In the Arena

I Hate the Money Primary

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I’ve got to dispute Karen on the importance of money in politics. I think that it’s less important than it’s been in recent campaign cycles for several reasons. I mean, why do politicians feel compelled to raise gazillions? To buy television advertising, mostly negative. It’s just a gut feeling, but I suspect the public is increasingly inured to negative ads. People also have access to these wonderful new inventions–clickers and Tivo–to skip past the garbage when it comes on. Negative advertising, which was used overwhelmingly by Republicans, didn’t seem all that effective in 2006, which may be a sign of things to come. Of course, candidates do need to raise some money–the Democrats’ ability to respond cleverly to Republican trash was an important aspect of their 2006 victory–but they don’t need to raise as much as they think they need to raise.
Second, I think the perambulations of various money people–Bob Farmer, for example–are less important than they used to be. I’m far more interested in money raised on the web as a thermometer for what’s going on in a campaign.
So why do journalists obsess about The Money Primary? Because it’s quantifiable. Journalists overvalue things you can count: money, poll ratings (which are completely meaningless at this point–except, perhaps, in places like Iowa and New Hampshire) and endorsements. The thing really matters in presidential politics–character, or the appearance of same–is an entirely subjective matter. The presidency is our most intimate office. The President lives in your TV room, your kitchen, your bedroom. People do tend to vote for the candidate they’d rather live with for the next four years–that’s why the warmer candidate has won every presidential election in the television era except for 1968.
….Oh, oh…what’s that? Oh! I can hear Swampland’s beloved commentariat thundering about the importance of substance. And you’re right, in a limited way–courageous positions on matters of substance are important insomuch as they illuminate the character of the candidate. In fact, given the messy State of the Union, I would say that specificity on policy is the most important character issue this year. I’ll have more to say in a few weeks, in the dead wood zone of Time Magazine, about which specific issues I think are absolute character tests this year.