BREAKING: Matt Bai Is Wrong

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a freelance journalist and blogger. He considers Bob Dylan and Walter Sobchak to be the two great Jewish thinkers of our time; he thinks Kafka was half-right when he said there was hope, "but not for us"; and he can be reached through the twitter via @eliasisquith or via email. The opinions he expresses on the blog and throughout the interwebs are exclusively his own.

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121 Responses

  1. Ethan Gach says:

    “Personally, I find these liberals’ squeamishness to be profoundly annoying.”

    Obama’s first mistake was not taking campaign finance.

    It’s hard to call foul on a decision simply because the uneven field now favors your opponent. Has fundamental change (which any real campaign finance reform would have to be) ever come about through cynical attempts to out manipulate ones political opponents? (seriously, this argument is made a lot, but examples of this tactic’s success are rarely trotted out).

    I’m not aware that campaign finance is on any legislator’s agenda, nor that it will be after defeating Romney.Report

    • Has fundamental change (which any real campaign finance reform would have to be) ever come about through cynical attempts to out manipulate ones political opponents?

      I’m not sure I understand the question. Mind rephrasing?Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Ethan Gach says:

      “Obama’s first mistake was not taking campaign finance.”

      I’m not sure if I follow you here either. Obama quite famously told the Supreme Court justices to their face that Citizens United was, in his opinion, wrongly decided. Is it that he didn’t follow it up with any action or even rhetoric? (and/or that he didn’t and wasn’t going to dump his fundraising advantage in taking public money during his own election?)Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    Could you give an example of a commercial that, played often enough, could get you to vote for Sarah Palin?Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    If you haven’t read this column by Kinsley, you have missed out.

    The general gist of the argument is this: Citizens United was decided correctly. Here’s a fun paragraph:

    If the law had been aimed at individuals, it would have been obviously unconstitutional. Endorsement of a political candidate — even if it’s yourself — is about as central to the 1st Amendment as any category of speech can be. The government may restrict campaign contributions if it wishes (as it does) because a contribution isn’t speech and will not necessarily be spent on speech. Money spent directly promoting yourself or others for public office is speech, and it can’t be censored.

    Check out the column. It’s a corker.Report

    • MikeSchilling in reply to Jaybird says:

      No, it’s the usual shallow, specious nonsense that ignores the difference between shareholders and management and the current state of corporate governance.Report

      • James K in reply to MikeSchilling says:

        You’re suggesting that because management isn’t always a proper steward of shareholder interests that the government is somehow a better steward of shareholder interests?Report

        • MikeSchilling in reply to James K says:

          I’m suggesting that if shareholders want to spend their money on political ads, nothing’s stopping them. If they want to organize a corporation for the express purpose of funding political ads, that’s fine too. Which covers the facts of Citizen’s United without the overstretch.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to MikeSchilling says:

            You see Citizens United about what Corporations should be allowed to do? You realize that the arguments given by the government were arguments about what the government should be allowed to do, right?

            (These arguments included “banning books”, for the record.)Report

            • MikeSchilling in reply to Jaybird says:

              I see “X has a right to pollute the water table” as primarily a statement about the rights of X, not about the ability of government to control pollution of the water table, yes.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Whether speech is a good analogy to a water table is an argument for another day (my position: it’s not) but I think that the arguments that the government actually made defending what they did when they censored a movie and argued that they could, in fact, ban books are exceptionally relevant to why Citizens United was decided the way it was and if you want to say that Citizens United was about whether corporations should be allowed to spend money on commercials, you really shouldn’t gloss over the fact that the case made it to the supreme court on the strength of the arguments pertaining to the government engaging in censorship of citizens.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                It’s one thing to say that Citizens United should not have been censored. It’s another to give Exxon carte blanche to buy elections. No one was expecting the decision that Roberts Court made, and for good reason: it’s much broader than any question that was raised by the actual case and it breaks with decades of precedent.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                It’s another to give Exxon carte blanche to buy elections.

                How many ads would you have to watch to vote for Romney? How many would you have to hear on the radio?

                it breaks with decades of precedent.

                So does gay marriage.

                Marriage, however, is something that should be available to everybody without someone else sticking their nose in there and saying “YOU CAN’T DO THAT!”

                The same goes for speech in general and political speech specifically.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                How many ads would you have to watch to vote for Romney?

                You know better. The ads don’t target me or you; they target the much larger group of people that aren’t paying much attention. Advertising is a funny thing: people spend vast amounts of money on it, but when they get called on its ill effects, they always insist it’s useless.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                And while ads are a big part of the picture and the focus of the Citizens United decision, they’re hardly the only significant way for money to influence political outcomes.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                The ads don’t target me or you; they target the much larger group of people that aren’t paying much attention.

