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Professor of Economics
I have good memories of the two and a half years I spent in Washington, as one of the Clinton Administration's Deputy Assistant Secretaries of the Treasury. Ideologically I was closer to Labor's Bob Reich than to Treasury's Lloyd Bentsen. But Bentsen was superb at setting his staff to achieving what he thought was politically feasible, and superb at judging what was feasible. My wing of the administration accomplished things that were good for the country and politically possible. We had more fun than the Ira Magaziner-Robert Reich wing (which wanted to do good things but was nearly clueless about political possibilities) or the Dick Morris-Bruce Reed wing (which wanted to do bad things that were alas! all too politically possible).
Now I live in California. But thick envelopes from the White House do still show up at my house from time to time. So when a big envelope with the presidential seal on it showed up last week, I stopped halfway up the stairs to open it.
Inside I saw a very heavy card--wedding invitation heavy--with the presidential seal at the top. I saw my last name--DeLong--and phrases in the Zapf Chancery script typeface: "1997 Presidential Summer Policy Forum", "Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel", "July 23-25", "serve as a representative from the State of California."
I guessed that the President was holding a series of regional economic summits (like the ones I did staff work for in early 1995). He likes getting out of the White House. He likes talking policy with people who are not trying to manipulate him into doing something immediately. I thought that Gene Sperling--or someone else--must remember me somewhat fondly, and decided that I would make a good and safe attendee at such a regiona economic summit. As I finished walking up the stairs I decided that I would go: it would be a good way to spend a weekend.
I wondered who else would be there. So I began to read the letter behind the card.
I came to the key sentence: "...join former Vice President Quayle, Steve Forbes, Charlton Heston, and other key Republican leaders..."
Why do they want to see me?
I read on: "Each member of the Presidential Roundtable is expected to make a generous financial commitment of $5,000 annually, in personal or corporate funds, to the National Republican Senatorial Committee."
I took a look up at the top of the page--and noticed that the presidential seal's eagle was holding a key in his (her?) left foot instead of an olive branch. I got it: soft money. This is how the Republican Party raises soft money these days. 400 members of the Republican Presidential Roundtable giving $5,000 a year is a $2,000,000 a year money flow into the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee--and all it takes is a few weekends of Dan Quayle's and Steve Forbes's time. They are looking for fatcats who want to give $5,000 a year of their (or their companies' shareholders': isn't it interesting how corporate funds can be used to buy a personal membership?) money for a small amount of access to politicians-in-the-flesh. And the gearing-up of the direct mail machine suggests that they are hoping to find such fatcats in wholesale quantities.
I wondered how I (a Clinton administration political appointee, after all, and a highly partisan Democrat) had wound up on this particular mailing list. More often than not the direct-mail envelopes that come here ask for $100, are from the left rather than the right, address my wife (our subscription to the Nation is in her name), and offer not a weekend with Dan Quayle but the sincere thanks of Robert Redford.
A shiver ran down my spine. We used to have a political ecology of urban machines, high union membership, memories of the Great Depression, and a white south that bitterly remembered that Sherman had marched through Georgia and Lincoln had freed the slaves. We now have a political ecology of TV-watching suburbanites, attack ads, and political consultants. The Democrats had the advantage in the first political ecology. The Republicans have the advantage in today's, for they have always been the party of the rich, and TV and suburbanization have tilted the rate of political exchange toward those who have money and against those who have time to give. The party of the rich can simply raise more money: much more if they ever manage to restrict union leaders' ability to give organizational funds without members' explicit consent, while still maintaining corporate managers' ability to give organizational funds without shareholders' and workers' explicit consent.
But I did not shiver because of the shift in the political ecology. That was old news. I shivered about that long ago.
My wife and I have, after all, given perhaps $4,000 to the Democratic Party and its allies over the past decade. We ought to rank much higher on Democratic lists of potential contributors than on Republican lists.
So why have we seen no parallel letter from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee?
The normal roughly 2:1 imbalance in money is bad enough. But what would American politics be like if it was 6:1? Where is the Democratic fundraising apparatus? Is there a Democratic fundraising apparatus?
Go to Brad DeLong's Home Page
of Economics Brad DeLong, 601 Evans
University of California at Berkeley; Berkeley, CA 94720-3880
(510) 643-4027 phone (510) 642-6615 fax