for a coordinated attack on his weaknesses with the other candidates kind of like a full court press in basketball. Rounds is the clear threat and it would be great to knock him out of the primary.

    John I was disappointed when Nelson and Weiland's joint press conference was about out of state big dollar campaign financing. I was hoping it would of been despite their different political philosophies their shared concern about the what happened when Rounds was governor. Do you think they could pull off another joint new conference regarding that subject which is Rounds obvious weakness? If so, include another candidate if interested or just keep it those two?

    That joint press conference would need to be well coordinated between the two or more candidates with a focus on that message and not get into self promotion of who is the most conservative or old messages despite the need for airtime. The candidates sincerely compliment each other and acknowledge their passion in public service and be brief about their different political philosophies but they need to let the voters know what has been publicized, documented quoting sources and maybe bring new updates uncovered regarding the scandals that happened under Round's watch. At some point in time the candidates point out where the public can get further info to inquire about their campaigns but the purpose of the presser was to point out a common concern that they do not condone.





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  4. John,
    I'm not necessarily disagreeing with your assessment, I just wanted to include what is happening now.
    The best thing that could happen now is for the Republican senate candidates to sharpen their attacks on arounds, it is difficult to understand why they won't do that, especially on GOED/EB-5.
    None have really come out swinging on the scandal, why is that?

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  5. John, it could be that Nelson will do that in the primary. It is safe to say that Rhoden and Bosworth are just running interference for Rounds now and they have no intention of bringing it up. When the time is right I believe Rick will pounce.

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  6. Roger, I agree that Rick is wise to just keep introducing himself to South Dakotans. I agree with he and Stace raising the out of state money issue, because that is where all the trouble that we have in Washington already, is coming from. Notice also, that Rounds did not have the big first quarter that one would have anticipated, considering that he has sights on 9 million bucks. Maybe the big bucks see his nomination as a little less sure than it was on Jan 1. I am going to try to make it to the Hubbel Myers news conference tomorrow, EB-5 is one of the issues that they will focus on.

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  7. I heard or read this somewhere. Republicans give money to a person and Democrats give money to a cause. Obama used "Change you can believe in". What ever you perceived that change to be, environment, health care, ect. Democrats poured money into those causes. They got their health care then money dried up for the mid-terms in 2010. No cause.

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  8. I don't see a problem with "out-of-state" money. If Rick wins he will cast votes that affect the nation, not just South Dakota. Citizens in other states have a right to support candidates for federal office.

    One man's big money is another man's grass roots support.

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    1. Mr Wasson, A lot of the "out of State" money that Rounds already has came from the Israeli lobbies. He went to Israel last fall as his first campaign trip to meet with Netanyahu and Shimon Peres as well as the Knesset. After he got back, he magically got campaign money. Israel owns a lot of our people in Congress and we fund them militarily to the tune of nearly 9 million dollars a day. We fought the war in Iraq at there behest and they would have us fight Iran as well. As I said on a previous post on a different blog, Israel already has enough members of US Congress representing them, they don't need anymore and they sure don't need our new one.

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  9. I went to the Callie Library here in SF today, but arrived late so I did not get to see the beginning. It was the Laura and Mike show, with Laura taking most of the alloted time. I don't know if she talked about EB-5 before I got there, I don't think so and she was still talking 45 minutes after the start and still talking about the AHCA, which she was calling Obamacare which she said was really Hillarycare on steroids. I asked if it wasn't more like Romneycare and she had to agree that it is.

    When Mr Myers entered the conversation he kept her on the stage with him and asked her approval or disapproval of the things about which he talked, which was all again about healthcare.

    I am so disappointed that no one seems to be making enough of an issue about EB-5 and all of the failed GOED projects since the beginning of the Rounds Administration and running right on through the Daugaard administration.

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    1. It's frustrating and disappointing for me too, Lanny. Not sure if it's apathy or just a "let's wait and see if the investigating agencies turn up anything" reaction. I'd say most South Dakotans don't feel any particular fallout from the EB-5 fiasco, so there's no compelling reason for them to demand explanations and disclosures. The court of public opinion seems indifferent. Maybe the law will see it another way. Maybe not.

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