                Exactly how much responsibility do I have to this group of people to ensure that they are protected from ads that I don’t want them hearing?Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Because the practical value of my right to political speech is tied to its effectiveness. If Acme Corporation uses resources that I can’t even begin to match to broadcast an argument a political argument to millions of people, while my best-case scenario is to make my own equally valid argument to dozens or hundreds of people, and as a result Acme gets the election results it wants and my interests suffer, that’s a problem for me. To a certain extent, political speech can sometimes be a zero-sum game.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                In other words, it’s an equality problem as opposed to a liberty problem. Giving one person a greater amount of practical access to the political system is both deeply distressing and to some degree or another, inevitable. The goal is to minimize that disparity without reaching the point where our efforts create a liberty problem.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                It manifested as a liberty problem, not an equality problem, though.

                I submit that most attempts to rectify these kinds of situations will continue to manifest as liberty problems and not equality problems.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                The goal is to minimize that disparity without reaching the point where our efforts create a liberty problem.

                Of course, the opposition will think that any restriction at all creates a liberty problem. Which is where the ideological/pragmatic distinction really comes into play. It’s not enough to demonstrate that ideological purity leads to bad outcomes according to some other metric than liberty. I think the argument has to actually show that ideological purity to maximize free-speech liberty causes a reduction in other types of liberties. But these are positive liberties, not negative liberties, (relative to the central issue) and the argument is harder to make. (That’s not to say it can’t be made, of course.)Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                The justification for campaign finance reform is an equality argument. The case against its constitutionality is a liberty argument.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Of course, the opposition will think that any restriction at all creates a liberty problem.

                This would have more bite if the government had not censored access to a movie and argued that the law that gave it the power to censor movies also gave it the power to ban books.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                The ads don’t target me or you; they target the much larger group of people that aren’t paying much attention.

                In every conversation I’ve ever heard on this subject (including discussions of commercial advertising) it’s never “we” who are affected by efforts at manipulation, it’s always “those people.” of course those people don’t think they’re any more manipulated than we are.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Back when I was a teacher, I’d have the kids read some stuff on propaganda and afterwords ask them a question: who here thinks they’ve had their beliefs shaped by propaganda? Only a very clever few would raise their hands, and those kids were probably the most propaganda-resistant ones in the group.Report

              • b-psycho in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                The ads don’t target me or you; they target the much larger group of people that aren’t paying much attention.

                Maybe I’m just mean, but when it comes to people who barely pay attention and are gullible enough to be swayed by paid campaign propaganda, my reaction is puzzlement at why they’re even voting at all, regardless of for who.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                @b-psycho: But they do vote, and we all live with the consequences.

                @ JamesH: We’re the odd ones who discuss politics for fun — it’s not just narcissism to consider ourselves outliers.Report

              • Liberty60 in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                I’m not so sure.
                I know plenty of very intelligent people who don’t follow politics at all, and are only barely aware of whats going on.

                But more importantly, as much as even we here on this thread think of ourselves as unshakeable in our beliefs, we know with certainty that we ARE swayed by advertising, even if only a little.

                As is said often, they wouldn’t spend billions on it if it didn’t work.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                I don’t know anyone who’s influenced by advertising, therefore, no one is influenced by advertising.

                It’s a strange argument, no? I mean, no one wants to admit that advertising – especially propaganda – influences them. But the nature of propaganda and lots of modern advertising is to appeal emotions and self-identity markers in such a way that the influence goes undetected. The logic of propaganda is that it shapes people’s beliefs and actions only insofar as people don’t realize they’re beliefs are being shaped by it.

                It’s sorta dizzying, really.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                @B-Psycho: there’s a great old Chris Hayes column that described it voting for the average swing voter as roughly the equivalent of doing your laundry. You feel obligated to do it, but you have no passion or interest in it and therefore you put off thinking about it or taking steps to make it happen until the last possible moment.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                I don’t know anyone who’s influenced by advertising, therefore, no one is influenced by advertising.

                Is that what you think my argument was? Or am I just not following you?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Mike Schilling,

                Sorry to pop your bubble, but y’all ain’t the only crowd I hang out with. 😉Report

              • MFarmer in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                “The ads don’t target me or you; they target the much larger group of people that aren’t paying much attention.”

                Here we have the statist philosophy in a nutshell — we have to protect the ignorant hoi polloi from making bad decisions. If it wasn’t so dangerous, it would be hilarious.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                James, No I wasn’t attributing that argument to you. Or anyone on this thread. It’s just one of those things I hear from time to time, where everyone says they’re not influenced by advertising, but which has to be false since advertising and propaganda are demonstrably effective at changing public opinion.Report

              • b-psycho in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Don Zeko: It’s a view that doesn’t make any sense to me though. If someone buys the standard talk about the importance of voting, then it follows from that assumption that they should go through the facts about each candidate, their plans, their background, etc., with a fine-toothed comb prior to making a decision so that their choice is a well-informed one. That we produce adults who internalize a civic duty to vote but give it the weight of a decision on which fast food place to hit up for lunch or less should be seen as a grave indictment of our education system.

                Stillwater: While nobody is perfect, I’d at least expect some degree of skepticism-by-default when it comes to advertizements. After all, they’re from a self-interested party. They will lie if they have to in order to get your money/vote/allegiance. Assertions about the power of advertising that assume no resistance ring to me less as dismissal of ads than dismissal of free will itself.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to MikeSchilling says:


                OK. Got it. I wasn’t sure.

                I would say this about advertising, though. It’s a desperate game, one that’s absolutely necessary, but phenomenally ineffective most of the time. You have to advertise just to make folks remember you, make them think about your product when they’re in the market for your type of product. But actually gaining market share is really really hard. Companies spends tens and hundreds of millions of dollars just to cling to the same market share. It may not be hard to get someone to try your product once, but advertising won’t get them to buy it a second and third time if they don’t like it.

                Of course with political advertising, you may only need to get the consumer to buy once. Or at least only once every several years. So a political ad that sways a voter to vote once is a lot more effective than a commercial ad that sways a consumer to buy only once.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                James, for the most part I agree what you’re saying with two additions. One, that a world of propaganda/advertising is actually the new normal, something that didn’t exist before the 1920s. So in some sense, being propagandized on a systematic level is the new normal. The other thing is that I agree with you that desire for market share which drives advertising and customer loyalty resulting from it are separable issues. But insofar as adverts have a diminishing return in shaping public opinion, it’s due to our society having reached an upper limit, or saturation point, which limits the effects. It’s not that propaganda isn’t effective. It’s that there’s too much of it.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to MikeSchilling says:


                I agree with your saturation argument. But I also argue that there’s something more fundamental–advertising can’t make you like what you actually don’t like. Papa John’s can tell me over and over that their pizza has the freshest ingredients, but it still tastes lousy to me. Maybe I really could drive a Jeep deep into the wilderness (where I love to be), but I still have zero interest in buying one. Sure, I’ll try something once because I heard an ad, but then I gotta actually like it, or it’s no go on giving it a second chance. I think the belief that advertising sways people ignores the extent to which people are actively looking for things to like, so they’re responsive to the ad in hopes that they’ll find one of those things; and sometimes they do.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Sure. But as just one example, back when Tiger Woods was the shite, Buick paid him $10 million to put their name on his golf bag.

                So it cuts both ways I suppose.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to MikeSchilling says:


                I’d at least expect some degree of skepticism-by-default when it comes to advertizements.

                I think that’s the rational presumption: advertising is just getting you to ‘take a look’ and buy if you like. I think that’s true of some advertising to be sure, but most effective advertising works on another level: it gets you to take a look by appealing to your desire to get laid, or to look cool in front of your friends, or to be HAPPY! Hell, one time a Geiko add was so funny I told my wife (jokingly) that we were gonna switch to them for just for *that* reason alone.

                Those aren’t signals that appeal to skepticism and reason. ANd once they get you, brand loyalty and a bunch of other psychological factors come into play.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                “@b-psycho: But they do vote, and we all live with the consequences.”

                Is this really the road we want to go down, Mr. Schilling?Report

            • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

              You see Citizens United about what Corporations should be allowed to do? You realize that the arguments given by the government were arguments about what the government should be allowed to do, right?

              Why do you think this is a distinction worth making?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

                Because the Constitution isn’t about what non governmental organizations, groups or people should or should not be allowed to do. It’s about what government is and is not allowed to do.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to James Hanley says:

                That’s true of most of the constitution, but not all of it. The 14th Amendment provides an affirmative mandate for government to remove barriers to equal citizenship, for example.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Don Zeko says:

                Don, yes, I should have specified First Amendment there. Thanks for the corrective.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Don Zeko says:

                Interesting, Mr. Zeko. 😉Report

              • Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

                I meant that question to move along a different line: if corporations are arguing that they ought to be allowed to act in a certain way, their argument is against a government imposed restriction. The government, on the other hand, offers an affirmative argument as to why it has the power to impose a specific prohibition (or whatever).

                Both sides have to offer affirmative arguments. I’m just wondering why pointing that out is relevant. Is it, for example, the type of argument the government was making in this specific case?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

                The corporations don’t have to make an affirmative argument, I think. They only have to negate the government’s affirmative argument.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

                Ahh, sure. Thanks.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                It’s the difference between a corporation publishing a book and the government banning after it’s published.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                I get that. I’m wondering something different. (See the comment just above.) In short: it seems to me you’re just pointing out that the government is required to make an affirmative argument justifying it’s case. But given that that’s trivial, I think you had something else in mind and I don’t know what it is.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                (I assume that this has been addressed above as well. Do I still need to tackle it?)Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Nah. Got it.Report

  4. Jason Kuznicki says:

    I find these liberals’ squeamishness to be profoundly annoying.

    Really? Seems to me they are only acting on principle. If they gave money, the punctilious among us would call them hypocrites.

    Don’t feel bad. As a libertarian who rides the metro every day, I’m used to hearing this kind of critique. I got over my squeamishness. I’m sure they can too.Report

  5. James Hanley says:

    It’s galling to agree with Kinsley, but he’s right. Especially when he points out the difficulty of defining what is a media corporation (which were exempted from McCain-Feingold). It was only a matter of time before we had Koch Media Corp., or some such. After all, the model has already been demonstrated in part by Rupert Murdock.

    And the reality is that money alone doesn’t win elections. The evidence is solid on that point. If you’re a relative unknown challenging an incumbent then you’ll almost certainly lose if you can’t spend close to what they can, but that’s just because it takes money to overcome the incumbency advantsge. Once the challenger spends more than the incumbent it’s essentially a tossup. Money seems to win elections because incumbency wins elections and incumbents find it easier to raise money (which is why almost every campaign finance law is an incumbency protection law).

    And corporations face incentives to stay out of politics–bad PR isn’t good for the bottom line. Some will get involved, some will get burned by their involvement, and others will take the hint and stay out.Report

    • Liberty60 in reply to James Hanley says:

      True, money alone doesn’t decide elections, but its a pretty powerful edge.
      And in politics, all you really need is that extra edge, a few points here and there.
      1. Unlimited corporate donations;
      2. Anonymous donations- foreign or not;
      3. Defunding of the opposition such as labor unions;
      4. Purging of voters who tend to vote for the opposition.

      A little edge here, a little there; Political parties like PRI in Mexico have built long lasting electoral juggernauts in ostensibly “democratic” countries with lesser tactics than these.Report

    • Don Zeko in reply to James Hanley says:

      How do you figure those incentives compare to the incentives to get involved in politics of corporations with business models that are subject to partisan political debate, like banks, health insurance companies, oil companies, etc.? If I was a souless profit maximizer who made my paycheck doing something that I thought the Feds might stamp out with regulation, why on earth wouldn’t I spend money to stop them?Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Don Zeko says:


        Getting involved as an industry is what you should worry about; then Globocorp can avoid being recognized as the responsible party.

        Personally, I do support full disclosure, so people can really know where the money comes from, not just seeing one cleverly named PAC.Report

        • Don Zeko in reply to James Hanley says:

          I’m not sure how I’m supposed to derive any comfort from the notion that, while whole industries might act in concert to affect government policy, they won’t do so individually.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Don Zeko says:

            Neither do I, that’s why I said that’s what you should worry about.Report

            • Don Zeko in reply to James Hanley says:

              Generally speaking, it is. I’m a bit of an odd duck in that I don’t think that the pre-Citizens United regime was particularly effective or that the Supreme Court’s ruling was totally ridiculous. Generally speaking, restricting political speech is both very difficult to do effectively and of dubious constitutionality. The trouble is that money in politics is still an enormous problem after conceding those two things. I’m inclined to think that the best approach is to develop alternate public sources of the goods that monied interests provide political candidates and officeholders: generous public financing, individual political contribution vouchers, more funding for non-partisan public research organizations like the GAO and CBO, and more funding for Congressional staff. Floors, not ceilings, since we’ve tried ceilings and they haven’t worked.Report

  6. NewDealer says:

    In other news,

    Franco is still dead.


  7. Couldn’t find the right place for this but for what it’s worth: I’d much rather have robust public financing of elections than restrict private spending on the same.Report

    • Don Zeko in reply to Elias Isquith says:

      I agree. It’s worth mentioning that, even with the explosion in third party spending this cycle, election spending still pales in comparison to all sorts of things the Federal Government does. If that public financing led to the cessation of even a single wasteful program on the level of, say, ethanol subsidies, it would have largely paid for itself.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Elias Isquith says:


      From a normative standpoint I get this. The problem is that it still functions as an incumbency protection act. The advantages of incumbency mean that challengers need more money to level the playing field. If you threw in a rule that every challenger (not just the major party challenger) got, say, 10% more than the incumbent, I might go along with it.Report

    • Matty in reply to Elias Isquith says:

      OK so there are two ways to do this -1. anyone who wants to stand for election can get their ‘expenses’ paid by thee taxpayer. This could lead to thousands of candidates for every post all of whom need to hire their spouse on a gazillion dollars a day as election agent. Or, you come up with a way to restrict who gets funding and since incumbents will be writing those rules its a fair bet they will add up to more incumbent protection.Report

  8. Hopefully I’ll have time for a post of my own on this subject, but for now I submit the following propositions:

    1. The overwhelming majority of the increase in independent expenditures, and particularly those expenditures that draw liberal ire, is most proximately caused by the portion of the Speechnow case striking down limitations on contributions to 527 by individuals. Though this portion of the Speechnow case is directly reliant on Citizens United, it is reliant solely on the portion of Citizens United finding that independent expenditures do not create an “appearance of corruption.”

    2. The overwhelming majority of ire directed at the Citizens United decision was at its holding that corporations and unions “are persons” for purposes of the First Amendment. The dire prediction was that this holding would result in massive amounts of corporate money flooding the electoral process, even more so than ever before. At the time, little ire was directed at the holding that independent expenditures create no “appearance of corruption.” In addition, this portion of Citizens United only overturned a portion of the then-recent McDonnell case, which portion was itself inconsistent with precedent from 1996 suggesting that independent expenditures could not be restricted; prior to that, at most, there was nonbinding dicta suggesting that whether independent expenditures create an appearance of corruption was an open question, and in fact the much older Buckley case had suggested that there was no such appearance from independent expenditures.

    3. The dire prediction about corporate money, particularly money of major multi-national corporations, infecting the process in unprecedented ways does not seem to have come true. On that level, things do not seem to have changed much; to the relatively small extent they have, I’d argue that they changed in much the way I predicted at the time: “by causing an increase in the number of corporate voices (again, remembering that this includes non-profit advocacy corporations) involved in the process beyond the usual suspects, and thus decreasing the relative voice of any one corporation or group of corporations.”

    In fact, if you look at independent expenditures by PACs affiliated with specific large corporations, you will notice that those expenditures actually leveled off after Citizens United.

    4. What has changed, quite a bit, is that super-wealthy individuals are throwing vastly more money into the fray, and are doing so largely in the individual capacity. What’s more, they’re spending a good chunk of that money on ads that are premised on elements of a broad-based ideology that goes well beyond issues of direct financial interest to those individuals. The candidates, particularly in the primaries, who most benefit from this are the ideologues and populists with fairly large popular followings, not so much the establishment, centrist types. Where establishment, centrist types succeed, they must do so by making fairly large concessions to their party’s base, and/or benefit from a weak and divided opposition. That Romney had to go months before finally getting crowned, despite the fact that his opposition consisted of a backbench unknown Senator and a horribly disgraced and embarrassing former House Speaker is astounding.

    5. You frame the situation as ” our elections are now, even more than they already were, largely contests between warring members of the 1 percent.” I disagree with this, or at least with the premise. Our elections were increasingly becoming dominated by multi-national corporate interests with no concern for anything but their bottom line, and a profound willingness to split their money between the parties, with the party deemed most likely to win, or at least already in power, getting the majority. And that’s before we even get to the more fundamental questions of corporate access via the cocktail circuit, lobbying, etc. A month or so ago, Sally Quinn (I think) was widely and justly lambasted by both left and right for her complaint that the cocktail circuit was no longer the refined group of DC insiders and power brokers she had come to know and love, but was instead increasingly dominated by celebrities and obscenely wealthy business owners. We have Citizens United (and, more properly, Speechnow) to thank for that. It may well be the case, as you say, that as a result of these decisions, elections are more than ever a battle between the 1%; I submit that this is in fact a potential sea change for the better- at least the 1% are actual people, and at least the 1% most interested in partisan politics have values that go well beyond the price of their company’s stock. The 1% that is just interested in making sure they always have enough access to ensure the price of their company’s stock? I suspect they’re finding out, or will soon find out, that they’re not as safe and comfy as they’ve been for a very long time.Report

    • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      Nice, MarkT. Gingrich got nowhere with Adelson’s $20M, and another billion won’t help Obama one way or the other.Report

      • Don Zeko in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        The fact that the Yankees can win away games doesn’t mean that the home field advantage doesn’t exist.Report

      • Thanks, though I think you missed my point with that particular part of my comment. I don’t think it’s quite true that Gingrich got nowhere with that $20 M – I think that money frankly enabled him to be far more competitive than he should have been , even if he ultimately lost. Had Adelson picked a better horse, presumably Santorum, and especially if he had done so early on, I suspect there’s a good chance Santorum pulls off the upset. Romney was always the choice of the DC insider, and of the corporate money; he was running against a truly pathetic crop of opposition in a year where winnability (ie, moderation) was an especially important concern due to the existence of an incumbent D President. He basically avoided any truly massive scandals (and why not? he’s as milquetoast as they come); he had the greatest access to the party’s traditional fundraising mechanisms and fundraisers; and he had established campaign organizations that had been around for, what, six years? In any ordinary year, he should have had things wrapped up by mid-February. And yet…..he came damn close to losing. If Santorum were just a little bit better known going in, or Gingrich a little bit less out of his mind, and if the big money ideological billionaires a little more united in stopping Romney…..there’s a good chance Romney loses. And, love or hate Gingrich and Santorum, the reality is that they are far more representative of the hoi polloi than Romney or, for that matter, probably even Obama.Report

        • MarkT, had Gingrich been the best candidate, Adelson’s $20M would have been a good thing. Since he wasn’t, it couldn’t avail him. Works for me. Let the money flow.

          And I think your characterization of the primary is unfair. Contrary to the narrative, the GOP is quite moderate: none of the last 5 nominees is as right as Obama is left. Santorum was never in it, and neither were any of the others who led the opinion polls for a day. Except Gingrich in South Carolina, but then we remembered that Newt is…well, Newt.

          [As we all recall, I’ve been a Mitt man from the first.]

          • North in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            “The GOP is quite moderate: none of the last 5 nominees is as right as Obama is left. ”
            Really? Like seriously?Report

            • Stillwater in reply to North says:

              Lulz. The things he says…Report

            • Tom Van Dyke in reply to North says:

              True, Mr. North, Sandinista apologist John Kerry was quite left too. But henceforth, I’d appreciate it if you’re going to argue, that you make an argument.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Even with his skill set, there is no way North could argue against an evidence-free claim opinion.Report

              • Sure he could. Think, man, think. Even you could do it if you tried real real hard.

                Then again, mebbe you better stick with, no, it’s not, and echoing what other people say.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                You said they were. He said they weren’t. Why is one argument better than the other?Report

              • Mark Thompson in reply to Kazzy says:

                I agree with Kazzy and North on this. It’s also an issue not really worth debating, though, since it’s not relevant to my point, which was simply that as between Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum, Romney was quite clearly the most “moderate” (read:winnable) candidate and also the candidate with the closest relationship to the current GOP establishment, the greatest access to traditional means of fundraising, and the strongest national organization.

                With those advantages, he ordinarily would have won quickly and easily against almost any opposition, not to mention the weak opposition he got, where the strongest opponent, Santorum, had to overcome a massive name recognition deficit. That he didn’t, and that ideology wound up becoming a liability that almost cost him the nomination is, I think, in no small part due to Citizens United (really Speechnow) providing a way to level, yes level, the traditional playing field.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kazzy says:

                MarkT, Romney DID win easily, led wire to wire, won by 20 lengths. As for what or who you’re agreeing with, or disagreeing with for that matter, when negating someone else’s opinion, it’s customary to give a reason why. It just is—rather than, well, this.

                Delegate count:

                His Mittness: 1473

                Santorum*: 267

                Meet the New Newt, Same as the Old Newt: 145

                Crazy Uncle Ron: 118

                *This one’s all yours.


              • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

                providing a way to level, yes level, the traditional playing field.

                I haven’t read your other comments {{why am I admitting that?}} but I wonder: will the leveling effect which you’re suggesting held in the GOP primary apply to the general as well, where GOP money will rally around their guy in any event?Report

              • Mark Thompson in reply to Kazzy says:

                Still: in our system, when it comes to the general presidential election, I’m not at all certain that spending amounts matter all that much. The media makes sure that we get oversaturated coverage of the candidates no matter what, and there is surely a limit to how many times one can see or hear a political ad before it ceases to have any additional effects.

                Nor is there any inherent reason one party would be expected to always benefit from independent expenditures more than the other; the GOP’s tycoons are set to spend a lot more this time around than the Dems’ tycoons, but there’s no reason that couldn’t flip next time around.

                But the leveling effects of which I speak are as much or more about the notion that it gives people, albeit very wealthy people, with interests that go beyond their business’ bottom line, an opportunity to have a greater role in our elections than those narrow corporate interests that care solely about their bottom line.

                It’s not, in other words, a question of whether it levels the playing field between the two parties- that field is, was, and always will be, level in every meaningful sense as long as we have a two party system. Instead, my argument is that it levels the playing field, at least in terms of the ability to influence government post-election, between broad-based interests with large amounts of popular support and narrow interests.Report

              • North in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                My inquiry contained precisely the same amount of argument and support that your initial assertion possessed to back it up Tom. Is there some footnote where you showed your work on this assertion that I’m missing?Report

        • North in reply to Mark Thompson says:

          Mark, I’ve personally been convinced that Adelson’s 20 million paid off extremely well in precisely the manner that canny ol’ Adelson intended: the firing of a couple rounds of shot into the chest of the Santorum campaign. Had Gingrich run out of money and steam early on he quite possibly would have endorsed Santorum. Consider if you will his seething fury after what Romney did to his campaign in FL. A Gingrich endorsement could have seriously boosted Santorum and threatened Romney with if not a loss then a painfully drawn out primary and possibly a Santorum vice presidential nod being necessary to unite the party. Adelson didn’t want that and his 20 million went a long way towards making it not happen.Report

          • Tom Van Dyke in reply to North says:

            It would be cool if anybody in the GOP were that smart. Karl Rove, maybe.

            As for a Gingrich endorsement, that and a bucket of warm spit will get you a bucket of warm spit. After it became clear New Newt was the same old Newt, the party turned its back on him. Again.

            [And that my dear Stillwater, is how one counterargues an opinion. Mockery is not argument.]Report

            • James Hanley in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

              Sometimes mockery is the best policy.Report

              • I passed up rubbing your nose in your hypocrisy today. I’d hoped you noticed.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Another person who doesn’t understand the difference between government and a voluntary organization? No, sorry, I hadn’t noticed that you’d made that elementary error, also.

                Anyway, this line was really just meant as a sort of half joke a play on honesty is the best policy, but half serious in that I’m a big believer in the value of mockery. Wasn’t really personal, but I can see why it would come across that way.Report

            • Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

              If you think that’s an argument, then the disagreements we’ve had about what it means to make an argument are becoming real clear.Report

              • It’s not an argument, it’s how to counterargue an opinion respectfully. You’re not getting it.

                Sometimes we all just exchange opinions. Most of us understand the difference between debate and discussion, and kicking around opinions.

                What they all have in comment is saying “why.” Mockery, snark, cynicism, and “no it’s not” negation, that’s kiddie table stuff. Now please excuse me. Out of courtesy for some respectful discussions we’ve had in the past, I’ve given you the time of day, but now I have no more. Perhaps next time will be better. My remarks were addressed to Mr. North.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:


              • James Hanley in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                It’s not an argument, it’s how to counterargue an opinion respectfully.

                My Dear Sir,

                I am most sorry to admit the very obvious limits of my intellect, but I am afraid that I have not the wit to understand how one can “counterargue” without making an “argument.” My regrettably limited understanding of the English language, which I so laughably call my mother tongue, would lead me to the evidently erroneous conclusion that “to counterargue,” would be defined as “presenting an argument against.”

                May I be so bold as to inquire how this could not be so? I am deeply indebted to you for your consideration in disabusing me of my ridiculous error in this matter.

                Your humble servant,

                J. HanleyReport

              • What is this about, James? Nothing, as usual.

                Playing with words and definitions against the ideas and concepts, James, here exploiting the equivocality of “argue.” And he pretends not to know what sophistry is. Sir, you’re an expert.

                I did let you slide on your hypocrisy today, James, but my heart just isn’t in rubbing your nose in it in front of your friends. But you were quite guilty of something you jerked me off about just the other day. I’d hoped you’d see yourself in my scribblings in the sand.

                Unless you’re being high-fived, James, no discussion with you ends well. When you’re losing, you play dirty and it all turns into ashes.

                Turns into this. Well done, you roped me in again, Charlie Brown and the football. I keep giving you a chance, that it’ll be different this time.

                Silly me, fool me twice, fool me thrice, fool me seven times seven.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Ah, well, a joke’s never as good when it has to be explained. I can only hope others got it, but it is a bit obscure, and I’ve never been known for my delivery.

                But in brief, it’s about the difference between formal/superficial respect/gentlemanliness and the real thing, and those who confuse the former for the latter.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Stillwater says:

                “Argument? I’m sorry, but this is abuse.”Report

            • North in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

              Perhaps we watched different primaries Tom. I distinctly recall Santorum rising up to put a nasty scare into team Romney. I very distinctly recall an hopeless Gingrich’s flailing campaign splitting the conservative vote and turning a series of must win states for Santorum into narrow win victories for Romney. Maybe I’m misremembering? Gingrich was an albatross around Santorum’s neck from Florida on and from where I’m sitting Adelson earned a very impressive result from his investment. Romney owes the man a fruit basket and some flowers at the very least.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to North says:

                I can see how y’d say that, Mr. North—he did win 11 primaries. However, from this side of the aisle [where I hang out], it never appeared that the GOP was in danger of having Santorum as its nominee.

                I think the press overestimated the amount of “signalling” that went on during the process, first in the polls where everybody led for a week [incl Bachmann and Trump], and in the end conservative signals in the form of Santorum votes to Romney that he’d better righten up.

                Not much different from Huckabee’s late “surge” in 2008. Huck was the last man standing, is all, and signalling with a vote for him was more meaningful that just adding another “aye” to shoo-in McCain, who like Romney is the apple of No True Conservative’s eye.Report

              • North in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                I understand what you’re saying Tom, I just don’t think I understand what you’re supporting it with? After Florida Santorum swept Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado and Romney went into crisis mode. He threw everything he had at Santorum with massive ad buys. He then just barely managed to beat Santorum in (what is nominally his home state) Michigan with three percent and then won Ohio with a 0.8% margin!

                It seems patently obvious to me that had Gingrich bowed out after Florida that Santorum would have taken all of those contests. I understand the GOP is a hierarchal sort of party but you just do not run the tables from Minnesota to Ohio and not shake the front runner, especially considering Romney’s pathetic performance prior to Florida. That’s much different to my eyes than Huckabees late surge; if Santorum had won those contests he could well have ended up the nominee. How exactly would Romney have turned things around after that? Winning liberal mega states he could never hope to win in the general election? Yeah that’d thrill the base.

                So based on my analysis Gingrich’s zombie campaign, fuelled almost entirely by Adelson’s money, saved the primary for Romney from a dangerous right wing challenger. I would assume that Adelson’s picture should, by the merits, be up on the GOP establishment and Romney’s locker doors with a lot of pink hearts and glitter on it.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to North says:

                I like your theory of Adelson’s Rove-ian brilliance and can’t say it’s wrong. As for Santorum, all I can say is reading the rightosphere, listening to talk radio, I never had the feeling Santorum was a threat to win.

                And neither did Intrade.


                Santorum’s high-water mark in the polls was in leading up to Super Tuesday, after which

                Just before 11 p.m. ET, The New York Times predicted that Romney had picked up 112 delegates on Tuesday, with Gingrich well behind at 42, Santorum with 38 and Paul with 10. Added to their previous delegate count, that gave Romney an estimated total of 315, Santorum 130, Gingrich 75 and Paul 35.

                As we saw from the final delegate count above, Santorum only got to 267, not even as many as Romney had on March 5. So that’s why I say it wasn’t even a contest.Report

              • North in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Well of course, that is what he got with Gingrich in the race. That said I’m ultimately just conjecturing here and you’re the man on the inside so it’s entirely possible I’m wrong. It’s moot anyhow. I just think Adelson got himself some good cred sustaining Gingrich as long as he did.Report

  9. Tom Van Dyke says:

    Elias, I’m glad the Supreme Court decided “to remove the boot-heel of government from the Koch brothers’ necks.” God Bless America.

    BTW—a bleg, if you will—from the epistemological cloud, I get the impression that the spending for each side will kinda even out this time around.

    Even if not true, the cure for free speech is more free speech. According to, Obama outspent McCain 2-to-1.

    Obama has spent an estimated $280 million on TV advertising since Jan. 1 of last year through Nov. 1. McCain has spent less than half as much, just under $134 million, according to CMAG, which tracks advertising in the top TV markets.

    Me, I’d rather Obama had spent a billion and McCain $140 million less.

    Hell, I’d rather Obama spent a billion and McCain only half-a-billion. With the law of diminishing returns, the 2-to-1 advantage would have been less meaningful.

    Citizens United was righteous, as law, and as policy, and even as “fairness.”Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      Is that money spent by the candidates themselves? Or spent in their name?

      It is my understanding (which I fully cop may be woefully inadequate) that Citizen’s United is/will have a bigger influence on third-party/PAC spending. Is that included in the numbers above?

      I don’t disagree with your broader point… I’m just trying to parse the numbers a bit.Report

  10. MFarmer says:

    If we could only leave it up to media who gets the most exposure, like we did in the good old days, we’d get rid of this free speech nonsense and simplify the god-awful mess of everyone yacking about this and that. In my day a rich rent-seeker would just pay ’em under the table rather than make a spectacle of themselves in some silly commercial. We need another Cronkite my Gawd.Report